Was there really a FEMALE bishop?

I just finished reading the book “Pope Joan” by Donna Woolfolk Cross. It’s presented as a historical fiction BUT in the back of the book, the author answers some questions which leads one to think that around 855 a.d. there might have indeed been a female pope. But as there are no records of her in contemporary Roman Catholic church histories,it’s really hard to tell if she existed or not.
So…I put the question to you,Dopers. Was there really a Pope Joan?

Look up List of Popes, you’ll notice a 3 year period missing from 855 to 858 and this can easily be assumed was the time of Pope Joan

Yes, and she wasn’t caught till she gave birth during a papal procession…that must have been awkward.

The Catholic Church will never admit this.

I just had a question from a friend about this last week - she borrowed my copy of that book several years ago and loved it.
It’s debated. I doubt that, unless time travel is invented, we will ever know whether there was or wasn’t a Pope Joan.

What can be known is this: There wasn’t a Pope Joan. There may have been a Pope John Anglicus (or whatever name a woman might have used), but until discovery she wouldn’t have been known as a woman, and wouldn’t have been pope under her real name - like JPII’s real name isn’t John Paul.

Pop over to google and search for “Pope Joan” - you’ll get a lot of hits, sites that say there was such a person and sites that say there wasn’t.

I think it’s likely a tale, but that’s my POV.

The Master speaks: Was there once a female pope?

From Norman Davies’s Europe - a History

I’ll have to think on this and perhaps do more research.I really want to believe(well some part of me anyway)that there really WAS a Pope Joan who managed to fool the clergy for most of her life into thinking she was a man.


IDBB: The Pope was always wearing huge, long, heavy, robes in those days. Nobody thought that a woman could posses the ability to succeed intellectually as she did. People could have easily said her pregnancy was really just “baby fat”.

There is a legend that due to the scandal, following popes would have to be tested for female-ness before officially becoming Pope, and a chair (or throne) with a hole in the bottom was made for this purpose. This chair is supposedly somewhere beneath the Vatican.

Grope a Pope…hehe…
“One of the most irrational of all the conventions of modern
society is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be
respected. …[This] convention protects them, and so they proceed with
their blather unwhipped and almost unmolested, to the great damage of
common sense and common decency. that they should have this immunity
is an outrage. There is nothing in religious ideas, as a class, to lift
them above other ideas. On the contrary, they are always dubious and
often quite silly. Nor is there any visible intellectual dignity in
theologians. Few of them know anything that is worth knowing, and not
many of them are even honest.” - H. L. Mencken

There is a picture of the Grope-A-Pope chair in the back of the book I read.I thought it said that all popes were tested that way,even before her papacy and was kind of wondering how she got around it.:confused:


I know the question was asked with regard to Catholicism and the legendary Pope Joan, but I’d like to note that there have been women Bishops in the Episcopal Church for nearly two decades now – Barbara Harris, the first, recently retired after an extended ministry as Bishop of Massachusetts.

I believe that there is a huge gap in the time when Pope Joan was said to live and the first time the story was mentioned. Usually when this happens, there’s a good chance the story is fable.

Hey, fables are great. Sometimes, though false, they serve as inspiration & motivation. Everyone loves the fables about George Washington & the cherry tree, Newton & the apple, Osama & the Iraqi connection…

Only if your list has been tailored to make it appear that way.

Leo IV was succeeded by Benedict III of whom we have historical information regarding the controversy that occurred at his election and elevation in 855 and from whom we have letters that he wrote and judgements that he rendered. His actions are quite sufficient to fill up the period 855 - 858 without trying to wedge another pope into that period. There is even a coin struck during his papacy that names him as the successor to Leo. Note that in the citation provided by MC Master of Cermonies, it was a seventeenth century Protestant researcher (hardly a papist apologist) who proved that Joan never existed.

One thing about this story that tweaks my bull detector a bit is that privacy is basically a modern concept. In those times, would a pope be allowed the luxary of going to the bathroom and changing robes alone? Imagine the monthly ordeal of hiding menstration.

Son, you’re new here, so perhaps you didn’t get an opportunity to read the very first thread in this forum – the stick one about politics in GQ.

You will do so and take heed before your next post in this forum.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

Sugaree–it states in the book(and some other places I’ve read) that she hid her menstruation by dumping the cloth,leaves,whatever down the common shit pit where it wouldn’t be noticed due to darkness and presence of a lot of poop.
Now as to whether she was allowed to change robes by herself…she probably insisted on it because of her gender and they would have assumed that because she was a foreigner(not a Roman)she would have different ways of doing things and just accepted her need for privacy as one of those things.

IDBB(who wonders now if this will get moved to GD)

Only if someone persists in claiming that it did or might have happened in the face of the evidence (posted or linked by Fear Itself, MC Master of Cermonies, and me, along with the logical objections by sugaree) that it never has.

Tom–I’m not saying it definately DID happen but there is enough doubt planted in my mind from reading the book and checking out the sites listed that makes me want to think it MIGHT have happened.