"Engaging . . . Pope Joan has all the elements: love, sex, violence, duplicity, and long-buried secrets." --Los Angeles Times Book Review For a thousand years men have denied her existence--Pope Joan, the woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to rule Christianity for two years. Now... read more
Pope Joan is a well-researched story set in mid-800s Europe. Donna Cross nails life in medieval times, showing the women at home working their subsistence garden while Joan's father, a canon in the Roman Catholic church proselytizes in Frankland. His English heritage and his decision to take a... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Pope Joan is a well-researched story set in mid-800s Europe. Donna Cross nails life in medieval times, showing the women at home working their subsistence garden while Joan's father, a canon in the Roman Catholic church proselytizes in Frankland. His English heritage and his decision to take a Saxon bride when he decides to save the savage heathens' souls in Ingelheim from their Norse gods and eternal damnation all work to increase Joan's access to education.
Joan is blessed with a keen intellect, an aptitude for languages and an older brother, Matthew, who shares his own lessons with her. When he dies, a travellling scholar continues her education despite her tyrannical father's objections. Joan's other brother, John, always slow, must learn beside her, but he shares his father's beliefs that women are hysterical, inferior temptresses, and he deeply resents his sister.
The teacher leaves, but when he later summons Joan to a schola, knowing her aptitude and not burdened by provincial misogyny the canon is outraged and sends John instead. Joan follows him, effectively running away. Much learning for Joan in the schola, and she lives with a family in the village, encouraged by the enlightened householder, Gerold. Joan and Gerold are intellectual equals, and he leaves when he discovers he's falling for her. Gerold's wife tries to manipulate Joan into a marriage with a village boy while Gerold is gone, but Norsemen attack and everyone is killed except Gisla, Gerold's oldest daughter, and Joan, who has hidden in the reredos behind the altar.
Joan steals John's clothing, snips her blond locks and enters Fulda monastery as a male. She continues her studies and is apprenticed to the physician, developing great skill as a healer.
Joan escapes from Fulda when her father, the canon, appears and her disguise is threatened. Why she doesn't look for Gerold here is not clear. She loves being the master of her own destiny, and perhaps is not ready to relinquish her new independence. Being a wife required a woman to live a private life. Intellectual pursuits, let alone healing, could lead to accusations of witchcraft. Her subsequent journey to Rome leads her to diagnose Pope Sergius's gout. She becomes his trusted physician.
“Surely you know, Holiness, that the size of a woman's brain and her uterus are inversely propotionate; therefore, the more a girl learns, the less likely she will ever bear children.”Jordanes
“Greatness does not attend upon opportunity; it seizes it.”Joan
“As for will, woman should be considered superior to man for Eve ate of the apple for love of knowledge and learning, but Adam ate of it merely because she asked him.”
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