Pontifacts is not the only podcast that focuses on the popes, but it is certainly the most entertaining.
It is presented by Bry and Fry, two very funny women who obviously have a great time creating the show, and their enjoyment rubs off on the listener.
Having been best friends for now well over a decade, when Bry, a history buff and podcast fan, decided she wanted to create a history podcast of her own, she naturally turned to her old chum Fry to co-host.
The popes as a subject matter were a natural fit with Bry’s historical interests, and the pair decided to follow a similar format to that used by the already successful Rex Factor Podcast, which rates all the Kings and Queens of England.
While developing Pontifacts, Bry had the opportunity to gain valuable podcasting experience by co-hosting The Lesser Bonapartes—one of the great lost masterworks of historical podcasting lore.
Interestingly, while Bry seems to be the keeper of knowledge about the popes and surrounding theology, it is Fry who has the Catholic background—not only is her father a deacon, but most of her family works for the church in one way or another, as well. Personally, though, Fry describes herself as “lapsed.”
Bry sees the popes mostly through an historical lens. History has been her passion from an early age, and she has studied it all her life. Her particular enthusiasm is for The Renaissance, specifically Florence and The Medici–she even got married in Florence in a beautiful, Renaissance-themed wedding. Bry does like dressing up!
Fry claims to be “just here for the ride.” This is not quite true, as she acts as the voice of the audience by expressing bewilderment at the mad goings-on of those crazy, crazy popes. Bry also points out that there is quite a clear division of labor—while she does most of the research and talking, Fry is the one making it all happen behind the scenes. Beyond that, Fry is the comic foil to Bry’s onslaught of deep research and illuminating quotes. Her humor is as dry as a well-made martini, and she never fails to amuse with her wry interjections.
The office of the pontiff holds fascination for anyone interested in history regardless of religious inclinations because, as Bry points out, “It is one of the longest-standing institutions in the entire world and one of the only roles in history that has survived every era… since antiquity. Kingdoms come and go… countries have come and gone… we have had empires and republics and nation-building… but the pope remains and continues to be a massively important figure. There’s no way to look at history and not wonder, ‘Hey, what was the pope doing?’ Because they were doing something.”
The all-important ratings
One of the most popular aspects of the show is its scoring system, which provides for a great deal listener engagement. The categories they use to rate each pope in what they describe as their invented “Harry Potter Latin” are:
- Papatum Infallium: Holiness
- Fructus Prohibitum: Scandals and Misdeeds
- Seculari Impactum: Worldliness and Mass Appeal
- Each provides up to 10 points each from both Bry and Fry. Popes can pick up extra points from other categories, including:
- Faciem Sanctus: Appearance. Here, the scores are divided by four, because… well, a pope shouldn’t really be judged on his looks.
- Tempus Pontificus: Length of papacy.
Popes also earn a “Cannon Bonus Point” if they have been made into a saint, and finally, the truly exceptional can earn themselves a Papal Bull:
“Popes who achieve a Papal Bull will go to the Pearly Gates and eventually be rated against one another in the ultimate showdown, to decide which was the popiest pope who ever poped. Will someone be popey enough to take the keys away from St. Peter himself? Time will tell,” Bry explains.
Pope Damasus is currently topping the leaderboard. His is a juicy story, as he presided over a slaughter of his rivals’ supporters when he took office, and he was also reputed as a bit of a lady’s man. But more crucially, he presided over the council that decided which books are included in the Bible as we know it. So, we can see that he would have scored highly in Papatum Infallium for his work on the Bible, in Fructus Prohibitum for the scandals, and in Seculari Impactum for the slaughtering.
Pope Honorius, from the seventh century, sounds great. He repaired aqueducts, fortified the city, and nourished the city, but unfortunately, has been excommunicated.
One of the very best episodes is Episode 137: Johannes Anglicus. In it, Bry ambushes Fry with the tale of Pope Joan. Bry keeps it very straight while describing how Johannes suddenly, mysteriously, started to get very fat. Fry’s screams of outrage upon discovering that he wasn’t fat, but rather pregnant, as Johannes was in fact Joan are much like those of the people of Rome at the time!
Fry might profess to be a non-expert, but when asked how many popes there have been, she quickly responded with 266. Each is included in the Apostolic Succession and in the main Pontifacts feed.
What will follow on for Pontifacts? Saints? Patriarchs? Bry and Fry don’t know yet for sure, but as they still have over 1,000 years of popes to cover, there will be plenty of Pontifacts to come, which surely keeps their devoted listeners happy.
Pontifacts came storming back after a hiatus in March this year and have got straight into some of the juiciest bits, well not so juicy in the case of Cadaver Synod (Episode 115). And as of Episode 121, they have just got into the “Pornocracy”–a period when the papacy became dominated by women, which does promise to be juicy. This should run to at least ten episodes, which will see us through to the end of the year pretty much.
Pontifacts has paid back the lead that they took from existing RexyPod podcasts in spades and have been a benevolent presence in the history podcasting community generally and specifically within the RexyPod set, where Bry has been a great support to many of the next wave of RexyPods. Last year at Intelligent Speech, we had a great RexyPod Panel featuring, Pontifacts, Totalus Rankium, and Rex Factor. This year there will a new set of RexyPodders on the Child of Rexypanel Panel, covering French Monarchs, Tsars, Tudors, and The American West.
Pontifacts will be speaking at IS and The History of the Popemobile––Responses and Innovations for Changing and Challenging Papacies, we will see where that takes us if you will excuse the pun. What we can be sure about is that it will be a lot of fun, like everything Pontifacts do and well worth coming along for the ride.