For centuries, there have been myths that a crafty woman once snuck her way into the office of Pope. Though researchers have long been on the fence about the story’s credibility, one thing is for sure: people in the Middle Ages definitely believed it. But new evidence suggests that what many have long written off as a legend may have some historical basis.

The women, the legend

There are various accounts of how Pope Joan came to be, so we’ll stick to one of the most popular. Back in 9th century Rome, the Popess-to-be fell in love with a guy who was going to Athens to study in this Benedictine monastery.


So she did the only reasonable thing: she dressed up as a dude, and enrolled in the monastery herself. As it turned out, she did super well there and ended up moving up the monastery ladder. Ultimately, she did so well that she found herself dubbed Pope and praying to God no one would ever find out what really was… or wasn’t, lurking beneath her robes.

Worse timing ever

Well, it seems at least one person knew the truth, due to the nature of her ultimate unveiling. One day, she was out leading a procession on horseback when suddenly the secret came out, literally.

Things kinda went downhill when she was suddenly forced to pull over her horse and accidentally give birth in front of the entire Roman Empire. Awkward. Some say that poor Pope Joan was then executed, while others claim she was tucked away in a nunnery and her name removed from papal records.

Historical hints emerge

Recently, researchers have uncovered old coins from the 850s that appear to bear the name of Pope Johannes Anglicus. And lo, these coins match up with a suspicious gap in papal records, during 856 and 858 AD.

They’ve also uncovered an old letter addressed to Pope Joan that was mistakenly filed under the records of another Pope. While no one knows for sure, more historians are starting to give credence to the idea that a woman did once indeed get her Pope on.