Pope Joan Coin Tells Truth of tale

A Flinders University archaeologist in South Australia is using medieval coins as evidence the otherwise debunked story of an alleged female Roman Catholic pope might actually be true.

pope joan coinMichael Habicht is identified as being an archaeologist associated with the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, according to the university website. Habicht is also identified as a media expert in archaeology. His education does not appear at the site, but he is presented with the title “mister” rather than with an academic title. His research interests are listed as being in “Egyptology, archaeology (mostly classical – Greece and Rome), and bioarchaeology.”

It is historical fact there was a Pope John VIII who reigned from 872 to 882. It is also historical fact coins were issued on which his monogram appears, these coins being struck in the name of this pope, whose name is expressed in Latin as Joannes Anglicus. Pope John VIII “of Alexandria” was born in Rome and is credited with attempting to stop Muslim incursions into southern Italy and their march north where they were “destroying the economy of papal patrimony.”

According to the 13th century Chronic Universalis Mettensiswritten by the Dominican author Jean de Mailly, there was a “female pope, who is not set down in the list of popes or bishops of Rome, because she was a woman who disguised herself as a man and became, by her character and talents, a curial secretary, then a cardinal and finally pope. One day, while mounting a horse, she gave birth to a child. Immediately, by Roman justice she was bound by the feet to a horse’s tail and dragged and stoned by the people for half a league, and, where she died, there she was buried…”

Martin of Opava wrote in his Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum that this mystery individual was a John Anglicus who was born in Mainz and who served as pope for two years, seven months, four days. Opava continued that “she was delivered of a child while in procession from St. Peter’s to the Lateran, in a lane once named Via Sacra (the sacred way) but now known as the ‘shunned street’ between the Colosseum and St. Clement’s church…”

These sources set the events in 1099; however, as the story improved, it was claimed the event took place earlier, citing Liber Pontificalis compiled by Anastasius Bibliothecarius (died in 886) as the original source. The relevant passage in the manuscript stored in the Vatican library was inserted at a later date in a different handwriting. The passage appears as a footnote at the bottom of the page and is out of sequence.

As Andrew V. Tackes Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, Thomas Noble said in the Sept. 24 issue of Newsweek, “[Habicht] misdates the sequence of ninth-century popes. There is absolutely no doubt or confusion that Sergius II reigned 844 to 847, Leo IV 847 to 855, and Benedict III 855 to 858. There is no room for Joan, although [some traditions] tried to put her in the Benedict slot. Absolutely no responsible historian believes Joan existed.”

Habicht disagrees. In an early September issue of Live Science, Habicht said, “The debate on female ordination in the church is still ongoing.”

According to Habicht, “The coins really turned the tables in favor of a covered-up but true story,” continuing, “The monogram that can be attributed to the later John VIII has distinct differences in the placing of letters and the overall design.”

Habricht told Live Science, “In the beginning, I also believed that the story of Joan was mere fiction, but when I did more extensive research, more and more, the possibility emerged that there was more behind the story.”

The Sept. 19 issue of Smithsonian magazine explains, “[Habicht] found that those minted earlier bore a markedly different monogram than those minted toward the end of his reign. Habicht doesn’t view these distinct designs as mere human error: Instead, he argues that the earlier monogram, which dates from 856 to 858, belongs to Johannes Anglicus, or Joan, while the latter belongs to John VIII.”

The question remains whether the jury is out on this theory or that what Habicht suggests is simply wishful thinking.

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