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The Legend of Pope Joan: In Search of the Truth

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  111 ratings  ·  23 reviews
A quest for the truth behind one of history's most perplexing mysteries. The story of Pope Joan, an English woman who disguised herself as a man and became pope in the middle of the ninth century, has seized people's imagination for over a thousand years. Despite dismissals of the tale as an improbable--indeed, impossible--historical fantasy, the leg persists. Is the tale ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published January 15th 1999 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 1998)
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Andrew Breslin
Sep 08, 2009 Andrew Breslin rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: religious scholars; historians
This was a fascinating book. It examines the historical evidence supporting the existence of Pope Joan, who, according to legend, was elected pope in the ninth century, reigned as a highly respected pontiff for about two years, until her true gender was discovered. She was then, the story usually runs, subsequently murdered and her entire existence covered up.

In addition to shedding light on Pope Joan herself, and whether or not she truly existed, (which the author does not firmly confirm or den
...more
Keri-Lynn
I read this book as a companion volume of sorts to Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross. Stanford is not a historian, but he is a Catholic writer/journalist and in the case of this book, unlike Cross's Pope Joan, his approach and credentials as a writer stand him in good stead. This is not fiction, but rather his search for the truth, or as much of the truth as can be found these days, about the possibly real/possibly legendary character Pope Joan. He didn't convince me, but he got a lot closer tha ...more
Theo Logos
Almost a three star effort; it is written well enough, and covers both the evidence for the legend and the ongoing controversy over its veracity exhaustively. Its main problem is that hard evidence either for or against the legend is scant, and most of what can be said about Pope Joan relies on nothing more substantial than circumstantial evidence. While this book checked in at under 200 pages, the relevant facts could have been easily dealt with in half of that. What remains feels like filler, ...more
Meaghan
Although I am not yet entirely convinced that Pope Joan existed, as Mr. Stanford argues, having read this book I now believe it's by no means impossible for her to have been real. I also learned a great deal about women in the church, then and now, and much of it was interesting. I applaud Mr. Stanford's research and his writing was superb also. Both the general reader and students of religious history would enjoy this book.
Feisty Harriet
This is my third book on Pope Joan and definitely my favorite. I appreciate Stanford's more scholarly approach than the novel "Pope Joan" by Donna Woolfolk Cross, and I appreciate the more journalistic searching than I saw in Emmanuel Rhoides book. Stanford explores ancient libraries and talks to Catholic historians and priests in the Vatican. He makes an argument for Joan as a truth and also for her story as legend. I loved his cross-referencing of historical documents from around Europe that m ...more
Amy
I first heard about Pope Joan a couple weeks ago from some show that I was watching on Netflix. The story, and the mystery intrigued me, so the next day I checked this book out from the library.

Peter Stanford doesn't really succeed in making a case for the historical reality of Pope Joan, nor does he succeed in making the case that she was a fictional invention of people seeking to discredit the Catholic Church, or of Catholics seeking to provide a morality tale to women seeking leadership roles
...more
Yz
Really, watching Stanford struggle with things was frequently more interesting than the legend itself. This is not meant to be derogatory.
Adrienne Kiser
I still don't believe in the legend, but I would really like to!
Richard
A fascinating exploration - Stanford shows how the story of a woman who became Pope in the Eighth Century (a native of Fulda of English descent, educated in Greece) deserves more than to be dismissed out of hand. We're guided through various medieval chronicles (and later Protestant polemics), the societal context of the age in which she supposedly lived, and various literary treatments over the centuries. He also talks about Joan with women who wish to be recognised as priests within the Cathol ...more
Nispuk
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Marcie
Fascinating where a fleeting interest can take you. Because I do not a Catholic background, I found this both interesting and insightful. As he tried to find the "truth" about Pope Joan and how political maneuvering of the church leaders have obscured whatever truth may be the basis of the legend, you learn as much about the times & people through which her story has survived as you do about Pope Joan.
Theresa
This book takes the "legend" of Pope Joan and investigates the truth or fiction of her existence. Despite much evidence to the contrary, the author believes that she truly did exist and was perhaps pope for a period of time in the middle of the 9th century. This is an interesting complement to the novel, Pope Joan.
Calvin
just like the author, I really want to think Joan is a historical fact instead of myth. Unfortunately the author is limited (just like everybody else) to what already is. This book is informative however, don't expect too much solid evidences to proof Joan's existence. It's best to be treated as pro-Joan book.
Jeff Raymond
The story - and the story behind the cover-up - of the Catholic Church’s female Pope. Another absolutely fascinating read, really well-researched and the story about getting the information is as fun as the information itself. Very fun, very quick read.
April
I read this for backgroud info on the fictionalized book on Pop Joan. It was interesting in parts, but mostly it was pretty dry. I wouldn't recommend it unless you were doing some heavy duty research.
Dawn
Wow! More dirty laundry in the Catholic Church. It is kind of like a detective story...we follow the author on his search for information on Pope Joan, the only female pontiff. But did she really exist?
Holly
Easy intro to myth of Pope Joan...but he is flimsy in his research. He missed out on genuine docs/letters that establish accurate dates for Popes Leo and Benedict...which leave no room for Joan.
Nikki
I really want this book to be so much better than it is. I picked it up to read for a second time. I am again struck by how there is something distinctly lacking in it.
Milli
Oct 11, 2010 Milli rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
Interesting introduction on this topic. A starting point from here on out, I'll definitely be doing more reading on this legend. Or is it a legend?
Janice Hussock
All right. Would not recommend it to others as a read unless they were passionately interested in Pope Joan.
Lynne
If Pope Joan, the historical fiction version, got you curious; then check this one out for some follow-up.
Tiffany Garcia
Interesting idea, but the book was hard to read and was a little too long.
Kimberlyn
outlines supports and attacks on the idea
Dianne
Dianne marked it as to-read
Jul 29, 2015
Kirsten
Kirsten marked it as to-read
Jul 28, 2015
Becca
Becca marked it as to-read
Jul 27, 2015
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Sonnet marked it as to-read
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