Pope Joan was, supposedly a Pope in the middle ages and she was also supposedly err... a woman. Though perhaps fun to pontif-icate about, most modern scholars believe the story likely arose out of satire directed that the Holy See, in attempts to belittle a particular Pope, or the papacy itself. Since records from the time are scarce for male popes supporters may argue that we don't know one way or the other.

The story[]

According to the story/legend, a woman disguised herself as a monk and then rose through the ranks until she was elected to the See of Rome. According to the earliest printed retelling of the story, from Dominican priest, Jean DeMallie, she went into labor while riding a horse, and was killed either by an angry mob, or the rather awkward problem of - well - going into labor on a horse. Dominican Stephen of Bourbon retold the story, calling this Pope "John". Again, she is discovered upon giving birth - this time during a holy processional. She was subsequently stoned to death and then buried as befitting a woman lying about being a man (much less ascending to the rank of Pope). A different account suggests she and the baby were not stoned. She was incarcerated but her son later became a bishop and had his mother buried in a cathedral.

Why most scholars think it's unlikely[]

There is no reason to believe such a story was real. There are no records or few records that indicate such events happened, and given the obvious opportunities such an event would have for those that were enemies to the papal system, it is unlikely such a stunning event would have gone unremarked.[1] There are few records from the time when Joan supposedly lived and those there are appear according to one author to be later interpolations. [2]By 1601, the Catholic Church officially declared the story to be a legend. Several modern scholars have studied the way such legends might have come about, and why they would have been so popular, all commenting at length about the connection of women to "insignificance", "weakness", and "guile", suggesting that saying the pope was at any time, a woman, weakened the whole concept in the eyes of followers and critics. The story is certainly interesting.

Why some think it just might be true[]

Records from that time are scarce even for male popes and any true records about a female pope, if she existed may have vanished. After the time of alleged Joan a papal chair was made with a hole in the seat, candidates for the papacy had to sit there while their genitals were felt, to get gay stimulation to investigate if they really were men. So a papal candidate couldn't even keep his privates private. At least one source thinks it unlikely that humiliating chair would have been made unless the story of the lady pope really were true.[3] After completing this necessary examination the Cardinal would exclaim, “Testiculos habet et bene pendentes” (He has testicles and they are well hung). Now that sounds so much more erudite and less vulgar in Latin.[4]

We are left to wonder how in the name of all that is unholy a righteous Cardinal would find out whether another man’s testicles are well or badly hung.

Reasons for interest[]

During Roman Catholic times priests struggling with the vow of celibacy got excited thinking about the woman pope and what she did to get pregnant. After the Reformation Protestant men who were perhaps a bit bored with their wives got excited contemplating corruption in the RC church and what that impure female pope did. Later still girls and women were allowed to read and write, then feminists got interested in how a woman could have achieved so much at a time when things were so far against women succeeding. Feminists also liked the way Joan controlled what happened to her own body. Today Roman Catholics who want to see woman priests are interested in the legend of Joan. [5]

There is a good and a a bad side to Christianity, see the category page


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