The last bearded pope

The title pretty much says it all: who was the last bearded pope?

A Google search for “bearded pope” comes up with a website which claims that it is Innocent XII (1691–1700). While Innocent XII was indeed bearded (but just barely—looks more like a glorified soul patch to me), the website is a humour site, so I don’t have full confidence in its accuracy.

(As for the first bearded pope, in case anyone is wondering, it’s fairly certain that the first pope, Peter, was bearded. He was a Jew, and Jewish custom at the time was for men to have beards.)

I can believe that. It’s been the general rule in the Roman rite for the past thousand years or so for clergy to be clean-shaven (with the exception of a few religious orders). Enforcement of this has waxed and waned, and obviously if a pope wants to have facial hair, he can have it, but the past few centuries were rather strict about it. After Vatican II, facial hair is now optional, not prohibited (though still the norm).

Was there a reason behind the prohibition? Being different? Sanitation?

If you look at the popes before Innocent XII in that Wiki article, you will note that Alexander VIII, Clement X, Clement IX, and Alexander VII are all depicted with similar styles of facial hair (they don’t have a portrait of Innocent XI). If there was a general rule, the 17th century popes don’t appear to have felt bound by it. Nor did Cardinal Richelieu, who also affected that style. It was a fairly common style for 17th century aristocrats (Charles I, for example), and appears to have been popular with high ranking Catholic clergy as well.

!!! Really? Early Christians were very hostile to shaving! (Which probably made them seem even weirder to the Romans, for whom shaving was customary.)

Indeed, as the Eastern rites are to this day. As in so many things, the Catholic Encyclopedia gives a good potted history of this peculiarity of the Roman rite.

The article yBeayf mentions claims that beards have been prohibited since about 503, but doesn’t give any reason for the injunction. However, it does quote the rationale given by the 13-Century Church scholar Guillaume Durand:

Later Renaissance-era writings give other reasons:

The history of beards in the Western Christian world is complicated. Up to the end of the 12th century, beards were very common as a sign of holiness. Facial hair and very long hair can both be a sign of rejection of the world of fashion and temporal power. Irish (and some other) beards were forked. St Humphrey (Onufrios) lived 40 years in the desert “clad only in his own hair” - mostly taken to be his long beard as well as body-hair.

But after the 12th century, with pogroms against the Jews, and the rise of towns and cities in Western Europe, beards went out of fashion, because they were associated with Jews and Muslims, Turkish and otherwise.

However, in the early 1520s, for complicated Italian political reasons, beards came into fashion again - this was during the reigns of Henry VIII of England and Francois I of France. They remained in fashion until the beginning of the 18th century, when wigs came in. Wigs and beards don’t go together.
Then beards came into fashion again (but not with Popes and other high clerics) in about the 1840s (Prince Albert) and they lasted until the First World War, when lice were perceived as a major problem for soldiers.
From then until the late 1960s beards were worn by artists and bohemians, and of course some tramps and bums.

Excellent books have been written on the subject by sociologists and anthropologists. Moustaches have a separate (though sometimes linked) history…

Fine beards (on popes, painters and other celebrities) can be seen on - a blog dedicated to beards as art.