The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Religious Figures of all time. This list of famous Religious Figures is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Religious Figures.
With an HPI of 92.12, Martin Luther is the most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 173 different languages on wikipedia.
Martin Luther (; German: [ˈmaʁtiːn ˈlʊtɐ] (listen); 10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German priest, theologian, author and hymnwriter. A former Augustinian friar, he is best known among Christians as the seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation and as the namesake of Lutheranism. Luther was ordained to the priesthood in 1507. He came to reject several teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church; in particular, he disputed the view on indulgences. Luther proposed an academic discussion of the practice and efficacy of indulgences in his Ninety-five Theses of 1517. His refusal to renounce all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor. Luther taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as the free gift of God's grace through the believer's faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority and office of the pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge, and opposed sacerdotalism by considering all baptized Christians to be a holy priesthood. Those who identify with these, and all of Luther's wider teachings, are called Lutherans, though Luther insisted on Christian or Evangelical (German: evangelisch) as the only acceptable names for individuals who professed Christ. His translation of the Bible into the German vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to the laity, an event that had a tremendous impact on both the church and German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in Protestant churches. His marriage to Katharina von Bora, a former nun, set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant clergy to marry.In two of his later works, Luther expressed antagonistic, violent views towards Jews and called for the burnings of their synagogues and their expulsion. In addition to Jews, these works also targeted Roman Catholics, Anabaptists, and nontrinitarian Christians. Based upon his significant Antisemitic teachings, the prevailing view among historians is that his anti-Jewish rhetoric contributed significantly to the development of Antisemitism in Germany and of the Nazi Party. Luther died in 1546 with Pope Leo X's excommunication still in effect.
With an HPI of 80.78, Pope Benedict XVI is the 2nd most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 144 different languages.
Pope Benedict XVI (Latin: Benedictus XVI; Italian: Benedetto XVI; German: Benedikt XVI.; born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, German: [ˈjoːzɛf ʔaˈlɔʏzi̯ʊs ˈʁatsɪŋɐ], on 16 April 1927) is a retired prelate of the Catholic church who served as the head of the church and the sovereign of the Vatican city state from 2005 until his resignation in 2013. Benedict's election as pope occurred in the 2005 papal conclave that followed the death of Pope John Paul II. Benedict chose to be known by the title "pope emeritus" upon his resignation.Ordained as a priest in 1951 in his native Bavaria, Ratzinger embarked on an academic career and established himself as a highly regarded theologian by the late 1950s. He was appointed a full professor in 1958 at the age of 31. After a long career as a professor of theology at several German universities, he was appointed Archbishop of Munich and Freising and created a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1977, an unusual promotion for someone with little pastoral experience. In 1981, he was appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the most important dicasteries of the Roman Curia. From 2002 until his election as pope, he was also Dean of the College of Cardinals. Prior to becoming pope, he was "a major figure on the Vatican stage for a quarter of a century"; he had an influence "second to none when it came to setting church priorities and directions" as one of John Paul II's closest confidants. He has lived in Rome since 1981. His prolific writings generally defend traditional Catholic doctrine and values. He was originally a liberal theologian, but adopted conservative views after 1968. During his papacy, Benedict XVI advocated a return to fundamental Christian values to counter the increased secularisation of many Western countries. He views relativism's denial of objective truth, and the denial of moral truths in particular, as the central problem of the 21st century. He taught the importance of both the Catholic Church and an understanding of God's redemptive love. Benedict also revived a number of traditions, including elevating the Tridentine Mass to a more prominent position. He strengthened the relationship between the Catholic Church and art, promoted the use of Latin, and reintroduced traditional papal vestments, for which reason he was called "the pope of aesthetics". He has been described as "the main intellectual force in the Church" since the mid-1980s.On 11 February 2013, Benedict unexpectedly announced his resignation in a speech in Latin before the cardinals, citing a "lack of strength of mind and body" due to his advanced age. His resignation became effective on 28 February 2013. He is the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, and the first to do so on his own initiative since Celestine V in 1294. As pope emeritus, Benedict retains the style of His Holiness and continues to dress in the papal colour of white. He was succeeded by Francis on 13 March 2013, and he moved into the newly renovated Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican for his retirement on 2 May 2013. In his retirement, Benedict XVI has made occasional public appearances alongside Francis. In addition to his native German language, Benedict has some level of proficiency with French, Italian, English, Latin, and Spanish, and can read Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew. He is a member of several social science academies, such as the French Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. He plays the piano and has a preference for Mozart and Bach.On 4 September 2020, Benedict became the longest-lived person to have held the office of pope, at 93 years, 4 months, 16 days, surpassing Leo XIII, who died in 1903.
