Antonio José Hurtado (Pedro II, 1939-1955) was a Colombian, self-trained dentist. After the death of Pope Pius XI in 1939, he proclaimed himself Pope Peter II, stating that he was elected by God. Hurtado’s claim to the papacy only ended with his death in 1955. Thus, his papal claim had nothing to do with the reforms in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s. The following text is not built on a detailed study of primary sources but mostly relies on secondary material, including some fine articles about this intriguing man (see list of references).
The future pope was born in 1892 in the small town of Barbosa, some 40 kilometres north of Medellín. As a young man, he studied at the Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Santa Rosa de Osos but left when his father died. Hurtado seems to have had great entrepreneurial skills and he was a quick learner. He moved to Bogotá, where he worked in many different areas without having formal training in any of them. Among other things, he became a carpenter, a tailor, a goldsmith and an ambulating photographer.
In 1923, at the age of 31, Hurtado returned to Barbosa, where he set up a dental clinic. He had no formal training in dentistry either but was considered very skilful. He learned dentistry by self-study of available books on the subject. With his background as a goldsmith, he was also considered a master of making artificial teeth, and the false dentures he produced were regarded as excellent. Given the fact that there were few dentists in this part of Colombia at the time, rumours about the dentist in Barbosa attracted lots of people from different social strata, both from Medellín and from even more distant places. That Barbosa had a train station and quite good communications contributed to his business success. With a steady stream of patients, this is how Antonio José Hurtado spent his days until New Year’s Day 1937 when he suddenly heard a voice whispering: “You will be Peter II”. Consequently, he thought that it meant that he would be the successor of Pius XI.
In a blogpost about Hurtado, a Colombian priest called Alonso Felipe Cambon claims that Hurtado, in fact, had a clerical background long before proclaiming his papacy. According to him, Hurtado was ordained a priest in the early 1920s by the Spanish-born Old Catholic bishop Irineo Aznar, who lived in the Colombian capital. Aznar should have been consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Carmel Henry Carfora of the North American Old Roman Catholic Church in Chicago. Still, no other sources known to me mention a bishop Aznar or that he should have been consecrated by Carfora. Still, Cambon claims that Hurtado was surreptitiously consecrated a bishop on August 5, 1929, by Aznar “and other dissident Catholic bishops.”
When Pius XI, in fact, died on February 10, 1939, Hurtado went to Medellín to send a telegram to the Vatican, addressing it to the papal Camerlengo. The message must have surprised the recipient:
His Holiness Pius XI is dead. My Heart that loved him more than anybody else is filled with sorrow. Holy College of Cardinals: Do you search for a new Vicar [of Christ]? That’s me, Antonio Hurtado.
As he waited for a (favourable) response from the Vatican, Hurtado decided to buy a jewel ring, and a tailor provided him with two sets of papal vestments. He also bought figures of Christ and various saints, communion wafers, a ciborium and a monstrance made of solid gold. On March 2, 1939, the Conclave was over and Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli was elected pope, taking the name Pius XII. Hurtado, who had held firm hopes of being summoned to the Roman conclave, came to the conclusion that he, in fact, was the true pope and nothing less than the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. He made his own Habemus Papam declaration:
I announce to you a great joy, we have a pope: The eminent magister Antonio José Hurtado Hernández, who has taken the name Pedro II .
Already after the death Pius XI and when receiving news about the Colombian papal candidate from Hurtado himself, El Bateo, a daily newspaper, published a sarcastic piece, playing with the word “papa”, which in Spanish means both “pope” (el papa) and “potato” (la papa). “He looks like a pope, he awaited the death of the pope and probably he likes potatoes very much, especially potato omelette”.
Antonio Hurtado, natural de Barbosa, dentista de profesión, de 45 almanaques Bristol, soltero, de regular estatura, preciosa cara de Apolo, más afeitado que un míster, apuesto como un galán cinematográfico, discreto, correctísimo y definitivamente conquistador de la simpatía, llegó a nuestra redacción y nos entregó la siguiente comunicación que será transmitida telepáticamente. [Here the journal included a transcript of his message to the Vatican]. Así dice textualmente y textualmente nosotros decimos: tiene figura de Papa, esperaba la muerte del Papa y probablemente le debe gustar bastante la papa, especialmente envuelta en huevo.
The article included the text that he had sent to the Vatican, though claiming that it had been sent “telepathically.” Above all, the journal described Hurtado’s good looks (“with Appolo’s face”), comparing him to a movie star (“un galán cinematográfico“).
