Except for the fact that the man in the photographs was, for 27 years, the leader of the Pagan Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, later declared a saint.
Indeed, during his time in the Vatican, the Pope continued an extraordinarily close relationship with Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a married philosopher.
Their remarkable story emerged after the discovery, hidden away in the National Library of Poland, of hundreds of letters from the pontiff to his Polish compatriot, as well as photographs.
The documents reveal a fascinating side of Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005. Some pictures show him clothed in his papal vestments, stroking Anna-Teresa’s cheek with affection, clinging to her wrist and kissing her warmly on the cheek. The devotion they feel for one another is clear in their eyes.
Over their 32-year relationship, the Pope and Anna-Teresa sent each other scores of letters.
The Pope even gave her his treasured scapular — a devotional symbol of commitment to the Christian life, made of two tiny bits of cloth illustrated with a picture of the Virgin Mary, worn next to the skin, representing the apron-like garments which monks wear over their habits.
The Pope had been given the scapular by his father for his first Holy Communion. Offering her the treasured object, he explained, in correspondence, let him ‘accept and feel you everywhere in all kinds of situations, whether you are close, or far away’.
Stourton from BBC has discovered two main sources for his story. First, a hoard of photos of Anna-Teresa (who died in 2014, aged 91) with the Pope — including those charming holiday snaps.
Anna-Teresa sold her collection of 350 letters to him to the National Library of Poland for a seven-figure sum some years after the Pope’s death. But, unlike most high-profile library acquisitions, the letters were kept from public view.
Only now, thanks to dogged work by Stourton, who repeatedly asked the library for access to the letters, has this surprising piece of history come to light. Read the full story here