With an HPI of 78.69, Hildegard of Bingen is the 3rd most famous Religious Figure. Her biography has been translated into 84 different languages.
Hildegard of Bingen (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis; c. 1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard and the Sibyl of the Rhine, was a German Benedictine abbess and polymath active as a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and as a medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages. She is one of the best-known composers of sacred monophony, as well as the most recorded in modern history. She has been considered by scholars to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany.Hildegard's convent elected her as magistra (mother superior) in 1136. She founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. Hildegard wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal works, as well as letters, hymns, and antiphons for the liturgy. She wrote poems, and supervised miniature illuminations in the Rupertsberg manuscript of her first work, Scivias. There are more surviving chants by Hildegard than by any other composer from the entire Middle Ages, and she is one of the few known composers to have written both the music and the words. One of her works, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama and arguably the oldest surviving morality play. She is noted for the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota. Although the history of her formal canonization is complicated, regional calendars of the Roman Catholic church have listed her as a saint for centuries. On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of Hildegard to the entire Catholic Church in a process known as "equivalent canonization". On 7 October 2012, he named her a Doctor of the Church, in recognition of "her holiness of life and the originality of her teaching."
With an HPI of 76.17, Albertus Magnus is the 4th most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 73 different languages.
Albertus Magnus (c. 1200 – 15 November 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great or Albert of Cologne, was a German Dominican friar, philosopher, scientist, and bishop. Later canonised as a Catholic saint, he was known during his lifetime as Doctor universalis and Doctor expertus and, late in his life, the sobriquet Magnus was appended to his name. Scholars such as James A. Weisheipl and Joachim R. Söder have referred to him as the greatest German philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church distinguishes him as one of the 37 Doctors of the Church.
With an HPI of 73.32, Ambrose is the 5th most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 71 different languages.
Ambrose of Milan (Latin: Aurelius Ambrosius; c. 339 – c. 397), venerated as Saint Ambrose, was a theologian and statesman who served as Bishop of Milan from 374 to 397. He expressed himself prominently as a public figure, fiercely promoting the Latin Church against Arianism and paganism. He left a substantial collection of writings, of which the best known include the ethical commentary De officiis ministrorum (377–391), and the exegetical Exameron (386–390). His preachings, his actions and his literary works, in addition to his innovative musical hymnography, made him one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. Ambrose was serving as the Roman governor of Aemilia-Liguria in Milan when he was unexpectedly made Bishop of Milan in 374 by popular acclamation. As bishop, he took a firm position against Arianism and attempted to mediate the conflict between the emperors Theodosius I and Magnus Maximus. Tradition credits Ambrose with developing an antiphonal chant, known as Ambrosian chant, and for composing the "Te Deum" hymn, though modern scholars now reject both of these attributions. Ambrose's authorship on at least four hymns, including the well-known "Veni redemptor gentium", is secure; they form the core of the Ambrosian hymns, which includes others that are sometimes attributed to him. He also had notable influence on Augustine of Hippo (354–430), whom he helped convert to Christianity. Western Christianity identified Ambrose as one of its four traditional Doctors of the Church. He is considered a saint by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and various Lutheran denominations, and venerated as the patron saint of Milan and beekeepers.
With an HPI of 72.40, Pope Joan is the 6th most famous Religious Figure. Her biography has been translated into 48 different languages.
Pope Joan (Ioannes Anglicus, 855–857) was, according to legend, a woman who reigned as pope for an unknown number of years during the Middle Ages. Her story first appeared in chronicles in the 13th century and subsequently spread throughout Europe. The story was widely believed for centuries but most modern scholars regard it as fictional.Most versions of her story describe her as a talented and learned woman who disguised herself as a man, often at the behest of a lover. In the most common accounts, owing to her abilities she rose through the church hierarchy and was eventually elected pope. Her sex was revealed when she gave birth during a procession and she died shortly after, either through murder or of natural causes. The accounts state that later church processions avoided this spot and that the Vatican removed the female pope from its official lists and crafted a ritual to ensure that future popes were male. In the 16th century, Siena Cathedral featured a bust of Joan among other pontiffs; this was removed after protests in 1600.Jean de Mailly's chronicle, written around 1250, contains the first mention of an unnamed female pope and inspired several more accounts over the next several years. The most popular and influential version is that interpolated into Martin of Opava's Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum later in the 13th century. Martin introduced details that the female pope's birth name was John Anglicus of Mainz, that she reigned in the 9th century and that she entered the church to follow her lover. The legend was generally accepted as true until the 16th century, when a widespread debate among Catholic and Protestant writers called the story into question: various writers noted the implausibly long gap between Joan's supposed lifetime and her first appearance in texts. Protestant scholar David Blondel ultimately demonstrated the impossibility of the story. Pope Joan is now widely considered fictional, though the legend remains influential in cultural depictions.
