According to medieval accounts, a woman named Joan reigned as pope, 855-857 A.D., by disguising herself as a man. The story is widely thought to be fiction, but almost everyone took it as fact in the Middle Ages, up to the point that the Siena Cathedral featured a bust of Joan among other pontiffs.

Where did the story of Joan come from, what is the purpose of creating this legend, and what narrative function does it fulfill? Moreover, is it even possible that this story is true?

Joining us to dig into the incredibly messy history of the medieval papacy is Stephen Guerra, host of the History of the Papacy podcast. We find out whether a woman ever did wear the papal tiara.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Stephen Guerra’s Podcast Page: The A to Z of History

History of the Papacy Podcast

Beyond the Big Screen

Pope Joan: The Movie