The Legend of Pope Joan

January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

According to medieval legend, an Englishwoman named Joan, disguised as a man, was elected Pope John VIII in 853, only to be stoned to death after giving birth on a Roman street corner in 855. In the intriguing ecclesiastical detective story The Legend of Pope Joan, British journalist Peter Stanford combs medieval manuscripts, Vatican artwork, and Catholic arcana to determine whether Joan existed. Ultimately, the lack of primary source evidence (the first extant reference to ”La Papesse” appears four centuries after her death) makes Joan’s legend impossible to prove. But Stanford renders the myth itself — how this woman who penetrated the ultimate men’s club has been represented, reviled, and revered for more than a millennium — in fascinating detail. B+

The Legend of Pope Joan

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The Legend of Pope Joan

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