With an HPI of 71.31, Philip Melanchthon is the 7th most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 64 different languages.
Philip Melanchthon (born Philipp Schwartzerdt; 16 February 1497 – 19 April 1560) was a German Lutheran reformer, collaborator with Martin Luther, the first systematic theologian of the Protestant Reformation, intellectual leader of the Lutheran Reformation, and an influential designer of educational systems. He stands next to Luther and John Calvin as a reformer, theologian, and moulder of Protestantism.Melanchthon along with Luther denounced what they believed was the exaggerated cult of the saints, asserted justification by faith, and denounced what they considered to be the coercion of the conscience in the sacrament of penance (confession and absolution), which they believed could not offer certainty of salvation. Both rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, i.e. that the bread and wine of the eucharist are converted by the Holy Spirit into the flesh and blood of Christ; however, they affirmed that Christ's body and blood are present with the elements of bread and wine in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. This Lutheran view of sacramental union contrasts with the understanding of the Catholic Church that the bread and wine cease to be bread and wine at their consecration (while retaining the appearances of both). Melanchthon made his distinction between law and gospel the central formula for Lutheran evangelical insight. By the "law", he meant God's requirements both in Old and New Testament; the "gospel" meant the free gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
With an HPI of 70.20, Pope Clement II is the 8th most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 66 different languages.
Pope Clement II (Latin: Clemens II; born Suidger von Morsleben; died 9 October 1047), was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 25 December 1046 until his death in 1047. He was the first in a series of reform-minded popes from Germany. Suidger was the bishop of Bamberg. In 1046, he accompanied King Henry III of Germany, when at the request of laity and clergy of Rome, Henry went to Italy and summoned the Council of Sutri, which deposed Benedict IX and Sylvester III, and accepted the resignation of Gregory VI. Henry suggested Suidger as the next pope, and he was then elected, taking the name of Clement II. Clement then proceeded to crown Henry as emperor. Clement's brief tenure as pope saw the enactment of more stringent prohibitions against simony.
With an HPI of 69.74, Pope Damasus II is the 9th most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 65 different languages.
Pope Damasus II (; died 9 August 1048, born Poppo de' Curagnoni) was the head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 17 July 1048 to his death on 9 August that same year. He was the second of the German pontiffs nominated by Emperor Henry III. A native of Bavaria, he was the third German to become pope and had one of the shortest papal reigns.Upon the death of Clement II, envoys from Rome were sent to the emperor to ascertain who should be named pope. Henry named the bishop of Brixen, Poppo de' Curagnoni. While the envoys were away, the former pope Benedict IX reasserted himself and with the assistance of the disaffected Margrave Boniface III of Tuscany once again assumed the papacy. Henry ordered Boniface to escort Poppo to Rome, but Boniface declined, pointing out that the Romans had already enthroned Benedict. Enraged, the emperor ordered the margrave to depose Benedict or suffer the consequences. Poppo became pope in mid-July but died less than a month later, in Palestrina.
With an HPI of 68.30, Thomas à Kempis is the 10th most famous Religious Figure. His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.
Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380 – 25 July 1471; German: Thomas von Kempen; Dutch: Thomas van Kempen) was a German-Dutch canon regular of the late medieval period and the author of The Imitation of Christ, written anonymously in Latin in the Netherlands c. 1418–1427, one of the most popular and best known Christian devotional books. His name means "Thomas of Kempen", Kempen being his home town. He was a member of the Modern Devotion, a spiritual movement during the late medieval period, and a follower of Geert Groote and Florens Radewyns, the founders of the Brethren of the Common Life.
Pantheon has 114 people classified as religious figures born between 300 and 1991. Of these 114, 17 (14.91%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living religious figures include Pope Benedict XVI, Walter Kasper, and Gerhard Ludwig Müller. The most famous deceased religious figures include Martin Luther, Hildegard of Bingen, and Albertus Magnus. As of April 2022, 18 new religious figures have been added to Pantheon including Georg Ratzinger, Frederick of Utrecht, and Honoratus.
1927 - Present
1933 - Present
1947 - Present
1929 - Present
1956 - Present
1928 - Present
1953 - Present
1934 - Present
1955 - Present
1934 - Present
1956 - Present
1954 - Present
1483 - 1546
1098 - 1179
1206 - 1280
340 - 397
1497 - 1560
1005 - 1047
1000 - 1048
1380 - 1471
1030 - 1101
1774 - 1824
780 - 856
1924 - 2020
780 - 838
365 - 430
960 - 1015
1040 - 1074
1703 - 1763
1915 - 1945
940 - 1011
1170 - 1227
1823 - 1896
1837 - 1914
1850 - Present
Which Religious Figures were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Religious Figures since 1700.