Medieval legends claim that Pope Joan was the first and only female Pope. And now, an analysis of ancient silver coins suggests that the ordained woman may have actually lived.
According to legends from the Middle Ages, a pope named John, or Johannes Anglicus, who reigned during the middle of the ninth century, was actually a woman, Pope Joan. For instance, a story from the 13th century written by a Dominican monk from Poland named Martin claimed that Pope Joan became pregnant and gave birth during a church procession. [History’s 10 Most Intriguing Popes] However, there is much debate over whether a Pope named Johannes Anglicus existed, much less whether this Pope was a man or woman. The doubt stems in part from the great deal of confusion over the identities of popes during the middle of the ninth century. For example, in the oldest surviving copy of the “Liber Pontificalis,” the official book of biographies of popes during the early Middle Ages, “Pope Benedict III is missing entirely,”study author Michael Habicht, an archaeologist at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, told Live Science.