Pope Joan… not a Pope?

Pope Joan with tiara as the Whore of Babylon.
Image via Wikipedia

Introduction: Last year for Christmas I received a lavishly illustrated book from my friend and colleague Patrizia Bourelli. It was called La Papessa Giovanna: Roma e Papato Tra Storia e Leggenda?, and it was written by Cesare D’Onofrio. In perusing this beautiful book, I learned of the great controversy about the existence of a female pope during the Middle Ages. Because my scientific interest has been directed at understanding the genetic and hormonal basis for infants born with ambiguous genitalia, I began to search for a biological basis for the existence of a pope who was elected as a male but was unmasked as a female, as the legend goes.

The story of the female pope first appeared in a manuscript by friar Jean de Mailly in about 1250 A.D. During the late Middle Ages and Reformation dozens of people wrote about this scandal, many of them Franciscan and Dominican friars or Protestants, and their stories were widely believed. The most popular version, which was a best seller all over Europe for hundreds of years after its publication circa 1265, was that which appeared in friar Martin Polanus’ Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatum…

via Pope Joan: a recognizable syndrome – Medievalists.net.


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