Pope Joan

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Pope Joan is a legendary female Pope who supposedly reigned for a few years some time thought to be between 853 - 855 AD. The story first appeared in the writings of 13th-century chroniclers, and subsequently spread through Europe. It was widely believed for centuries, though modern historians and religious scholars[who?] consider it fictitious, perhaps deriving from historicized folklore regarding Roman monuments or from anti-papal satire.

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. Due to her abilities she rises through the church hierarchy, eventually being chosen as pope. However, while riding on horseback one day, she gives birth to a child, thus revealing her sex. In most versions she dies shortly after, either by being killed by an angry mob, or from natural causes, and her memory is shunned by her successors.

Contents

Legend

The earliest mention of the female pope appears in the Dominican Jean de Mailly's chronicle of Metz, Chronica Universalis Mettensis, written in the early 13th century. In his telling, the female pope is not named, and the events are set in 1099. According to Jean:

Jean de Mailly's story was picked up by his fellow Dominican Etienne de Bourbon, who adapted it for his work on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. However, the legend gained its greatest prominence when it appeared in the third recension of Martin of Opava's Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum later in the 13th century. This version, which may have been by Martin himself, is the first to attach a name to the figure, indicating that she was known as "John Anglicus" or "John of Mainz." It also changes the date from the 11th to the 9th century, indicating that Joan reigned between Leo IV and Benedict III in the 850s. According to the Chronicon:

One version of the Chronicon gives an alternate fate for the female pope. According to this, she did not die immediately after her exposure as female, but was confined and deposed, after which she did many years of penance. Her son from the affair eventually became Bishop of Ostia, and had her interred in his cathedral when she died.

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