The Pope Who Believed Drinking Breast Milk Would Save His Life
Pope Innocent VIII led the Catholic Church in the 15th century, back when popes did weird stuff. For example, Innocent endorsed one inquisitor’s personal crusade against witches. This is even stranger than it sounds, because before that, the Church had said witches didn’t exist. Witch-hunting is a sin, they used to say, because you’re claiming the devil grants people powers, which is, of course, blasphemous.
Innocent also waged crusades of his own, sending crusaders to fight some rogue Christians hiding in the Alps. Plus, he had two illegitimate children, but at least he had those before he became pope, which is more than we can say for some pontiffs. Then came the summer of 1492, when Innocent grew sick and started to die.
We’ve previously told you the craziest story from this time: That Innocent fed on the blood of two boys. This is a claim that leaves historians murmuring, “Um, well that’s the legend anyway. Don’t quote us on it. It’s just something a lot of people are saying.” But even accounts that doubt that story speak with conviction about a different fluid that he dined on during his illness.
In his last days, Innocent drank breast milk. The reasoning for this was that he was too weak to digest anything else. At least, that’s what those around him claimed. If he tried drinking cow’s milk, he would have digested that just as easily. Babies digest human milk better than cow’s milk, but adults have very different digestive systems from babies; it’s possible that an adult will be totally unable to digest either, but if they can digest one, they’ll manage the other too.
Did his courtiers try feeding him cow’s milk? Did they try feeling him gruel? Did they try feeding him applesauce? How about sugar water? Historical records don’t say.
With no breast pumps available, he had to suckle directly from a young woman whom the cardinals pressed into service as his wet nurse. This did not save his life. For a few fleeting moments, though, he did get to feel (very) young again.
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