Illustrissimi or "To the Illustrious Ones", is a collection of letters written by Pope John Paul I when he was Patriarch of Venice. The letters were originally published in the Italian Christian paper 'Messaggero di S. Antonio' between 1972 and 1975, and published in book form in 1976. The book was first published in English in 1978 when Cardinal Luciani (as he was then known) was elected Pope. As the English translation only reached the public after his death (after reigning as Pope for just 33 days), it stands as one of the few writings in public circulation that indicate what sort of person John Paul I was and what sort of Pope he might have been had he lived longer.

The letters

There are 40 letters in all, mainly to people in Italian history and fiction, but also to internationally well known fictional and historical characters such as Pinocchio, Charles Dickens, Hippocrates, and Jesus. Each of the letters tends to be droll and witty, but cleverly turned into a short sermon in order to make a point, whether it is on fashion, pornography, capitalism, or the communications industry.

The letters are addressed to the following:

  • Charles Dickens
  • Mark Twain
  • G. K. Chesterton
  • Maria Theresa of Austria
  • Charles Peguy
  • Trilussa
  • St Bernard of Clairvaux
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • King David
  • Penelope
  • Figaro
  • The Pickwick Club
  • Pinocchio
  • Paolo Diacono
  • Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordova
  • St Bernardino of Siena
  • St Francis de Sales
  • St Romedio's Bear
  • P.I. Chichikov
  • King Lemuel
  • Sir Walter Scott
  • The Unknown Painter at the Castle
  • Hippocrates
  • St Thérèse de Lisieux
  • Alessandro Manzoni
  • Casella
  • Luigi Cornaro
  • St Bonaventure
  • Christopher Marlowe
  • St Luke
  • Quintilian
  • Guglielmo Marconi
  • Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli
  • Félix Dupanloup
  • Petrarch
  • St Theresa of Avila
  • Carlo Goldoni
  • Andreas Hofer
  • Jesus Christ

    The book was last reissued in 2001.