Saturday, November 17, 2007

Smoking Popes and Holy Smokes

Fr Ray Blake and Mac McLernon have reminded us smokers of the great debt we owe Pope Benedict XIII of blessed memory.

In 1624, on the logic that tobacco use prompts sneezing, which too closely resembles sexual ecstasy, Pope Urban VIII issued a worldwide smoking ban and threatened excommunication for those who smoked or took snuff in holy places. (Yes, the first cigarette in the morning is the best !)

Pope Innocent X issued another anti-smoking bull in 1650.

But in 1725 Good Pope Benedict XIII annulled all such edicts “in order to avoid the scandalous spectacle of dignitaries of the church hastening out in order to take a few clandestine whiffs in some corner away from spying eyes.” He himself liked to take snuff.

By the 18th Century, tobacco had earned a measure of respectability. Catholic priest Abbé Lattaignant wrote a popular song, "J'ai du bon tabac", ("I have good tobacco") which French schoolchildren still sing today.

By 1779, scenting a business opportunity, the Vatican opened its own tobacco factory in Garibaldi road in Rome (the name at that time is unknown).

By the first half of the nineteenth century,the production of tobacco was divided in three different manufactures:the snuff was produced in the S. Margherita Convent, the strong cigars were produced in the S. Michele home, and the light cigars were produced in S. Maria dell'Orto.

The fact that the tobacco plant has not been demonised at the Vatican may owe something to Pope Pius IX, who decided to leave the world a better place for smokers.

In 1863, he built a tobacco factory for cigar rolling in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood.

The buildings Latin inscription, recently restored, proudly states that the pope "built here from the ground up a factory for processing nicotine leaves." The big Tobacco factory was just ready in 1863.

This event is reminded on the inscription "PIUS IX OFFICINAM NICOTIANIS FOLIIS ELABORANDIS A SOLO EXTRUXIT. ANNO MDCCCLXIII" that is present on the building façade in Mastai's Square.

Now the beautiful building is the seat of the General Direction of the Autonomous Administration of the State Monopoly.

And on May. 19, 1930, Time Magazine reported that "The supreme Pontiff made known at the Vatican that in the Papal State the privilege of dealing in tobacco will shortly be constituted a government monopoly as in Italy."

Times may have changed but 100 years ago, smoking was definitely not a sin.


British American Tobacco

Tuscan Cigars

The Atlantic