Pope Joan, Rome’s Female Champion

Did you know that in the 800 AD’s we had a female pope?!  I had no idea either!

Published as fiction, author Donna Woolfolk Cross spent seven years crafting a legend into a full life novel.  So who was Pope Joan?  There is enough historical fact leftover to prove she did indeed exist, and depending on which version of the Liber pontificalis, or Book of the Popes, you read, you may just find out that she was in fact the pope.  Dressing in men’s clothing, Joan defied the times and became educated.  Spending several years as a monk and priest, she also became a great healer.  Eventually her skill and altruism towards the people elected her to the thrown of St. Peter.

Largely criticized as a mere myth, historians have battled The Vatican for years.  The Catholic church admits that documents from the time period Joan would have reigned were destroyed, but also claim that Pope Joan never existed in the first place.  There is, however, evidence proving that other women of the time spent their lives in disguise as a man in order to achieve greater education and life opportunities.

How is this possible you ask?  Well, that’s where fiction starts to blur the lines.  Most people in the 800’s were illiterate, so the number of records from that time, even about the male popes, is shoddy at best.  Cross has researched the time period, right down to the discovery of blue cheese, and narrated for us the imaginary, though possible, life of our story’s heroine.

After a terrible attack by Norsemen, Joan takes her brother’s clothes and dons them to escape.  Her interests are always in conflict, born of a canon father and saxon mother, she is learned of God, and also of her mother’s “heathen” gods and goddesses.  Cross depicts our lady as the utmost champion of debate, a woman who can argue her way out of anything.  Hmm, that sounds about right.

If you’re interested in checking out more of her legend, the article The Lady Was a Pope from the US News, Mysteries of History is an interesting one.  And, on author Donna Woolfolk Cross’ site, she has a nice summary in her FAQ’s.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction.  It reads very much like The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, minus the mystery solver professor replaced with an early feminist in disguise!  Alright!  Make sure you add Pope Joan to your reading list!

What books are currently on the top of your recommending list?  I always love new titles.  And I know many of you have resolved to read so many books a year, how’s it going?  I’m happy to report my goal of one per month is turning into two a month!  Yay!  Happy reading everyone!

9 responses

  1. I had no idea there was once a female pope, either! Interesting.

    I’m getting set to dive into The Hunger Games, after finishing The Lost City Of Z. My problem is too many books – every time I go to Powell’s I emerge with a new handful, and never have time to read them all!

    1. Tell me how you like The Hunger Games! You’re the second person I know reading them, can’t wait to hear what you think.

      1. Will do. I couldn’t ignore the hype any longer!

      2. I love Hunger Games. It’s like, you’re there in the story. I’m reading the second one soon.

        1. Third person! I did look it up on goodreads, and I wasn’t sure. Is it like George Orwell “1984” meets Kurt Vonnegut “Harrison Bergeron” style? If so, why isn’t this book in my hands right now?!!

  2. Pope Joan sounds interesting. I’ll try reading it soon.

  3. Have to check out Pope Joan. My Eldest read “The Hunger Games” but wasn’t much taken with them. She prefers Alex Rider and Artemis Fowl.

    1. I’m not familiar with them, what are they from?

  4. I had heard of her, but I haven’t read the book. I might have to read it.

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