Updated:
Original:
Year
1914
Month Day
September 03

Pope Benedict XV named to papacy

On September 3, 1914, barely a month after the outbreak of World War I, Giacomo della Chiesa is elected to the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming Pope Benedict XV.

An aristocratic native of Genoa, Italy, who had served as a cardinal since the previous May, Benedict succeeded Pius X, who died on August 20, 1914. He was elected by a constituency made up of cardinals from countries on both sides of the battle lines, because he professed strict neutrality in the conflict. Calling the Great War “the suicide of Europe,” Benedict became an insistent voice for peace from the beginning of his reign, though his calls were roundly ignored by the belligerent powers.

After proposing the idea of a general Christmas truce in 1914 without success—although some pauses in the fighting did occur spontaneously in various places along the Western Front that Christmas, initiated by the soldiers—Benedict began to lose influence even within Italy as that nation readied itself to join the war effort. In the months preceding Italy’s declaration of war on Austria-Hungary in May 1915, Benedict’s steady urging for peace was seen as interfering with the national will to fight. In the Treaty of London, which set the conditions for Italy’s participation in the war, the Allies agreed with Italy that any peace overtures from the Vatican to the Central Powers should be ignored.

On August 1, 1917, Benedict issued a seven-point peace proposal addressed to “the heads of the belligerent peoples.” In it, he expressed the need for a cessation of hostilities, general reduction of armaments, freedom of the seas and international arbitration of any territorial questions among the warring nations. The proposal was widely rejected by all the warring powers, which were by this point dedicated to an absolute victory and would not consider compromise. To make matters worse, both sides saw the Vatican as prejudiced in favor of the other and refused to accept the pope’s terms. This situation continued in the immediate post-armistice period, when despite its entreaties to be involved in the determination of the peace settlement, Benedict’s Vatican was excluded from the Paris Peace Conference, held at Versailles in 1919.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Allies invade Italian mainland

The British 8th Army under Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery begins the Allied invasion of the Italian peninsula, crossing the Strait of Messina from Sicily and landing at Calabria–the “toe” of Italy. On the day of the landing, the Italian government secretly agreed to the ...read more

Treaty of Paris signed

The American Revolution officially comes to an end when representatives of the United States, Great Britain, Spain and France sign the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. The signing signified America’s status as a free nation, as Britain formally recognized the independence of ...read more

Russian school siege ends in bloodbath

A three-day hostage crisis at a Russian school comes to a violent conclusion after a gun battle erupts between the hostage-takers and Russian security forces. In the end, over 300 people died, many of them children, while hundreds more were injured. On the morning of September 1, ...read more

Confederate forces enter Kentucky

Confederate General Leonidas Polk commits a major political blunder by marching his troops into Columbus, Kentucky—negating Kentucky’s avowed neutrality and causing the Unionist legislature to invite the U.S. government to drive the invaders away. Kentucky was heavily divided ...read more

Britain and France declare war on Germany

On September 3, 1939, in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Britain and France, both allies of the overrun nation declare war on Germany. The first casualty of that declaration was not German—but the British ocean liner Athenia, which was sunk by a German U-30 submarine ...read more