Joan - Encyclopedia

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JOAN, a mythical female pope, who is usually placed between Leo IV. (8478 55) and Benedict III. (855-858). One account has it that she was born in England, another in Germany of English parents. After an education at Cologne, she fell in love with a Benedictine monk and fled with him to Athens disguised as a man. On his death she went to Rome under the alias of Joannes Anglicus (John of England), and entered the priesthood, eventually receiving a cardinal's hat. She was elected pope under the title of John VIII., and died in childbirth during a papal procession.

A French Dominican, Steven of Bourbon (d. c. 1261) gives the legend in his Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. He is believed to have derived it from an earlier writer. More than a hundred authors between the 13th and 17th centuries gave circulation to the myth. Its explosion was first seriously undertaken by David Blondel, a French Calvinist, in his Eclaircissement de la question si une femme a ete assise au siege papal de Rome (1647); and De Joanna Papissa (1657). The refutation was completed by Johann Dollinger in his Papstfabeln des Mittelalters (1863; Eng. trans. 1872).

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