Alex Marcoux discusses what became of Pope Joan.
Photo by Sherri Seely
Pope Joan: a female pope? Part I
Who is Pope Joan? Part II
Spirituality 101: What are miracles?
The miracle of the light
Lifesigns: Guidance from Spirit 101
Continuing with my Pope Joan series, this article explores the Roman Catholic Church’s argument that Pope Joan is a myth along with some theories of what became of her. Visit Part I and Part II to learn more about one of the most controversial figures in the Church’s history, Pope Joan.
Pope Joan: a novel by Donna Woolfolk Cross was first released in 1997. While this book is a work of fiction it is based upon Pope Joan’s life. The story is not only entertaining but Cross goes to great effort to incorporate historical events in her novel. She demonstrates the depth of her research by including a comprehensive author’s note, in which she discusses the church’s two primary arguments against the existence of Pope Joan.*
The church’s arguments
First, the church contends that there is no reference to Joan in contemporary documents. But by the church’s own admission, during the seventeen century the Roman Catholic Church set out to destroy all embarrassing historical records of Pope Joan because of an increasing attack by Protestantism. Certainly, if the documents had not been destroyed or perhaps concealed in the Vatican archives there’d be more evidence to either support her existence or show she was a myth.
Second, the church also claims there was insufficient time for Joan’s Papacy between Leo IV and Benedict III. However, during the ninth century illiteracy was widespread and record keeping was nearly none existent. As this writer understands it, there is only one document, the Liber pontificalis with a continuous record of ninth century popes – of which Joan was not mentioned. Conversely, there is an ancient copy of a Liber pontificalis in which a reference to Joan was made.
With such a divisive subject as a female pope, there are volumes written to disclaim the female papacy. Yet as I understand it, those are the two strongest arguments that she was a myth.
What became of Pope Joan?
There is much confusion about what actually became of Pope Joan. While there are different slants to the story, one consistency is that she was outed when she became pregnant and went into labor.
- According to Jean de Mailly, “she was betrayed when, mounting her horse, she gave birth to a child, and was ignominiously tied to the horse’s tail, dragged round the city, and then stoned to death.” (6)
- In Martin of Troppau’s story, “Her imposture was finally exposed when, riding in possession from St. Peter’s to the Lateran, she gave birth to a child in a narrow street … she died on the spot and was buried there.”(7)
- I’ve read other accounts which suggest she was sent to a convent and lived in isolation and her son grew to become a bishop.(8)
It is sad to think that we may never know the truth about what happened to Pope Joan. Perhaps the truth is buried within the Vatican Secret Archives. It is here that papal account books remain after Pope Paul V ordered that they be separated from the Vatican library in the seventeen century. While these archives are open to some researchers today, access is limited and there are 52 miles of shelving which contain ancient parchment of hidden truths.
While my intellect may challenge the notion that there was a female pope, in my heart I know she existed. I expand on this further in a very personal story, “My personal relationship with Pope Joan: Part IV.”
In the meantime, enjoy the movie trailer of Pope Joan, based on Donna Woolfolk Cross’ novel, I’ve posted it below. Pope Joan is making its United States debut on January 27, 2010 in Washington, DC. Ms. Cross also posted a note on Part I of this series in which she invites you to visit www.popejoan.com and inquire about book groups.
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* Cross, D.W. (1997). Pope Joan, New York: Ballantine Books. Page 412.
(6) de Mailly, J. (1240 -1250). Universal Chronicle of Metz.
(7) Lord, L. (2000). The lady was a pope, Retrieved December 12, 2009 from http://www.usnews.com/usnews/doubleissue/mysteries/pope.htm.
(8) abc News (2005). Looking for Pope Joan, Retrieved December 12, 2009 from http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=1453197&page=2
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Pope Joan – movie trailer (2009)