The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth

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9780425173473: The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth

The legend of Pope Joan--an Englishwoman who disguised herself as a man and became pope in the ninth century--has been a source of controversy for a thousand years. Fascinated by her story, but skeptical of its authenticity, British journalist Peter Stanford decided to investigate the facts. His search for the truth has produced the definitive account of one of the most intriguing mysteries of the Catholic Church. With all the riveting drama of an historical detective novel, this exciting study utilizes a variety of sources and methods, from ancient papal tomes to present-day psychological profiling. And in an age when many women identify with Joan's struggle for recognition in a male-dominated institution, Stanford speculates on what her legend's longevity means for the church--and asks why she still has such a powerful grip on our imaginations.

"A compelling account of one of the least-known stories in church history."-- The Boston Globe

"The definitive study of an amazing legend."-- Publishers Weekly

"Unfolds like a good mystery yarn...thorough, intelligent, and absorbing."-- The Boston Globe

"Stanford renders the myth itself--how this woman who penetrated the ultimate men's club has been represented, reviled, and revered for more than a millennium--in fascinating detail."-- Entertainment Weekly

"Carefully researched and of broad interest."-- Library Journal

"A valuable tool for understanding the sexual politics of the Catholic Church--as contentious an issue now as it ever has been--and an extremely engaging read as well."-- Willamette Week (Portland, OR)

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About the Author:

Peter Stanford is the former editor of the London newspaper The Catholic Herald. He works for the BBC, contributes to various newspapers, and is the author of two other books.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A flimsy argument for the existence of a female pope in the ninth century. Stanford, former editor of London's Catholic Herald and author of The Devil: A Biography (1996), has resurrected a wonderful legend: that a young medieval Catholic woman d isguised herself as a man, became educated, climbed the ecclesiastical ladder and served as pope for more than two years, only to be unmasked when she gave birth during a public processional. But Stanford too doggedly persists in his determination to see historical evidence for Joan's papacy where almost none exists. His case is built upon circumstances, and he rashly jumps from possibility to fact. No mention of Joan is made in any extant source until the mid-13nth century (though Stanford gamely tries t o persuade us that an 11th-century text that does not mention Joan by name is, in fact, referring to her). Stanford treats the 1265 Polonus chronicle as gospel truthfor example, in the second chapter, he notes that Polonus claimed the son Joan bore in the street later went on to become bishop of Ostia. Eighty pages later, Stanford writes that because we ``know'' that Joan's son became bishop of Ostia, it makes sense that Joan was buried there. This kind of shoddy detective work only builds a house of card s. Some of this is excusable by Stanford's own obvious enthusiasm for his subject matter; he so clearly wants the reader to believe what he has come to accept as historical truth. This eagerness blinds him to the far more provocative questions he neglects to raise until the conclusion of the book: why is Joan still revered by so many, including proponents of women's ordination, transvestites, and anti-clericalists? What is at stake here for the Catholic Church? Why, despite the weak historical evidence, d oes the legend of Pope Joan persist? Tenuous, inadequate history that overlooks the more salient issues surrounding Joan's legend. (8 pages b&w photos) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Stanford, Peter
Editorial: Berkley Trade (2000)
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Peter Stanford
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Stanford, Peter
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