Leo XIII: First Papal Movie Star

In a review of Religion in Contemporary European Cinema: The Postsecular Constellation, S. Brent Plate describes the how Leo XIII became the first pope on film.


In 1898, cameraman William Dickson trailed Pope Leo XIII around the Vatican grounds, documenting a series of vignettes of his activities. The Roman Catholic leader walked, rode in a carriage, and sat with attendants, simple movements recorded by the new technologies of the motion picture camera. The scenes were intended for Catholics in other parts of the world, especially the United States, who could see the head of the faith, fully animated, and could peek inside the sacred grounds.

Naturally, this footage is available on YouTube. Since formal consistency is one of the OHCAC’s strong suits, it’s remarkably like peeking in any other Pope since. Except infinitely eerier.

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.