Donna Cross Pope Joan

ISBN 13: 9780517593653

Pope Joan

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There are few historical heroines as fascinating and controversial as Pope Joan, a woman whose hunger for knowledge and independent nature led her to pass as a man and ultimately to attain the high seat in Rome. Pope Joan is a spellbinding tale of a woman who gave up everything, even her very name, for the sake of knowledge.

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One of the most controversial women of history is brought to brilliant life in Donn Woolfolk Cross's tale of Pope Joan, a girl whose origins should have kept her in squalid domesticity. Instead, through her intelligence, indomitability and courage, she ascended to the throne of Rome as Pope John Anglicus.

The time is 814, the place is Ingelheim, a Frankland village. It is the harshest winter in living memory when Joan is born to an English father and a Saxon mother. Her father is a canon, filled with holy zeal and capable of unconscionable cruelty. His piety does not extend to his family members, especially the females. His wife, Gudrun, is a young beauty to whom he was attracted beyond his will--and he hates her for showing him his weakness. Gudrun teaches Joan about her gods, and is repeatedly punished for it by the canon. Joan grows to young womanhood with the combined knowledge of the warlike Saxon gods and the teachings of the Church as her heritage. Both realities inform her life forever.

When her brother John, not a scholarly type, is sent away to school, Joan, who was supposed to be the one sent to school, runs away and joins him in Dorstadt, at Villaris, the home of Gerold, who is central to Joan's story. She falls in love with Gerold and their lives interesect repeatedly even through her Papacy. She is looked upon by all who know that she is a woman as a "lusus naturae," a freak of nature. "She was... male in intellect, female in body, she fit in nowhere; it was as if she belonged to a third amorphous sex." Cross makes the case over and over again that the status of women in the Dark Ages was little better than cattle. They were judged inferior in every way, and necessary evils in the bargain.

After John is killed in a Viking attack, Joan sees her opportunity to escape the fate of all her gender. She cuts her hair, dons her dead brother's clothes and goes into the world as a young boy. Gerold is away from Villaris at the time of the attack and comes home to find his home in ruins, his family killed and Joan among the missing. After the attack, Joan goes to a Benedictine monastery, is accepted as a young man of great learning, and eventually makes her way to Rome.

The author is at pains to tell the reader in an Epilogue that she has written the story as fiction because it is impossible to document Joan's accesion to the Papacy. The Catholic Church has done everything possible to deny this embarrassment. Whether or not one believes in Joan as Pope, this is a compelling story, filled with all kinds of lore: the brutishness of the Dark Ages, Vatican intrigue, politics and favoritism and most of all, the place of women in the Church and in the world. --Valerie Ryan

From the Publisher:

I'm a huge fan of historical fiction so I was excited when I found out we were going to add another author to our historical fiction roster. I think the best historical fiction writers engross and entertain the reader as well as educate them. Donna Woolfolk Cross does this and more! Her character of Pope Joan, aka John Anglicus, is one of the most vibrant heroines I've ever encountered -- Joan leaps from the page and comes alive. The combination of Joan's struggle to keep her identity as a woman, her bittersweet love affair with Gerold, and her rise to the highest position in the Catholic Church made this book impossible to put down. Add to this the author's depth of knowledge of the time period and you have a book that will remain a favorite of mine for many, many years to come...

Sarah Glazar, Assistant Editor

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Cross, Donna
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