Documented accounts about her legend have been traced to the early XII century, these documents mention that in the IX century there was a pope who was a woman, his name was John, or more properly Joan. Movies, books and theater plays have been written about her, but the question is, did she really exist?
It is thought that Joan grew up in Mainz, Germany, and studied Greek and Latin at a monastery founded by English missionaries. At the time, girls were not educated so Pope Joan may have disguised herself as a boy in order to pursue her studies. She allegedly fell in love with a monk and went with him to Athens disguised as a fellow monk. Assuming the name John Anglicus, she later moved to Rome. A talented scribe, she worked as a papal notary and rose up the ranks within the Vatican, eventually becoming a cardinal.
Elected pontiff around 855, Pope Joan supposedly reigned as Pope John VIII. Sources vary on the length of her time at the helm of the church from a few weeks to more than two years. Some theorized that her term came between Pope Leo IV and Benedict III. Unfortunately, according to the stories, her secret was uncovered during a papal procession. Pregnant at the time, Pope Joan was on her way to the Church of the Lateran in Rome when she began having contractions. Learning that the pope was having a baby, the people reacted in horror. Most reports indicate that she was killed that day, either by stoning or by being dragged behind a horse. Later popes avoided the crossroads where Pope Joan was supposedly killed, which was called the Vicus Papissa, or street of the female pope.
Many scholars have doubted of her existence, very possibly the story was a an anti-catholic propaganda organized by early protestants to proof that the claim of infallibility of the pope was false.
If well there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove her existence, her story raise many questions on why the church continues to discriminate woman for certain positions. Besides, many popes of that time had lovers and children, Joan’s only crime was been a woman.