To put it mildly, the mayor of Barbosa, Enrique Bedoya, and the local parish priest, Jesús Antonio Arias, were not enthusiastic about the townsman’s claim to the papacy. On February 23, 1939, they took him to see a psychiatrist, doctor Uribe Calad who examined Hurtado and came to the conclusion that he suffered from delirium. Put in other words, he was diagnosed as psychotic. Doctor Calad also stated that Hurtado suffered of “theomania”, a delusional mental illness in which a person believes himself or herself to be God or at least specially chosen by the divine. Still, the psychiatrist considered Hurtado harmless and stated that he was no threat to either himself or others. Hurtado was, of course, not convinced by the diagnosis and just told those present: “I am the Pope, I am God”. He was clear that his claim to the papacy certainly was no illness, but the simple, albeit astonishing truth.
Having been elected Vicar of Christ, not surprisingly Pedro II claimed that he had the full right to perform liturgical rites, including saying Mass, and to organize his own processions, at least during the Holy Week and Christmas, in addition to having a special apostolic mission to correct the errors in Rome. Still, it seems that he did not see Pius XII as a sinister antipope. At least on some occasions, he explained that “He [Pius XII] governs Rome and I govern here, just like Mussolini governs Italy and the Liberal Party governs Colombia”.
During his years as a popular dentist, Hurtado had earned a lot of money. In addition to employing some 20 townspeople, who should help him, he owned a large house and decided to transform it into his own Holy See: Vatican II. In the house was his dental clinic, which with the papal election became a kind of chapel, too.
There, one could see a large cross, and on a table was the paten and the monstrance. There was a small lamp with oil, and an open Bible was placed at a lectern. A special employee read biblical texts during his masses. Several images accompanied these objects: pictures of all earlier popes so far, an image of Saint Apollonia, patroness of dentists, and a Crucified Virgin , as well as a picture of himself in a papal outfit, imparting the blessing Urbi et Orbi. A somewhat strange thing about Hurtado as an employer was that he demanded all employees to learn and use English, as he considered it “the language of the future.” Among other activities, the Pope ran a kindergarten where he taught English to children and he screened movies with a projector he had imported himself.
Ana Ofelia Gómez, one of the pope’s nieces, whom he had employed, had the task of welcoming patients and visitors, telling them to address the dentist/pontiff as Pope. The pope of Barbosa seems to have been a kind of magnet, attracting people from far away locations. The President of the Republic Alfonso López Pumarejo and future president Alfonso López Michelsen came to him, together with journalists and academicians, and even internationally known people such as Argentine actress Libertad Lamarque and Cuban-Mexican actress Dalia Iñíguez.
Joining the visit of Dalia Iñiguez in September 1939, journalist Juan Roca Lemus wrote an essay about Hurtado titled “El Papa de Barbosa: cómo vive y qué piensa”, The Pope of Barbosa: How does he live and what does he think. It is certainly not a news article. The writer’s tone is ironical and humorous, as are the words he quotes as the Hurtado’s, and it is not easy to use it as a historical source, though it captures an absurd visit. When conversing with Roca Lemus and Dalia Iñugez, Hurtado sat in his dentist chair explaining that he used it for his patients on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On the other days, it became the Holy See and his Sedia gestatoria.
When asked about his plans for his pontificate he told them his first project was to finish the restoration of his home so it would function as the little Vatican. Second, he stated that he did not need a Swiss guard, but that Colombians would constitute his guard, as he did not know why Swiss people, “those poor watch-makers” would be any better than others. Third, he would increase the number of Commandments to sixteen “as to reflect the present needs”, however, without providing any details. Fourth, he would prohibit ecclesiastical intervention in political issues, but on the other hand, he hoped to be able to pick a few bishops among the politicians that he found worthy such a position.
To spread his teachings over the world, Pedro II started the journal El Emmanuel, but probably it did not have more than a local and, to some extent, regional distribution. Very few copies of the journal seem to have survived until today. Through the 1940s and until his death in 1955, Hurtado continued his ministry, combining the papacy and the dentistry. He was not brought to a psychiatric clinic again. Perhaps he was too popular among many people and considered an important part of the local economy. He continued to read mass and he led processions, at least during Easter and Christmas.
It is, however, not surprising that the local clergy was not amused. A man in their parish claimed the papacy, and in this way, Hurtado had excommunicated himself. In June 1939, three months after making his claim, Father Arias publicly declared Hurtado excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. I have not found information about any formal diocesan process against Hurtado. Maybe the ecclesiastical authorities found the claims so preposterous–and crazy–that they did not act very harshly, while the parish priest was forced to live with the situation on a daily basis.
There were several clashes between the priest and the pope. On Palm Sunday 1944, for example, the procession led by Father Arias met another procession, a rather large group, led by Pedro II. Shortly thereafter, the papal procession was dissolved by policemen, but the pope of Barbosa invited everybody to have dinner in his house, though the police tried to prevent the delivery of food. After this event, Arias publicly threatened to excommunicate all who attended the local pontiff’s activities; Catholics should avoid this blasphemous man.
