Pope John VIII may not have been a pontiff that many people would recall were it not for a certain cleric of medieval chroniclers who insisted that Pope John VIII could have very well been the most unique Pope of all time. Can it really be possible that a woman rose through the Roman Catholic ranks and was eventually elected Pope?
One of the earliest accounts of a possible female Pope was made in the pages of De Septem donis Spiritu Sancti (translated as The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit) during the 13th Century by a French Dominican known as Stephen of Bourbon. According to this account, the Papacy took place in the 1100s and the reign itself ended when the pontiff went into labour during a procession. A cynical mob regarded this as blasphemous heresy and promptly dragged their ‘Pope’ out of Rome and executed her with a stoning. Legend has it that no further Papal processions use this street and any elected Pope has to undergo a particular examination while seated on a specially constructed chair with a hole in the middle of the seat. Reports often differ surrounding this test. Some state it is done visually, while others claim it is performed by touch alone. When satisfied that everything is in order, the tester proclaims loudly, “Duos habet et bene pendentes” (“He has two, and they dangle nicely”)
Angelicus’s fate may not have been such a brutal one however. Some chronicles reckon that Pope Joan wasnt promptly executed for heresy, but imprisoned for a number of years and forced to undergo penance for what she was said to have done. Her baby, a boy, grew up to become the Bishop of Ostia and had his mother entombed in his cathedral upon her passing.
The Roman Catholic Church has always denounced these reports and maintain that such an event never took place.