Did Pope Joan really exist
The Catholic Church knows just over three hundred popes - including counter-popes and uncertain attributions that make an unequivocal list impossible to this day. After all, the period in question spans around two thousand years; not only details are lost in the dark. Very little information is available about many popes; this is especially true for those of the first two hundred years. One thing, however, seems certain: that only men have taken Peter's chair. Ultimately, this office is reserved for them alone - just as it is the case with that of the priest and the bishop. Accordingly, it does not seem credible that there should have been a Popess.
A search for traces leads back to the High Middle Ages. In the late 13th century, the chronicle of Martin von Troppau shows that a woman disguised herself as a man, was able to study in Athens and was finally elected Pope in 855 because of her great learning. With that Johanna would have been the successor of Pope Leo IV. After all, she was able to keep her true identity a secret even during pregnancy. It is said that their child was born during a procession; the Popess died in the course of the confinement. Johanna's story is also told in Hartmann Schedel's famous world chronicle from 1493. Allegedly, it is said there, she is said to have been impregnated by a servant.
So is Joan's existence proven because she is listed in multiple sources? It shouldn't be that easy for yourself, because truth and fiction are sometimes close together in medieval documents. While the Popess was generally accepted as a historical fact up to the 15th century, this was to change fundamentally in the period after the Reformation. The image of a woman in the Holy See who was able to deceive the men around her for a long time seemed too implausible. In addition, in the year 855 Pope Benedict III. had been chosen, of which there are only a few references, but which actually existed. Quite in contrast to Johanna, who astonishingly took a few hundred years before she was mentioned in a chronicle for the first time.
In fact, the origin of the legend is no less unclear than the figure of the Pope herself. After all, Joan's alleged term of office falls into the phase that was later referred to as “saeculum obscurum”, a dark chapter in the history of the Pope. It lasted from 882 to 1046 and also includes that mistress rule in the early 10th century, which is still associated with the figure of Marozia - a woman on whom several popes are said to have been dependent. So is Johanna an embodiment of Marozia, although there is evidence that she never sat on the papal throne? The riddle cannot be solved, especially since there are other theses. The fact is, however, that the figure of Johanna was repeatedly edited in literary terms and continues to fascinate people to this day. On the other hand, only time will tell whether a Popess will ever sit on the Holy See in the future.
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