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5 Saints who loved the game of chess

These holy men and women were fans of the game centuries ago.

Chess is enjoying a huge surge in popularity thanks to recent shows like Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, which has garnered millions of viewers. And while the game may require the patience of a saint, only a handful of the Church’s holy men and women were known to be keen players. Here are just a few who used the game to build friendships and bonds, to send powerful messages, as well as to pass the time.

St. Thomas Becket

The 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury played a lot of chess with his best friend, King Henry II. 

St. Charles Borromeo

This Italian cardinal was a keen player who was once asked: “Your Eminence, if you were told that you were about to die, what should you do?” He replied: “I should finish this game of chess. I began it for the glory of God, and I should end it with the same intention.”

St. Francis Xavier

The 16th-century missionary played an instrumental role in spreading Christianity to India, Japan and the Malay Archipelago. The Jesuit was a chess enthusiast who would often play chess at friends’ homes, and during his life as a missionary was seen playing chess with soldiers.


Pope St. John Paul II

The Polish pontiff was a big fan of chess. In 1999 FIDE actually awarded him the title “Grand Commander of the Legion of Grandmasters.”

St. Teresa of Avila

Although she was not a player, chess played a big part in this Carmelite Doctor of the Church’s life. She once gave a fascinating chess analogy to describe how her fellow sisters should prepare their prayers in order to “checkmate the Lord.” This clever use of the game resulted in her being made patron saint of chess.