It is hard to believe that there were four popes in 1276! And even the fourth did not last long! Here is the story of Pedro Juliao, Pope John XXI.
Born in Lisbon around 1215, Pedro was the son of Juliao Pais Rebolo, a physician, and Mer Mendes. He is considered the second Portuguese pope, because Damasus I was born in Portuguese territory before there was a Portugal.
Pedro went to the cathedral school at Lisbon, then the University of Paris. He concentrated on the studies of medicine, theology, logic, physics, metaphysics and the dialectic style of Aristotle. He is traditionally identified with Peter of Spain, who taught medicine at the University of Siena in the 1240s. His book Summulae Logicales was a university textbook for three hundred years.
At a young age, Pedro was invited to the Court of Lisbon to serve as councilor and spokesman for King Alfonso on Church matters.
In 1261, Pedro became a member of the retinue surrounding Ottaboni Fieschi. Shortly after, he became the deacon of the church of Lisbon, which he exchanged to become the prior of the monastery at Guimarxes. In rapid succession over the next decade, Pedro was the archdeacon of Vermoin and the cardinal bishop of Tusculum. All this while also he served as physician to Pope Gregory X (1271-1276). Then Pope Adrian V was elected and died in a month (August 1276)
With the stringent rules of the conclave established by Pope Gregory X at Lyons, and citizens living through too many nerve-wracking elections lately, riots broke out in the streets. Pedro was elected to succeed Adrian on September 9. He was crowned two weeks later, taking the name John XXI. One of the first things he did was reverse Gregory X’s ruling on conclaves, which included keeping the cardinals in virtual solitary until the election and reducing their diets if the election took too long.
Then, the new Pope attempted to launch a new Crusade to the Holy Land. On and off, he negotiated with Emperor Rudolf and King Charles of Sicily, trying to get taxes from them to finance the new war. At the same time, he tried to maintain peace among the Christian lands. He pushed to reestablish unity with the Eastern Church. Emperor Michael of Constantinople went as far as to swear off the schism; even the Patriarch wanted union. He also tried to launch a mission to convert the Tartars, those who lived on the Euro-Asian steppes. The Khan went as far as asking for missionaries.
But mostly, he wanted peace to study medicine. It is said that Cardinal Giovanni Gaetano Orsini ruled the Curia so the Pope could study. To this end, he had an apartment built onto the papal summer palace at Viterbo. Soon after it was completed, Pope John moved in and began his studies again. On May 14, not a year after his election, the ceiling in his study collapsed, trapping him. Although he was rescued, his injuries were too great for him to survive. He died May 20 and was buried in the Duomo.
John XXI was a man whose life was surrounded by rumors. It was claimed that he was a necromancer, and that he was writing heresy when he was injured. Thus, his death was an act of God. Dante, on the other hand honored him in his Paradiso, putting him in the Spere of the Sun with the spirits of other great religious scholars.