Current research on Pope Johanna

What about the story of a Pope John, who was in fact a woman named Joan?
Modern researchers have been increasingly investigating this question for around forty years.
Worth mentioning are the two Catholic theologians Joan Morris and Elisabeth Gössmann.
Their works can be found in the list of references.

Recently, the researchers Michael E. Habicht with Marguerite Spycher as well as Pietro Ratto have published revealing writings.
Their research has been facilitated because important old sources have become accessible in digital form.

Biographic Information | Information about the Pontificates | Information about Cross-Dressing
Research Literature

Biographic Information

What the source texts report

Perhaps statue of the popess
Statue of the Popess? *

No matter whether one regards the Popeess as a real figure of history or as a legend, some information can be found in the chroniclers and in source texts. These make it possible to reconstruct the biography in broad outlines.

Those who believe that the figure of Joan is a legend should only use the information at Martin von Troppau

In order to complete the figure, sources are also used here which assume the real existence of a Popess and regard the description of the unnamed Pope in Liber Pontificalis as part of the biography of Joan.

* Note to the picture:
Statue of a woman in pope's robe and with key. Outside front of St. Peter's.
Officially either a pope from the early Middle Ages or the personification of the church is to be represented.


Popes in the middle of the 9th century

San Giovanni in Laterano: Palace and Basilica
Lateran Palace and Lateran Basilica

The years 850 to 880 are relevant in the question of a possible woman on the Pope's throne.

If there was Pope Johanna, she must have exercised her office during this period

And it is precisely during this period that a whole series of questions arise, because there are ambiguities that may have been deliberately created to conceal facts.



Pretending the opposite sex

Norah Vincent as a Man
Norah Vincent as Ned

Cross dressing refers to the wearing of clothing and jewellery of the opposite sex and the associated behaviour.
This is not the representation in the theatre, but in real life.

There is a whole range of motifs for such a change of role.
Relatively often women change into men's clothes when times are uncertain or in war.

In the case of Johannes Anglicus alias Popess Joan, this phenomenon must also be investigated. Only the change from female to male appearance is of interest here.



Figure «Statue woman with tiara and key»: External Front St. Peter. © M. E. Habicht
Figure «Lateran Palace and Lateran Basilica»: Dnalor 01 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Figure «Norah Vincent as Ned:» Self Made Man. Norah Vincent