Originally uploaded by nerro285.
The old tale of Pope Joan is just another intrigue in the mystifying history of the Vatican. Pope Joan is the name of a female pope who is regarded by most serious historians as a fiction, possibly originating as an anti-papal satire.
In the middle ages, there was a woman who hid her gender and rose through the ranks of the Church, became a cardinal and was elected pope supposedly reigned from 855 to 858. No one knew she was a woman until, during a papal procession through the streets of Rome, she went into labor and gave birth to a child. Then the story gets very confused; some of the records say she was killed along with her child right on the spot. The people of Rome tied her feet together and dragged her behind a horse while stoning her, until she died. Other records say she was sent to a convent and that her son grew up and later became bishop of Ostia.”
Who is Pope Joan or should I say John Anglicus??
A brilliant scholar who was born at Mainz. Under the name of John Anglicus she had been led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers. There she became proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge, until she had no equal, and afterwards in Rome, she taught the liberal arts and had great masters among her students and audience. A high opinion of her life and learning arose in the city, became a Cardinal, and when Pope Leo IV died in 853 A.D, she was unanimously elected pope.
Trick or Treat…..Chasing the Clues:
-The Catholic Church strongly denied the existence of a female pope, though the story was accepted as true throughout Europe until the 1700s. In the 1300s, the image of Pope Joan–or so it is believed–began to appear on the High Priestess tarot card.
– Another problem, scholars say, is there was no mention of such a pope in any historical account until the 13th century, about 400 years after her presumed reign. However, there are over five hundred ancient manuscripts containing accounts of Joan’s papacy, including those of Martin Polonus, Platina, Petrarch and Boccaccio.
Donna Cross, a novelist who spent seven years researching the time period, says the historical evidence is there. “I would say it’s the weight of evidence — over 500 chronicle accounts of her existence.”
– Inside the cathedral is a gallery of terra-cotta busts depicting 170 popes, in no particular order. In the 17th century, Cardinal Baronuis, the Vatican librarian, wrote that one of the faces was Joan the Female Pope. He then added that the pope at the time decreed that the statue be destroyed, but some say the local archbishop didn’t want a good to statue go to waste. Nevertheless…the statue was scraped off, and on top was written the name of Pope Zachary.”
– In the decades that followed, the intersection that witnessed Pope Joan labor was called the Vicus Papissa “the Street of the Female Pope” and for more than 100 years, popes would take a detour to avoid the shameful intersection.
– Rumor had it that for centuries, new pontiffs were required to sit the enormous purple marble chair on which popes once sat as they were crowned. The chair has a strange opening, something like a toilet seat, reportedly used to check their manhood.
David Dawson Vasquez, the director of Catholic University of America’s Rome program, says that the Vatican was just using the most impressive chair it had.
The hole is there because it was used by the imperial Romans, perhaps as a toilet, perhaps as a birthing chair. It doesn’t matter if there’s a hole there, because you can still sit there and be crowned.”
Others say it was a symbol of the pope giving birth to the mother church. Either way, newly minted Protestants in the 1500s had a field day making fun of the chair, and so it was hidden from view.
– At the Basilica in St. Peter’s Square are carvings by Bernini. Among the carvings are eight images of a woman wearing a papal crown, and the images seem to tell the story of a woman giving birth and a baby being born. Yet it is said that the Bernini sculptures were modeled after the niece of the pope.
Pope Joan in Literature:
– In 1996, the myth was transformed into the novel “Pope Joan” by author Diana Woolfolk Cross.
– “The Myth of Pope Joan,” first published in 1988, French author Alain Boureau.
– The Renaissance poet Giovanni Boccaccio, best known for writing “The Decameron,” also wrote a book on “100 Famous Women.” No. 51 is Pope Joan.
Pope Joan by Diana Woolfok Cross
Boccaccio, Giovanni, Concerning Famous Women, trans. Guido A. Guarino