|Back to Index|
Pope Joan / John VIII - The First Female Pope?
There has been much speculation about the next Pope,but no one has suggested a woman. Bienvenido Macario sends us the alleged story of
Pope Joan / Pope John VIII 853-855 AD
John Anglicus was a ninth century Englishman. He travelled to Athens where he gained a reputation for his knowledge of the sciences. Eventually he came to lecture at the Trivium in Rome where his fame grew even larger. He became a Cardinal, and when Pope Leo IV died in 853 A.D., he was unanimously elected pope. As Pope John VIII he ruled for two years, until 855 A.D. However, while riding one day from St. Peter's to the Lateran, he had to stop by the side of the road and, to the astonishment of everyone, gave birth to a child. It turned out that Pope John VIII was really a woman. In other words, Pope John was really Pope Joan. According to legend, upon discovering the Pope's true gender, the people of Rome tied her feet together and dragged her behind a horse while stoning her, until she died. Another legend has it that she was sent to a faraway convent to repent her sins and that the child she bore grew up to become the Bishop of Ostia. It is not known whether the story of Pope Joan is true. The first known reference to her occurs in the thirteenth century, 350 years after her supposed reign. Around this time her image also began to appear as the High Priestess card in the Tarot deck.
The Catholic Church at first seemed to accept the reality of Pope Joan. Marginal notes in a fifteenth century document refer to a statue called "The Woman Pope with Her Child" that was supposedly erected near the Lateran. There was also a rumor that for some years the chairs used during papal consecrations had holes in their seats, so that an official check of the pope's gender could be performed. During the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church began to deny the existence of Pope Joan. However, at the same time, Protestant writers insisted on her reality, primarily because the existence of a female pope was a convenient piece of anti-Catholic propaganda. Modern scholars have been unable to resolve the historicity of Pope Joan.
*Wood, Clement. The Woman Who Was Pope: A Biography of Pope Joan, 853-855 A.D., 1931.
*Olsen, Chris. Pope Joan: A Riddle of the Dark Ages, 1960.
*Time-Life Books (eds.). Hoaxes and Deceptions. Time-Life Books. 1991. p.38.
It sounds like anti-Catholic propaganda. It would be interesting to collect all similar anti-Catholic stories. According to the official record, John VIII was Pope from 872 to 882. I wish I had time to see what Geoffrey Barraclough says about John VIII in his The Medieval Papacy (1968) Unfortunately Ludwig Pastor's 40-volume History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages does not cover the earlier period. The documents about the early Popes are so scarce that it is impossible to write anything definitive about them.
Ronald Hilton - 11.05.03