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The Pregnant Pope - Mystery Files

Updated on June 3, 2013
A renaissance depiction of the female Pope - Pope Joan, giving Birth
A renaissance depiction of the female Pope - Pope Joan, giving Birth

The Year is 1099. The place is Rome, Italy. A Papal procession is slowly moving through the streets. The Holy Father is shifting uneasily in his sedia gestatoria - a sort of Sedan chair that is used to transport the Pope on processions such as this.

The procession is snaking through the alleys and backstreets when it becomes apparent to the entourage that all is not well with the Pope. His face contorts in agony as he lets out a scream of pain. The procession grinds to a halt in a backstreet somewhere between the Colosseum and the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Holy Father's retinue rush to his aid, then watch in horror as the Pope gives birth to a child.

So runs the legend of Pope Joan, but is is true - was there ever a female Pope?

The Catholic Church have always denied that there was ever a female Pope, claiming that Pope Joan was merely a mythical figure, however, the chroniclers who, in their writings claim that a female Pope - Pope Joan did exist were no mere lightweight hacks, they were some of the most distinguished high-calibre writers of their time - Papal Chamberlains, Archbishops and Bishops.

Their stated motives in recording the story of the female Pope were simple historical accuracy. Critics point out that the first written records of the alleged incident were recorded some two to three hundred years after the event, but this is true of many (if not most) of the other Popes of the dark ages - Popes which the Catholic Church are happy to accept as genuine. Joan,the female Pope, however, is a different story.

Is the Catholic Church happy to accept all the other Popes and yet disregard Joan simply because she was shown to be a female pope?

The Female Pope - Pope Joan as depicted in the Neurenburg Chronicles
The Female Pope - Pope Joan as depicted in the Neurenburg Chronicles

Joan - the Female Pope

Officially, there has never been a female Pope, and only ever one English Pope -Pope Adrian IV in the 1150's. A number of Medieval chroniclers however, record another English Pope - John Anglicus (John the English) who they state reigned for exactly two years, seven months and four days from AD 855. But John was the Pope who was to later create panic and consternation within the Catholic Church when he was shown to be not John - but Joan - Not just a female, but a female pope!

The medieval writings tell that Joan was the daughter of English missionary parents who took her with them to the final resting place of St. Boniface at Fulda in Germany, and it is here that she was raised.

She was said to be extremely bright and spent most of her time in the many libraries that were founded by St. Bonniface. When she reached the age of twelve, she was told that it was now her duty to marry and produce children, and not to continue studying with the boy scholars.

She refused to do this and disguising herself in a long tunic complete with Monk's cowl, she ran away to continue her studies accompanied by a man described by some chroniclers as her teacher, by others as her lover - There is every chance of course, that he was both.

They travelled to Greece - One of the great educational centres of it's time - and it was said that Joan made a strong impression on all of Greece with her superior learning. She stayed in Greece until the 840's and then moved on - to Rome.

Her fame as a person of great learning grew and she came to the attention of Pope Leo IV (who, just like everyone else, was under the impression that she was a man). He was so impressed that he promoted her to his select inner circle.

She became a favourite of the Pope, and towards the end of his life, as he lay dying on his deathbed he recommended that John (Joan) should succeed him as the Holy Father. Largely thanks to this recommendation, she got the job and Joan became the first (and probably the last) female Pope - she was known as Pope John.

The "female Pope" was not recognised as such, her subterfuge was perfect. She was regarded a good ruler with powerful oration skills, and all was well - Until the fateful day that she gave birth to a child in the most public possible manner. Some versions of the story say that one of her Bishops (who was strongly suspected of being her lover), instead of coming clean and admitting that this was a female Pope, tried to placate the stunned onlookers by saying that it was all God's will - That God was perfectly capable of allowing men to have babies if it was part of his great plan to do so!

The Roman people were, by all accounts, unconvinced by the argument and, depending on which version you believe, The female Pope and her child was either put to death, or sent to live out her days (with her child) confined to a nunnery.

The "Stedia Stercoraria" - the "Ball feeling Chair"
The "Stedia Stercoraria" - the "Ball feeling Chair"

What evidence is there that the female Pope existed?

