The shattering of Hillary’s glass ceiling would have been quite the pioneering achievement for womanhood, piercing the hymen of the male cartel and puncturing the sanctity of the lads’ conglomerate. But the boys’ syndicate has been known to take the occasional emetic blow to the gonads.

The shattering of Hillary’s glass ceiling would have been quite the pioneering achievement for womanhood, piercing the hymen of the male cartel and puncturing the sanctity of the lads’ conglomerate.

But the boys’ syndicate has been known to take the occasional emetic blow to the gonads. The monopoly has been breached and even in the most hallowed crucible of them all, the Vatican; for in the ninth century and unbeknownst to all, but herself and her loyal and feisty lover, there was a female Pope.

The Church kept no formal records in the ninth century, and of course, was horrified by events, long thereafter claiming it to be a smear tactic by the Protestant movement. And yet, not just innuendo has persisted, for there have been shelves of articles, many books, and now a film made about Pope Joan.

There is even a special seat called the sedia stercoraria in the Vatican museum, designed for the process of verifying the presence of his Holiness’ manliness and we know of the precise words yelled over the centuries to confirm the presence of the new Pontiff’s scrotals to prevent a repeat of the Joan saga, which went something like this…

(Extract from The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis (Penguin 1971), though sources are numerous.)

‘Joan, a handsome young English girl (or a girl born in Germany to English parents, who were Christian missionaries) made her way to Athens disguised as a monk. Armed with a degree in philosophy, she came to Rome where Pope Leo IV made her a cardinal. Upon Leo’s death in 853 A.D., Joan was elected Pope by her fellow cardinals.

Female Pope
She allegedly quickly rose in the church thanks to Her intelligence and ambition. Source: Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr

‘The name “John VIII from England” graced the papal list from 855 to 1601, when she was officially declared mythical. Pope John (872-882) who is now numbered VIII was for seven centuries listed as John IX.

‘From the time of Pope Joan, all candidates for the papacy for 700 years had to undergo a physical examination to prove their sex. This examination went into effect in 855. Benedict was the first of the popes to submit to the test.’

Pope Joan giving birth
Medieval image of Pope Joan giving birth during a church procession. Source: Pinterest

Her subterfuge was apparently only found out when she went into labour somewhere between the Colosseum and the basilica of San Clemente while on a procession to Saint John Lateran. There is said to be a small edicule at the intersection of via dei Querceti and via Santo Quattri that is said to mark the spot.

And so now, a special chair was fashioned that had a horseshoe-shaped seat. The elected pope would sit on the seat and the cardinals would pass by, checking the papal procession and proclaiming: ‘testiculos habet et bene pendentes’. A loose translation is ‘testicles he has and well hanging ones,’ though this is no reference to the girthiness of the lordly sphericals as our vernacular would have it, merely of their twin presence and formation.

Even the Catholic Encyclopaedia ratifies her existence, “she served as Pope for two years, four months and eight days, when she was discovered to be a woman and stoned to death, after she gave birth during a papal procession.”

The film Pope Joan is a German effort from 2009 that chronicles the tale, starring Johanna Wokalek, as the female Pope and John Goodman as Pope Sergius.

Nick Squires of The Telegraph wrote of the release of the film, 20th June 2010:

“Joan’s absence from contemporary church records is only to be expected. The Roman clergymen of the day, appalled by the great deception visited upon them, would have gone to great lengths to bury all written reports of the embarrassing episode,” argues the American writer Donna Woolfolk Cross, on whose novel, ‘Pope Joan’, the film is based.

“The Dark Ages really were the dark ages,” said Peter Stanford, a former editor of the Catholic Herald and the author of ‘The She-Pope: a quest for the truth behind the mystery of Pope Joan’.

There is absolutely no certainty about who the popes of the ninth century were. We have to rely instead on medieval chronicles, written hundreds of years later. “It’s perfectly feasible that Joan existed. A monk’s cowl is baggy and well suited to covering up a woman’s body. We know that some women bound their breasts and cut their hair to pass themselves off as men.” He dismisses the Catholic line that the story of Pope Joan was the product of Protestant black propaganda.

“That is categorically not true. There are plenty of pre-Reformation Catholic texts which mention Pope Joan. They were written by bishops, archbishops – even a secretary to a pope. They all accept that she existed. The Catholic Church was embarrassed by the story and just erased it from the records, sometimes very crudely.”

Perhaps the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel was not the only famed one in the Vatican, for there could still be shards of glass from a sisterly one, shattered long, long, long ago.

Ian Thornton

Ian Thornton

Ian Thornton is an English novelist, living in Toronto. His critically-acclaimed debut, The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms, was published by Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. His follow-up, The Deaths and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley, will be out on Penguin later this year. Ian is currently producing a documentary on the head of Anonymous.

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Ian Thornton

Ian Thornton

Ian Thornton is an English novelist, living in Toronto. His critically-acclaimed debut, The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms, was published by Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. His follow-up, The Deaths and Afterlife of Aleister Crowley, will be out on Penguin later this year. Ian is currently producing a documentary on the head of Anonymous.