Five Things to Know about this African Pope Celebrated on November 21

Pope Gelasius I. Credit: Vatican Media

Of the 266 successors to St. Peter, three are of African descent. One of them is St. Gelasius I, whose feast is celebrated on November 21.

Pope Gelasius I was the Church’s third black Pope  known then for saving Rome from famine, composing a book of hymns, and clarifying Church teaching on the Eucharist.

Here are a few other things that not many people know about St. Gelasius I.


  • Saint of African descent



Born in the then Western Roman Empire in North Africa in the fifth century, St Gelasius' roots are traced to Tunisia.

PopeHistory says that Gelasius was born into the crumbling Roman empire before it fell to the Vandal barbarians and that when asked about his origin, he would say, “I was born a Roman in Africa.”


  • Third African Pope

More in Africa


Pope Gelasius I is the third Pontiff of African descent. He served as the 49th Pope from 492 to 496. Other African Popes that served before Pope Gelasius I were St. Victor and St. Melchiades. 

Pope Victor is said to have been a Deacon when he became the first black Pope, the 14th Pope in 189 A.D. He established a set date for the yearly celebration of Easter. Pope Victor died a martyr for the faith in 199. 

Pope Melchiades, on his part, served as the Church’s second black Pope, the 32nd Pope, from 311 to 314. He signed the Emperor Constantine’s laws that ended persecutions and made Christianity the established religion of the Roman Empire.

Pope Gelasius I is said to have served for only four years. He was already 82 years old when he ascended to the office of the Papacy, succeeding Pope Felix III. He died of old age at 86.



  • Prolific writer


During his Papacy, Pope Gelasius I is said to have written so many documents that he became known as the most prolific writer of the Church’s leaders for the next at least five centuries.


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  • Declared February 14 Valentine’s Day


Valentine's Day celebrations are said to have been inspired by St. Valentine, a Christian martyr who is regarded as the patron saint of love, beekeeping, and epilepsy. St. Valentine was a Roman priest who assisted persecuted Christians in marrying, an act that was deemed a violation under Gothicus' regime, leading to the Saint's imprisonment and subsequent execution.

According to, by 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 as the Feast of St. Valentine, as an effort to replace the pagan Feast of Lupercalia, which was related to health and fertility. The pagan celebration was transformed into a day for celebrating love, eventually evolving into the modern-day Valentine's Day.


  • Dogma on baptism


St. Gelasius I goes down in history as the Pope who put into effect the Dogma that refused unbaptized children from attaining salvation. The Church believed that original sin blocked salvation, and could only be washed away by baptism. This changed in 2007 during the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI when it was passed that “there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.