Legend of Pope Joan

Peter Stanford, Author Henry Holt & Company $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8050-3910-8
According to a persistent legend, around A.D. 1100 a young English woman named Joan disguised herself as a man and was elected as pope. Pope Joan reigned for about two years until, as the story goes, she died after giving birth to a child. Stanford marshals the thin historical substantiation behind this legend in his attempt to ferret out its truth. He comes up with intriguing facts, including the present-day existence of a strange-looking chair designed to view the papal genitals, thought to have been introduced after the Joan episode to prevent it from happening again. Ultimately Stanford opts for a qualified acceptance of the story's truth: ""Weighing all this evidence, I am convinced that Pope Joan was an historical figure, though perhaps not all the details about her that have been passed down through the centuries are true.... [S]he achieved the papacy at a time when the office was hopelessly debased and corrupt, [and] was moderately successful, but... her triumph was short-lived."" Stanford's masterful presentation of the historical evidence makes this the definitive study of an amazing legend that has been a source of fascination for centuries. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
Paperback - 207 pages - 978-0-425-17347-3
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