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Pope Joan: A Female Pope Amidst the Male Dominated Church

stained-glass-window-436008_640There has been much controversy about allowing women to become church leaders. Many scriptures in the bible dictate that women should surrender to her husband or to a man. St. Paul has often said that women should not be allowed to speak publicly. In the past women who gained knowledge were convicted of witchcraft and or working for the devil. This speculation stemmed from the power of the sacred feminine in the pagan religions.

The Story Behind Pope Joan


Pope Joan or Johanna Anglicus also known as John or Johannes Anglicus was a woman who rose into the ranks of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. The story of Pope Joan was first chronicled by a historian named Jean de Mailly in the year 1250AD. Mailly mentioned that Joan was a woman who obtained education and knowledge by guising herself as a man. During those times women were believed to possess knowledge as having smaller uterus, the more knowledge she learns the less likely she is to bear more children. In Jean de Mailly’s stories, the female popess was unnamed and that she was a woman who followed her lover into the monastery. There she became an excellent scribe. She also learned how medicine and later on became a Cardinal, then the Pope. In Jean de Mailly’s Chronica Universalis Mettensis he mentions that this woman rose into the ranks of power in the year 1099 by disguising herself. She then was discovered when she went into labor and gave birth in an Easter procession. Since this was an unspeakable crime against the Roman Catholic Church, the female pope was then dragged by the horse and the people stoned her to death. According the Jean de Mailly, the woman pope was not registered in the roster of the popes due the shame it has brought the Church.

Another chronicler and historian wrote about Joan, Martin of Opava. In his texts he mentions her as John Anglicus or John of Mainz from her name Joan was born in Mainz. Joan was said to have taken the papal seat for two years, seven months and four days between the reign of Pope Leo IV and Benedict III during the years between 850AD. In his Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum he mentions that Joan went to Athens to learn in the guise of a man. He then became a teacher and lecturer. Many of his students were of royal blood or were famous people. Later on she moved to Rome and became the Pope. According to his chronicles, he states that Joan suddenly gave birth while at a procession that lead to her being discovered as a female she was then convicted and executed. In a later version of this story of Martin of Opava, it states that Joan was not executed at all. It was said that she was deposed and exiled in confinement. Her son became a man of the church and much like his mother became a great man of the church, holding the post as the Bishop of Ostia. He then gave clemency and pardon to her when she died cleansing her from the so called heretic sins.

Many stories and legends were written of her. It was said that her face was one of the busts that was displayed in the Siena Cathedral, but was later on destroyed in the 16th century because of the controversy of having a female pope amongst the male dominated church. One pope, Clement VIII stated in 1601 that the story of Pope Joan is nothing but a fallacy. Many Protestants in that time came to support the belief of having a female pope. One English writer Alexander Cooke wrote a book in the analysis of having a female pope and in order to shed light to the dismissed story. There were also plays written about her during the Renaissance time. In the year 1972, a movie titled Pope Joan was made and was even retitled The Devil’s Imposter in the US. It was shown again in 2009 titled as She. In 2009 another movie also bearing the title Pope Joan came about with a European cast and crew. In this film they have shown Joan as a smart girl who was allowed by the Bishop of Mainz to go to school. She then fell in love with a knight but her foster mother did not allow this and also disagreed with her going to school. She was made to marry but her marriage was stopped due to a siege in the church. She then took her brothers indentures to become a monk and entered a monastery. She became proficient in the writing and healing. She became terribly ill and escaped the monastery for the fear of being discovered as a woman. She went on a pilgrimage to Rome, where she became a doctor of the Pope. Her former lover met her again and they consummated their love making her pregnant as she became pope. She had many enemies in the church who wished to depose her. So they plotted to get rid of her. So in the end they assassinated her lover, the captain of the papal guard. This lead to her miscarriage and death during an Easter procession.

Significance of a Female Pope in Male Church


The Catholic Church elevated the status of the man. They depicted God as a male with white hair and kind eyes. Jesus was depicted as male and only the Holy Spirit did not have a gender. Mary who was supposed to be the stand in of the Sacred Feminine was a mere human compared to her Holy Child. The apostles were male and one of the female apostles, Magdalene was often depicted as a prostitute. In the end of the 2009 movie Pope Joan, one of the girls Joan helps becomes a bishop as well in the guise of a man. She then states that how many women have wanted to serve the church but could never do so because of the rules. Some of them risk their lives in order to gain knowledge and study or become priests.

notre-dames-273745_640So what does Pope Joan give us? Pope Joan basically gives the power to woman. Even now in the diverse and tolerant times, women are still not allowed to hold a papal seat or even become a priest. It is said that before a pope is proclaimed, he is then made to seat into a seat with a hole. A Cardinal would try then to touch if his testicles dangled from the said hole and if it does he is then announced as pope.

For a church that preaches kindness, love and piety, being sexist and inequality still reigns. The catholic and even the protestant churches still hold biases about gender and leadership. Muslims do now allow women to marry multiple times but men are allowed. Is there really still much discrimination among women? Most people depict witches as grotesque women mixing a large cauldron and that they are of the devil.

Pope Joan is a beacon of hope for women. Women can rule and change this world. Free it from hate and war just like a man can. There may be a need to analyze church doctrines and allow women and men alike to hold the highest position.

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