History of religion

The Pope Joan

(Published in GralsWelt 37/2005)

Since Donna W. Cross' historical novel "Die Päpstin" (3) became a worldwide success, an enigmatic figure has again moved into the general consciousness, about which has been the subject of controversy for centuries: The Popess Joan.

While this novel is fictional, historical novels can sometimes convey a more impressive picture of the past than scientific historiography. A novelist can allow himself (minor) anachronisms, shift the places and times of his actions a little, and thus condense the historical events in a way that brings the past to life for the reader and the zeitgeist and the way of life of the people become vivid.

This writing challenge is best outlined by Mark Twain, who has Herodotus say:
“Very few events happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will tacitly correct these shortcomings ”.
(1, p. 37).

Was there a Popess?
That there was a Popess does not seem improbable today, even if conclusive evidence for or against her existence is lacking; if only because the Catholic Church had centuries to dispose of documents which it found inconvenient. A Popess was mentioned again and again by a wide variety of authors, but was dismissed by Catholics as an horror tale and not taken seriously even by Protestants until enlightened historians (e.g. 2, p. 155) referred to her again and argued for her existence put forward.

As a key witness z. B. a chronicle of Martinus Polonius (d. 1274), who writes:
"After this Leo, Johannes Angelicus from Mainz ruled for 2 years, 7 months, 4 days ... This Johannes was a woman who ... was so brilliant in various fields of knowledge that nobody could compete with her." (9).
According to this, the heavily pregnant pope died during childbirth in the Via Sacra, which was avoided by the popes for centuries after this scandal. Today this alley is called Via San Giovanni and is no longer ostracized.
Johann Hus (1370-1415) is also said to have mentioned the Popess before the Council in Constance, and the bishops and cardinals present did not contradict him.

Johanna's curriculum vitae (in the 9th century) is almost completely unknown, so that any description of her biography can only be based on a few, scanty facts. In her imaginative bestseller, Donna W. Cross brings an epoch of the Middle Ages to life for us, in which Christianity had only established itself for a relatively short time, and pagan thought was still widespread in the underground. It was a time of poverty, strife, violence and religious fanaticism, in which a divided empire could not even repel attacks by the Northmen.

In particular, Donna Cross' novel shows the defamation of women enforced by medieval Christianity in the 9th century. Even wealthy women were denied participation in public life, high education, and even literacy. A gifted woman therefore had little choice but to subordinate herself as a wife, to degenerate as a nun in the monastery, or to gain access to knowledge and education disguised as a man. The latter, extremely difficult path has probably been made by a few women, and one of them may have made it to the Pope.
For the monks committed to a vow of chastity, apparently every female being was a “devilish temptation”, according to the biblical story of the Fall, in which, literally, the main guilt is attributed to Eve.

We could leave these sad facts as excesses of the “darkest Middle Ages” and forget the “Popess Johanna” as an insignificant curiosity of history if the medieval misogyny were not felt to this day.

Celibate bishops still do not want to accept that clever women are more suitable for a priesthood than stupid men, and in professional life it is still more difficult for capable women to assert themselves than equally (or less) qualified men. With the increasing struggle for the job, women who aspire to managerial positions are often exposed to various forms of bullying, so that one can sometimes get the impression that the shameful treatment of women as described in the “Popess” is not yet so far back, and its aftermath reached into our time.

1) Ceram, CW: “The First American”, Rowolt, Reinbeck, 1972.
(2) Corwin, Otto v .: "Pfaffenspiegel", Tornow, Hamburg, undated
(3) Cross, Donna W .: “Die Päpstin”, construction of the Taschenbuch Verlag, Berlin, 2002.
(4) Gössman, Elisabeth: "Mulier Papa, the scandal of a female pope", judicum Verlag, Munich 1994.
(5) Kruse, Ingeborg: “The true life of Popess Johanna”, Structure of the Taschenbuch Verlag, Berlin, 2002.
(6) Stanford, Peter: "The true story of Popess Johanna", Rütten & Loenig, Berlin, 1999.
(9) http: //www.loq12at/conspiracy/13_johanna/con_facts2.ihtml