But how did more or less ordinary local people react when one of their neighbours suddenly declared that he, and not the man in Rome, was the true pope? It is clear that people joined his processions and came to his dentistry/chapel. Apart from that, he was one of the biggest employers in town. Some were probably followers in a strict sense. Still, it is safe to say that most were curious and did not believe in his papal claims. Even if many looked upon Pedro II as at least a bit crazy, many seem to have seen him as a knowledgeable, kind and elegant man. Among his closest followers-whether serious or not were a group of cardinals, which included a butcher, a barber and a grocer.
As time passed, curing miracles were attributed to Pedro II. In his own journal, he wrote that he had healed people from serious illnesses and made disabled children walk. While he was a keen investigator of botany and herbal medicine throughout the years, it seems that one important way people could be cured was by kissing his papal ring
The distribution of food appears to have been an important part of the papal ministry of Pedro II. If he did not show this type of generosity, he stated that he should stop calling himself “the Pope of Barbosa”. There is ample evidence that good-quality food was distributed from Vatican II to the poorest townspeople on a daily basis, and that Pedro II himself kept a frugal diet. In his own journal, El Emmanuel, he discussed this matter; that charity was demanded of him as the pontiff, otherwise, he would not have been elected, while at the same time criticizing the luxury in the Roman Vatican.
El papado es el cargo más paradójico del mundo, es el más absoluto y sin embargo el más limitado, el más rico en ventas pero el más pobre en ganancias personales. Lo instituyó un carpintero nazareno que no tenía dónde reposar la cabeza, pero se hallaba rodeado de pompa y parafernalia excesiva para este mundo hambriento. De su cuello cuelgan las llaves del Reino pero puede encontrarse desterrado para siempre de la Paz de la Elección y de la Comunión de los Santos. Si dice que no lo tienta la autocracia y la ambición, es un embustero. Si no avanza a veces aterrorizado ni ora a menudo en la oscuridad, entonces es un necio.
In his Vatican II, Pedro II had a replica of the Garden of Eden constructed, filled with many species of plants and animals. A central feature was a pond filled with colorful fishes. He also housed stray dogs and old or badly wounded horses. A story that circulated locally tells that a man who wanted to sell Hurtado a parrot had trained it to say “pope”. Meeting Pedro II, the bird opened its beak and repeated “Papa, Papa”. Needless to say, the parrot became an inhabitant of the papal Garden of Eden.
By the 1950s, the relations between Pedro II and the local Catholic priests had improved significantly. The curate who had replaced his old nemesis Father Arias went to Vatican II to discuss theology and politics with the pontiff, being impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge. Another local priest even stated that Hurtado was a saint. As Hurtado made a deathbed confession and received the last rites by a local priest, he must have been considered a Roman Catholic anyway, though no source that I have been able to consult mentions that he made a formal abjuration of his earlier beliefs.
On May 14, 1955, Pedro II died at a local nursing home, to which he was brought shortly before. He received a Roman Catholic burial, but the parish priest did not allow him to be buried in his papal robes. Still, Pedro was indeed put in the coffin with his alb, skullcap and the rest of his clothes as a pillow. This must have been a sign of an early, very unorthodox kind of ecumenism.
Victor Bustamante, Noticias de Pedro II, El Papa de Barbosa, Medellín, 1995 [Second edition 2008].
Juan Roca Lemus, “El papa de Barbosa: cómo vive y qué piensa”, originally published in Estampa , No. 41, September 17, 1939, republished in: Juan José Hoyos (ed.) El Periodismo en Antioquia, Medellin 2003, pp. 277–282.
Orlando Montoya Moreno, “La odontología en Antioquia: Saltos y sobresaltos”, in: Repertorio Histórico de la Academia Antioqueña de Historia 12 (2006): 33–49.
Luis Alberto Miño Rueda, “La historia del ‘papa’ que reinó en Antioquia”, El Tiempo, April 10, 2005: http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-12632922
“Retazos de Vida: El papa de Barbosa” 2008: http://retazosdelavida.blogspot.se/2008/11/el-papa-de-barbosa.html
“Pedro II … de Colombia”, 2009, http://sursumcordablog.blogspot.se/2009/08/el-papa-pedro-ii-de-colombia.html
Alonso Felipe Cambon, “Mons. Antonio Jose Hurtado”, 2008: http://alfredomontrezza.blogspot.com/2008/09/galeria-de-obispos-monsantonio-jose.html
Colegio Cooperativo Simón Bolívar, “Antonio José Hurtado: El papa de Barbosa”, short film, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlOr84Rtt0I