Her Holiness? the TRUTH Behind the Legend of POPE JOAN
Medieval Views on Women
Joan's Accidental Education
"I will put enmity between you and the woman"
was one of the first verses of the Bible that Joan learned. Being a
woman, she was never taught.
Strange thing: John could never get the answers right unless Joan was present. John said that his little sister was his good luck charm. So Joan was present for all the lessons, all the tests, and she helped John pass them with distinction.
Joan's Purposeful Progress
John was terror stricken when news of his scholarship reached the local monastery. There he had to pass a written examination. Yet Joan and John, when dressed in the bulky clothes of the day (which included a big hat), could pass for one another. So Joan took the exam and got every question right.
Their father was overjoyed to receive the news that John was to be accepted into the best monastery in the region. Their mother thought it prudent to marry Joan off immediately afterwards as she was tired of both her children.
Joan Escapes Into Brother John
Yet Joan and John had conceived a bold and daring plan. They got permission for Joan to walk with her brother on an errand to town. Then pair went in opposite directions. John changed his name to James and became a mercenary. Joan became John: she cut her hair, bound her breasts, and never looked back.
In those days, the Roman Catholic Church was hungry for talent.
Those who could become better than their teachers were transferred
to even tougher schools. It takes decades but Joan's talents as a
healer finally brought her to Rome itself.
Joan Meets Philip, They Become Friends
Joan had only been in Rome for a few weeks when she met Philip.
He was the director of burials in Rome: it was an undemanding job
that allowed him plenty of time for his own studies. Philip was
none to pleased to be called from his reading room to reason with
the "little hellion" (what his men called Joan).
Philip was a proud man. Before long, they were screaming at each
other, nose to nose, like an irate baseball player and an immoveable
referee. Joan finally convinced Philip to allow her a week to revive
the woman. He agreed and four days later the woman emerged from her
"The Unholy Alliance" of Joan and Philip
Both Joan and Philip were outsiders.
Joan Becomes a Physician to Pope Sergius
Joan's "miracle cure" of the coma victim, attracted the attention
of the ailing Pope Sergius II. Despite her own desires to continue
working among the poor, Joan was officially transfered to the Lateran
Palace, where she was at the beck and call of the Pope and his inner
Pope Sergius liked food, drink, and other pleasures of the flesh...
and was constantly making himself ill. Joan was run ragged in tending
to him. Although the Pope had many doctors, he often preferred Joan's
simple, natural cures.
Philip Learns and Keeps Joan's Secret
After getting Philip to swear that no one else but he would see
her naked, Joan passed out. In those days, bodies were considered
evil and the desire to be heavily clothed was seen as a mark of
purity... so her request did not seem unusual to anyone. Yet it
did not take Philip long to discover the truth about Joan.
Once she was recovered, the panic striken Pope Sergius had Philip
reassigned to become her personal attendant. His only job was to keep
Joan from falling ill again.
Joan Becomes Part of Pope Leo's Inner Circle
When Pope Sergius died, Joan and Philip resumed their work among
the poor. This attracted the attention of the next Pope, Leo IV.
Like Joan, he was more interested in bettering the lives of the Roman
people than in making the churches more beautiful and profitable.
However, the career politicians failed to recognize how greatly Leo was loved by the ordinary people of Rome. Their outrage over Leo's death was only quieted by the immediate election of Joan, the "little Pope", who had been Leo's "right hand man" during the construction of the wall.
Joan's Surprise Election as Pope John VIII
Joan and Philip were making love when their door was pounded on. Philip hurriedly dressed Joan who was astounded to learn she had become Pope.
After an all night discussion with Philip, Joan emerged the next
day to confront the Cardinals who had elected her... without her
having submitted her name for nomination! She told them that it would
be impossible for her to accept the Papacy without Philip's "help and
support" and so she was willing to step down.
Since the Cardinals had agreed to her "unusual demand," Joan was forced to accept the post. The first time she went out among the people Joan realized that they would have no one else except the "little Pope"... so as Pope John VIII, she officially accepted the title. Even the irreligious Philip told her that "your Papacy is the will of God, so you must submit to his judgment!" So Joan publicly swore to carry on in the "noble tradition" of Leo.
The Reluctant Pope Joan Turns Reformer
Having worked so long among the poor, Joan knew exactly how the
city should be improved to make it cleaner, safer, and stronger.
The Cardinals were too fearful to oppose Joan's plan to upgrade the
infrastructure of streets, sewers, and sanitation.
Since Joan did not owe her position to the Cardinals, she became
ever bolder in openly disregarding their wishes. She was the "People's
Pope!" and the more she did to improve their lives, the more secure
she became in her power.
Pope Joan's Plan for Disaster Relief
However, just as they were beginning to really hamper her efforts,
God seemed to intervene on her behalf again. It was Joan's finest
hour: her courageous response to the crisis caused by the flooding
of the Tiber River.
The Cardinals were outraged when Joan dipped into the treasury to
help feed, clothe, and house the flood victims. "When would this
upstart foreigner's excesses ever end?" many wondered. Yet they only
made these comments to one another.
Trouble in Joan and Philip's Paradise
Joan seemed unstoppable... and yet Philip was deeply worried about
Philip became withdrawn... and this was what finally attracted Joan's
Joan's Final, Fatal Easter
In the month before that fatal Easter of 855, in the third year
of her reign, Joan began to suffer from dizziness and nausea. She
attributed it to overwork. Stress had given her an irregular menstrual
cycle ever since becoming Pope. So she was not alarmed by the lack of
a period. Indeed, Joan was quite confident that she was approaching
The Easter procession fell on an unusually hot day. Joan's robes
and vestments were very heavy... she was exhausted. She reached the
Via Sacra: felt the stabbing pain in her stomach and the gush of bloody
fluid. Then a barely formed fetus fell to the ground. Papal guards
quickly carried Joan and the 'evidence of her sin' away.
The Death of Pope Joan
Joan awoke to see Philip's head on a plate along with his severed
"male apparatus" - and she had no wish to live. Joan prepared the
poison herself. After the physicians were satisfied that "it would
leave no visible mark", she took it.
No one was fooled but "forms must be observed" and Joan was given a very modest Papal funeral. Then church officials got busy removing every trace of her Papacy... but the legend survived... and now the truth is out!
Credits: from one who witnessed it all.
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