In the ninth century a woman rose to the highest seat in Rome, that of Pope. The Church has since tried to erase her from history. They should know, women don't go away quietly. Donna Woolfolk Cross has given voice to this extraordinary woman, Joan of Ingelheim, later known as Pope John VIII.
Joan and two older brothers were raised by her father, a Canon of the local country church and her mother, a Saxon woman, brought back from one of her father's missionary trips. Joan's father was quite strict and especially hard with her. He found her intelligence and thirst for knowledge unnatural, sinful and blasphemous. Girls did not read and write. However, Joan was not one to back down and still found ways to learn despite her father's wrath.
When her brother is killed by Vikings, Joan assumes his identity and enters the monastery at Fulda as brother John Anglicus. Disguised as a man, Joan is able to penetrate the world of men. A bit like Caterina from Signora da Vinci (Robin Maxwell), but without the funnel! Joan's travels carry her finally to Rome, where her healing skills and bright mind give her access into the Pope's inner circle. As the frienship between Joan and the Pope grows, she soon finds that betrayal, deception and greed are to be found in even the holiest of places.
At heart, Pope Joan is a story of a woman. A woman who fights for what she believes in, no matter the consequences. A woman who loves God, yet questions her faith (something we can all relate to). A woman torn between a physical love and a spiritual one. Joan charms you from the start and throughout the novel, her ups and downs are your own.