Although the Catholic Church insist that the female Pope Joan never existed, there are a number of strange items and customs associated with the office of Pope that perhaps suggest that a female Pope once reigned as pontiff.

  1. During Papal processions, it is said that the Pope will ritually turn his back on one particular Roman street. It is popularly known as "The Shunned Street" and contains a wayside shrine or "Edicola" which is said to be the spot where the female Pope Joan gave birth. Despite a 17th century attempt to re-dedicate the shrine with a statue of Our Lady, the site is still the main attraction for visitors seeking evidence of the Female Pope.
  2. In the Centre of St. Peter's in Rome, is an altar that is only ever used by the Pope. It has an altar-cover known as a "Baldaccino" which was produced in the 17th century by the sculptor Bernini, the base of which depict eight strange figures. Seven of the figures portray a woman's face, apparently in stages of agony - She is wearing a Papal crown (indicative of a female Pope). The eighth face however, is of a baby, beneath which is a representation of a large swollen belly. Beneath the belly there appears to be contracted folds of skin, giving the impression of a birth in progress.
  3. Hidden in the depths of the Vatican Museum is a very special chair. The "Stedia Stercoraria". This is a chair of an unusual design, a commode-like construction with a large keyhole shaped orifice cut into the middle of the seat. The seat is popularly known as "The Ball-Feeling Chair". It was used in the Election Ceremony for Popes. The method of it's use has been recorded by many medieval travellers: Before an appointment as Pope could be confirmed, the candidate had to disrobe and sit it the special chair. The youngest Deacon present would then be required to kneel down and reach under the chair to confirm that the candidate did possess testicles.

The female Pope - This illustration accompanied an account by the traveller Lawrence Banck, of the coronation of Pope Innocent X. The kneeling Cardinal is feeling for the Popes testicles and exclaiming (in latin) "The Pontiff has them"
The female Pope - This illustration accompanied an account by the traveller Lawrence Banck, of the coronation of Pope Innocent X. The kneeling Cardinal is feeling for the Popes testicles and exclaiming (in latin) "The Pontiff has them"

The obvious questions are - If there never was a female Pope, then:

  1. Why does the Pope turn away from "The Shunned Street"?
  2. What is being depicted on the "Baldaccino" in St. Peters?
  3. Why was the "Stedia Stercoraria" - the "Ball feeling Chair" deemed necessary?

There may be another rational explanation for all the above (other than the legend of the female Pope being true) - But I'll be honest with you - I can't think of one - Can You?

More Vatican Secrets

Dark Mysteries of the Vatican
Dark Mysteries of the Vatican
What The Vatican Doesn't Want You To Know: The lies. The conspiracies. The cover-ups. The truth. Deep behind the walls of the world's holiest site is a dense network of lies, corruption, and conspiracies fueling the Vatican's vast and unchecked influence on world events. From the Holy Orders that defied the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" to the scandals splashed across international headlines, the Vatican is no longer shrouded in mystery, legend, and secrecy.


Submit a Comment
  • Michele Travis profile image

    Michele Travis 

    7 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

    Great hub. I have heard of this before and believe it is true. You have written this very well.

    She was put to death for being female. That is sad, being put to death only because you are a woman.

    Voted up.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @itakins - Too true! lol.

  • itakins profile image


    8 years ago from Irl

    Great hub -great fun read and maybe true -who knows! Howvever,does the Catholic church really have a monopoly on cover-ups.I can think of dozens that don't involve the Vatican.

    Let me see......bankers,politicians,police forces,presidents, infinitum.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Joncrown444 Thank you for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed the Hub. Of course such a tale could never be proven. The whole function of any cover-up is to destroy any evidence that could prove it to be true, and introduce disinformation about the true nature of the event. However, not many cover-up exercises are perfect or seamless, and the odd clue sometimes escapes the net. Regarding this particular story, whilst individually, each “clue” could have other reasons for it's existence, when taken together, they have only one common reason amongst their individual alternatives – They all point to a female Pope.

