The mythical female pope is back in the news as an academic uses medieval coins to look for physical evidence of her reign
In the late Middle Ages, a popular legend advanced the story of a medieval woman who disguised herself in men’s clothing and ascended to the role of pope. A dramatic ending to the tale ensured its endurance: As the woman, masquerading as Pope Johannes Anglicus, led a religious procession through Rome during the mid-ninth century, she allegedly went into labor, exposing the fact that “Johannes” was actually “Joan.”
While most historians believe Pope Joan is nothing more than a myth invented by early critics of the Catholic Church, her story has proven too tantalizing to be forgotten. Over the years, various researchers have attempted to find a real, historical Joan. The latest is Michael E. Habicht, an archaeologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.