Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pope Joan

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Pope Joan is historical fiction at its finest. The book takes place during the dark ages in the 9th century when it is forbidden for women to be educated. During this time the church has been ridding the world of pagans and converting them by force. You must either convert or die. So Joan's mother, Gudrun is a Saxon who converts to Christianity and marries the canon, a man who believes he must beat the devil out of women and children to save their souls. Gudrun has three children, two sons Matthew and John, with the youngest child being Joan. The year Joan is born the Frankish emperor Karolus (known to us as Charlemagne) dies, sending the empire into an uncertain future.

An educated woman was known to be a dangerous woman. Joan was forbidden an education but her brother Matthew taught her secretly. When her fathered discovered she owned a book he beat her to within a inch of her life. Eventually to continue her education she had to live her life as a man and enter a monastery. She was in constant fear that she would be discovered and be executed as a witch. She is not the only woman who has done this. Throughout history many women have chosen to live their lives as men because of the opportunities that were denied to them as women. Men were very fearful of women and of menstrual blood. The author states in her author's note that "Menstrual blood was believed to turn wine sour, make crops barren, take the edge off of steel, make iron rust, and infect dog bites with an incurable poison".

Is Joan a real person? Did she really become Pope in 853 and reign until 855? I believe so! In fact the author states there are more historical references to Pope Joan than King Arthur and yet more children know the story of King Arthur. The reason why most people have never heard of Pope Joan is because when the Catholic church discovered Pope John Anglicus was a woman they tried to erase her from history by destroying documents and after Joan's papacy all future Popes were required to show their manhood before assuming the role of Pope.

I am so thankful that I am living now in this time and place instead of in the past. My children once asked me if I could go back in history and live at any moment, what year would I live in? My response was that I wouldn't go back, at least not as a woman. I enjoy the luxuries of today, like reading, writing, voting and working. Women have more opportunities now than ever before and we still have a long way to go. I love being a woman in 2010.

I would consider this book to be one of the best books I have read so far this year. I am overjoyed to have discovered a movie version has been made but unfortunately I cannot find a U.S. release date. Leave a comment if you have some information about the film. The trailer looks great and so I included it in my post. You can also check out the website for Pope Joan at My advice to you is to definitely read this book and spread Joan's legacy to the world!


  1. I absolutely loved, loved, loved this book. I read it a few years ago then sent it on a worldwide trek via bookcrossing! It was gone almost two years, but readers being the great people they are, it came home!

    I never knew there was a movie. I would love to see it. My two cents, I believe every word of what I read is based on truth.

    So glad you enjoyed this book.

  2. How interesting! It reminds me of the Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut- the only female pharaoh. After her reign, the Egyptians tried erasing her from history by destroying her temples and artifacts. They didn't do very well- we actually have casts of parts of her temples here in Richmond, VA at the art museum. I'll check this out.

  3. I read this book 10+ years ago and I LOVED it. I still regularly recommedn it to people. I too have been looking for the movie come out in the US but I am not sure we'll be happy with what happens. Luckily The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is hopefully reminding movie people that not all Americans hate subtitled movies, but I doubt it.