Joan Ö erÖ John
Is that a staff under your
robe or are you just happy to see me
Legend has it (there
are strong arguments for fact and fiction) there once resided, over the
Vatican, a female pope. Hard to believe, I know. Hereís the story.
Joan was born to
English parents in Germany in the ninth century. At the age of 12, Joan,
disguised as a boy, attended a scholarly monk on his journey to Athens
and studied the sciences and philosophy. Becoming famous for ďhisĒ
wisdom, Joan went to Rome
to lecture and teach, still disguised as John. She became a cardinal and
when Pope Leo IV died in 853 A.D,
Joan was apparently elected Pope with an overwhelming majority. History
can only speculate on the reasons for the election. Logic says that not
that many learned men of the Church could be that naÔve, but then
again, logic rarely enters discussions of religion.
stories vary on her origins and ascendancy. A few tell it as though she
were the daughter of a Cardinal who grew up as a boy in the Vatican.
This is less likely than her birth in Germany. Others say she could not
have existed at all because Church records clearly show two other popes
leading the Church at the time. Well, we all know how documents, in the
very heart of illiterate populations, can be altered, or disappear
entirely. History sees repeated examples of this type of rewriting of
events of the time.
Her stay in the high
seat lasted two years. All this time, disguised as a man, she fooled
pages, attendants and a college full of cardinals and bishops. An
unlikely idea but we forget what life was like in the 800ís. It is
speculated that her chamberlain and she were lovers. Youíd think that
through all the menstrual cycles, pms and bad hair days, Joan would have
been found out.
Perhaps more men of
the Vatican knew, admired her wisdom as a Church leader and kept her
secret. Perhaps she threw wild orgies late at night when the others were
abed. Perhaps she was a shapeless woman, lacking hips and breasts for
definition and never had a bad hormone bout. Whatever the circumstances,
Joan kept her secret for two years.
As Pope John VIII,
she lead the church until one fateful day in 855 AD.
The Pope, in a procession from St. Peterís to the Lateran, had
to halt the party and much to the surprise of the crowds, gave birth
right then and there. No prelude, no screaming in labor. Remember, this
is a woman who never suffered from the blight of pms or cramps. Right
there, in the street, like a champ, she brought forth a baby.
Blasphemy? Iím sure
that word came up a time or two. Echoed from the rooftops of Rome would
be my best guess. Imagine the horrified entourage that witnessed their
beloved Pope pushing an infant into the world. A few miters toppled that
Legend says that the
people of Rome stoned her to death. Other traces of the story have her
conveniently tucked into a convent for the rest of her life. Whichever
is the case, authenticity of this story of a female pope has yet to be
confirmed. She emerged in the thirteenth century in literature and art,
with the Catholic Church accepting the storyís reality until the
sixteenth century when the Church then sought to suppress any reference
to the woman Joan. This is believable because scholars and those who
knew how to read and write at the time were men. A manís position in
the eyes of the College and of God, had been violated.
What might Joanís
motivation have been? We may speculate that she held wisdom and learning
in highest regard, but lived in a manís world. We might ponder the
possibility of a vindictive woman, wronged by a member of the clergy,
out to get vengeance. Whatever Joanís drive if indeed she did exist,
is not determinable. What is of interest in this legend is the
possibility of fooling what otherwise is seen as impenetrable. Another
famous Joan in history cut her hair and took on the attributes of a
soldier to get the job done. She didnít fool anyone with her gender,
but she did become very mannish so as not to stand out among those who
followed her and her visions.
Joan may have seen a
need for grander perspective in a time when narrowness of mind was an
all-consuming trait in history. Itís unfortunate that no records seem
to exist on the reforms or improvements to the Church during her Papacy.
There is no mention of edicts or laws that she may have mavericked.
Whether fact or
fiction, Pope Joan lives. Her images grace art history, literature and
legend. The Church may deny her existence (although a few Catholics have
written on the subject) and history may treat her life as myth. No
matter, because the IDEA of her infiltration of the Vatican and most
high male office leaves us with a better look at our infallibility as
more on Joan...
Myth of Pope Joan