Pope Joan and Joan of Arc: The French Restoration of a Feminine Church

Photo from a film about Pope Joan. from: PWCD - women in the Catholic church

History

Written by m.wilson

Johannes Anglicus or Pope Joan (first described in Jean de Mailly’s Chronica Universalis Mettensis), and Jeanne d’ Arc – a young mystic who helped liberate France, both have names translating to “Joan” in English. So it might only be an English-speaking person who would mentally link these women of Catholic ordination together. There are, however, a few other clearly defined similarities between the two, such as:  

  • Both lived during the middle ages (5th – 15th century).  
  • Both were powerful entities within certain sects of the Catholic Church.
  • Both women obtained success by cutting their hair; looking and dressing as males.
  • Both possessed some type of superior intelligence / education / or skill (like extrasensory perception).
  • Both were demoted / demoralized in public.
  • Both met violent ends.

And one of the reasons the two Joans might intrigue is because of what they were able to achieve, considering that women do not have much fundamental / foundational importance in the teachings of the Bible (and therefore, corresponding positions within the church), beyond the birthing of important males, (and that’s not even counting the book of Revelation). Which makes it particularly interesting when a female is able to situate herself upon the throne of such a hierarchy as well as when a young girl manages to lead a country to victory on the battlefield as guided by the Saints.

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Joans’ downfall hails to a time of burgeoning Christianization throughout Europe. While there’d been Christianity in Roman Britain, (most sources say since the third century), it had not yet reached the Anglo-Saxons until the sixth – taking place as a result of the marriage between “Bertha” – a Christian princess and King Aethelberht, a soon to be converted pagan. A Christian Europe as it became would mean the burning and annihilation of women in the name of Christ (as opposed to whatever ceremonies may have been taking place before); and with the associated witch-burning and public persecution of the so-called “cunning” women, destined to commit these many millions of heresies against the church.

“Oh Peter, Father of Fathers, Betray the childbearing of the woman Pope”

– Chronica Universalis Mettensis

What Would Come To Be Called An “Inquisition”

Pope Lucius lll began requiring bishops to conduct judicial inquiry for heresy as early as 1184, and then approved by the Lateran council in 1215. So it would be in the 13th century that a judicial commission called “Inquisition” was established by the papacy and later become an institution. Henceforth a delegate of mostly Dominican and Franciscan friars was appointed by the succeeding papacy, and in 1248-9, the first handbook of inquisitorial procedures was published. During this time, a Dominican Friar, Bishop, and chronicler named Martin of Poland, wrote of Pope Joan, assigning her to the 9th century in his Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum.

Of Pope Joan, ‘the first and only female pope,’ said to have reigned as John Vlll between 855-858 (856-858), somewhere between Benedict lll 855-858 and Nicholas l 858-867; who gave birth in the streets of Rome during a church procession and likely murdered by the local townspeople – it may not be too far-fetched to consider that she’d been discovered either before or after her reign began, and was later known to be pregnant at the onset of her symptoms, (as persons of her station tend to be known). If that were the case, she might have been held prisoner in some capacity to prevent her from hiding the fact. There is even the possibility that despite the notion Joan had followed a lover into the faith, she’d actually been raped, impregnated, and finally marched into the town square at her time delivery, perhaps in a way similar to Joan of Arc’s Trial Of Condemnation later on during the 15th century.

“I have little doubt myself that Pope Joan is an impersonification of the great whore of Revelation, seated on the seven hills, and is the popular expression of the idea prevalent from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, that the mystery of iniquity was somehow working in the papal court. The scandal of the Antipopes, the utter worldliness and pride of others, the spiritual fornication with the kings of the earth, along with the words of Revelation prophesying the advent of an adulterous woman who should rule over the imperial city and her connexion [is] much as the floating uncertainty as to the significance of our Lord’s words, “There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God…”

The Antichrist And Pope Joan -Sabine Baring Gould

Coins Of The “Anti-Pope”

One of the reasons Pope Joan’s existence remains a mystery is because the Liber Pontificalis – an important reference containing the official biographies of the papacy for that period, disappeared without a trace (as many female – related religious materials do). However, archaeologist Michael Habicht of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, discovered monogrammed coins that had previously been attributed to a John Vlll of (872-882), and in his research found that the coins had “distinct differences in the placing of letters and overall design.” Habicht told Live Science that “some will embrace my study and find other evidence for female priests in the early centuries of Christianity – others will reject the idea and make a big media noise against such claims.”

Early Witch Burning – Joan Of Arc At Rouen – 1431

It is said in biographies of Joan that her perception and visions of the future assisted the French troops in daily battles, helping them to escape the many dangers created by the enemy, such as ambushes and traps. The English, (who had begun to occupy much of northern France near Joan’s village) upon hearing of her talent, wanted to burn her as a witch. And it would not be the will of the English church to support this belief of her communication with the saints.

Are You In Debt?

Joan’s second sight and conversations with guiding voices began at the age of 13. Soon afterward, Joan began asking others for their assistance, telling them that St. Michael and St. Catherine had designated her as the savior of France. It was her duty then to seek out Charles Vll, help him to expel the English from France, and bring the Dauphin to Reims for his coronation. Later, prior to military service, Joan would officially refuse a marriage arranged by her father in a local court, stating that her purpose was to serve God.

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.

Deuteronomy 22:5

After Joan had led the Dauphin safely to Reims where he was crowned, anointed in holy oil, and became Charles Vll King of France, she told him that her communication with the saints was waning and that he must take Paris back from England at once. He disregarded her advice and sent her to Burgundy where she was captured by allied French-Burgonians in the siege of Compiegne in 1430. Joan was then sold to the English for 10,000 francs.

Following a lengthy imprisonment and heresy trial that violated ecclesiastical law, many inquisitorial rules, and rendering what some members of the tribunal claimed to be a falsified transcript, she received capital punishment for the repeat offense of cross-dressing, and burned at the stake.

St. Catherine of Siena: Saint, Mystic, and Doctor of the Church | Sisters  of St. Joseph of Toronto
via Sisters Of St. Joseph Of Toronto
St. Catherine of Siena 1347-1380
  • Was one of 24 or 25 children delivered by her mother.
  • Was a mystic – having visions of Jesus at 5 – 6 yrs of age.
  • Stigmatist.
  • Cut her hair off and dressed like a boy.
  • Attended to the sick / poor and during plague.
  • Political activist who helped create peace.
  • Canonized 1461.
St. Joan of Arc 1412 – 1431
  • Burned as a witch for wearing men’s clothing in 1431.
  • Name cleared by Pope Calixtus lll 1456.
  • Canonized in 1920.

Restoration To The Church

Though it took hundreds of years, in 1849, the bishop of Orleans set into motion the events, including a petition from the French Catholic hierarchy in 1869, leading to Joan’s beatification at the Notre Dame cathedral in 1909, and later her canonization in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV. And perhaps because of Joan’s elevated status as a saint of the church, it becomes more so possible to experience a sense of feminine healing that may extend to all of those seeking blessing and recognition in spiritual faith.

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