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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pope Joan- a Female POPE! Fact or Fiction?

medieval artistic rendition of Pope Joan with a papal tiara. Illustrated
Bibliothèque nationale de France, circa 1560's.

Medieval religious leader Pope Joan is believed to have been a female pontiff who reigned over the Roman Catholic Church for a short time in the mid-800s. She allegedly assumed the name John Anglicus, disguising herself as a man and eventually becoming pope.  Pope Joan supposedly reigned as Pope John VIII from a few weeks to more than two years depending on the source. Some theorized that her term came between Pope Leo IV and Benedict III. 
Pope John VIII 
The first mention of the female pope appears in the chronicle of Jean Pierier de Mailly, but the most popular and influential version was that interpolated into Martin of Troppau‘s Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum somewhat later in the 13th century. Most versions say that she was a talented and learned woman who disguised herself as a man, often at the behest of a lover. She was thought to have grown  up in Mainz, Germany where she studied Greek and Latin at a monastery founded by English missionaries. Girls at that time were not educated so Pope Joan may have disguised herself as a boy to pursue her studies. She allegedly fell in love with a monk and went with him to Athens disguised as a fellow monk. She later moved to Rome named John Anglicus. A talented scribe, she worked as a papal notary and rose up the ranks within the Vatican, eventually becoming a cardinal and elected as pontiff around 855,
Pope Joan publicly giving birth during a street procession. Note the jester behind
the column mocking the event, as well as the 
Corinthian column which
 has the peculiar face of a 
demon. Woodcut engraving by Giovanni Boccaccio. Now in British Museum. circa 1353.
It is believed that her story was discovered when she gave birth to her child. According to stories, her secret was uncovered during a papal procession. Pregnant at the time, Pope Joan was on her way to the Church of the Lateran in Rome when she began having contractions. Learning that the pope was having a baby, the people reacted in horror. Most reports indicate that she was killed that day, either by stoning or by being dragged behind a horse. Later popes avoided the crossroads where Pope Joan was supposedly killed, which was called the Vicus Papissa, or street of the female pope.

Her existence has been dismissed by the church as purely a myth. Others point to evidence in documents and artwork that indicates a woman once held the highest position in the church. Pope Joan is mentioned in a book by poet Giovanni Boccaccio. Many other sources and images of a female pontiff can be seen in numerous artworks, including sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the Basilica in St. Peter Square.
Carved statue of Joan Papieżycy Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the Basilica of St. Peter.
from minos-minal-omfalos.blogspot.com
Donna Woolfolk Cross, the author of her historical novel Pope Joan (1996), told ABC Primetime Live that she believed that Pope Joan was a real person based on research materials available. A feature film based on Cross' novel is reportedly in the works. 

Fact or fiction....you be the judge.

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