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  • Writer's picturePaul


Being pope is a busy job. There’re saints to beatify, babies to kiss, and the occasional holy war to keep you occupied. But one pope in particular decided to add an unhealthy obsession with time to his already busy schedule.

As a young man in the mid 1500s, Pope Clement VIII saw the mechanical clock become ever more popular across Europe, and became convinced that such accurate timekeeping was a blessing to enable him to do God’s work. But his obsession with time went a lot deeper than that.

From a young age, Pope Clement had held a deep hatred of the mid-afternoon, a time when he and other adolescents like him were “afflicted with such melancholia ... that surely the Devil’s power must be at its peak”. And so began his lifelong mission to pinpoint the exact minute at which this devilish “melancholia” started.

Pope Clement VIII: A barrel of laughs (Public domain/Wikipedia)

In his writings on the subject of time, Pope Clement called this period Tunc Daemoniorum, or “the Devil’s time”, and after many years spent clock-watching he managed to track it down to between the hours of 3.23 PM and 5.47 PM. On his ascension to the papal throne in 1592, one of his first decrees was to forbid any activity except silent prayer from taking place in the Vatican between these hours, “lest Godly men be tempted away from Godliness”. So each day during his papacy, the Holy See would fall silent every afternoon.

Of course, being pope has its benefits: Clement excused himself from his own rules, and instead of two and a half hours’ silent reflection would routinely patrol the halls of the Vatican every afternoon armed with a cane to strike any priest or servant found doing anything other than praying silently.

Suffice to say, this bizarre policy was promptly dropped by his successor, Leo XI, after Clement’s death in 1605. Or about five past four.


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