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Can Welsh rugby wins predict the death of a pope? Perhaps

April 19, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II / For the Booster Shots blog

A Welsh urban legend says that "Every time Wales wins the rugby grand slam, a pope dies, except for 1978, when Wales were really good and two popes died." A grand slam in rugby occurs when one nation beats all the others in the Six Nations League in one year. The six nations are England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy.

Although many men on the street in Wales appear to believe the legend, Dr. Gareth Payne of University Hospital Wales and his colleagues disproved it -- sort of. In a 2008 article in the BMJ, they concluded that this event occurs only about 62% of the time. They predicted that "about three-fifths of a Pope will die this year," a prediction that was more or less correct because no popes died.

But in a new article in today's edition of BMJ, Dr. Edward J. Snelson of the Sheffield Children's Hospital in England writes, in effect: Now wait just a darned minute! You forgot the Coptic popes! Coptic popes are the head of the ancient see of Alexandria and directly follow on from the evangelist Mark, thus having a legitimate claim to the title. This year, Snelson noted, Pope Shenouda III died on the very day that Wales won the Grand Slam. Shenouda had been pope for 41 years and succeeded Cyril VI, who died in 1971, in the same month that Wales won the Grand Slam.

"It is crucial that this new information be brought to the attention of your readership," Snelson wrote. "Although the association between these deaths and the sporting events may not be fully understood, this research has created a false reassurance and may be putting the lives of other popes at risk."

LATimesScience@gmail.com

Twitter: @LATMaugh

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