    By the same token, you could never prove the existence of Jesus Christ in a court of law, as there is no physical evidence that he ever lived. We only know of him because of the New Testament. In fact, if you consider that the same legend -

    Son of God born of a virgin

    Born on the 25th December before three shepherds

    Turns water into wine at a wedding

    Offers followers the chance to be born again by baptism

    Rides into town on a donkey whilst well wishers wave palms to honour him

    Dies at Eastertide as a sacrifice for the sins of the world

    On the third day he rises from the dead and ascends into heaven

    He is to return to judge at the last days

    His followers celebrate his death and resurrection by eating bread and drinking wine to symbolise his body and blood

    has been used for millennia by many gods, including Osiris and Dionysis, long before it was adopted for the Christian story, then it would be reasonable to conclude that far from being the truth, it was merely the latest iteration of an age old myth. But of course this just tells us something that we already knew – that what we believe does not necessarily depend on what can be proved in a court of law.

    Thanks again for your input. I wish you well with your new novel and may your god go with you.

  • Joncrown444 profile image


    9 years ago

    Your hub is very well written, and I found it quite engaging and enjoyable to read. Very fun to speculate, as long as we hold back on our conclusions! Here's the catch, in a court of law, you could never prove the theory on the basis of this evidence, it's all circumstantial and heresay ... many questions remain ... could the chair that looks like a commode simply be a commode? Long processions, and a ready delivery system for the pope who can't make a pit stop! Also, where is the "female" pope buried? What was her child's name and place of burial? Can we find the burial of a Pope John (male) from the same date? And is it reasonable to believe Italian Bishops would not wish to discredit the only English pope of the time? Remember, few have been elevated to the seat of Peter without being Italian! That there are mysteries inside the Vatican is not disputed. However, I must ask, why are we so ready to accept a different story than that offered by the Church on the basis of evidence no court would accept as clear and convincing? The burden of proof always must fall to anyone offering a different explanation, and then, only can be accepted as fact if the weight of the evidence is truly significant. Thanks for a good read, and all the best.

    P.S. By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a revert to the Catholic faith, having kicked the tires of many faith traditions, and returning, after careful examination, to the Catholic Church, not because it is perfect, or has avoided sinfulness and sinful men and women in power and in the pews, but because I believe it was founded by Jesus Christ, and remains the repository of the one true apostolic faith. Its survival these 2000 years is complelling evidence to me of the continuing fulfillment of Jesus' promise to never allow the Gates of Hell to prevail against it. In my experience, I have met some of the wisest, kindest, most Christ-like men and women within the Church ... it is seldom reported, but there for those willing to give it an honest look. Anyway, for another fun read in the genre of speculative religious fiction, please check out my new novel on --- "The Rapture of Darkness." God Bless.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ zaldy gutierrez - Thanks, glad yo liked it.

  • profile image

    zaldy gutierrez (tikboy_tm) 

    9 years ago

    Cool article to read. :)

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ruffridyer - Yes is seems that power always corrupts - No matter where they claim their authority comes from.

  • profile image


    9 years ago from Dayton, ohio

    It seems the cathlic church spends a lot of time and effort covering up distastefull secrets, even today.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Simone Smith - I'd like to think it's true as well - Of all the evidence, that chair is the real clincher for me.

  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 

    9 years ago from San Francisco

    Whoah! I had no idea that there has been rumor of a female pope! How cool! I hope there really was one- Joan sounds like quite the cool gal. Thanks for sharing the background and history!

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ NorthWind. Yes, I'm sure there are plenty more mysteries locked up in the Vatican.

  • North Wind profile image

    North Wind 

    9 years ago from The World (for now)

    Interesting but I could see it to be true. At that time who knows? I am always intrigued with the mysteries and secrets within the Roman Catholic church. The case of the three popes fascinates me as well.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @ Electro-Denizen - Yes it's surprising what's been covered up over the years.

  • Gaizy profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Denbigh, North Wales, UK

    @dashingclaire - LOL, yes - having a baby is a bit of a givaway isn't it?

  • Electro-Denizen profile image


    9 years ago from UK

    Never heard of that one, lol. But seeing as the Vatican seems to be expert in covering things up, it wouldn't surprise me. Well written hub!

  • dashingclaire profile image


    9 years ago from United States

    Nice hub! I really enjoyed the fact there probably was a female Pope. There were possibly more, but this one gave it away by giving birth! Should have called in sick that day.


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