Pope Joan? (26)

Book II: Chapter 26
July 12

I think my jaw fell open at Miriam’s revelation, but it was Alan who first asked, “Archangel Michael is actually in battle again? This is momentous indeed!”

“Why are you so surprised? I already told you about this back in 856, I wrote about this very event in a letter to… er… Pope John VIII.”

Loannes Octavus?” Alan was confused. “But, he reigned from 872 to 882?”

“I wasn’t talking about Octavus. I was referring to Joanna Anglicus.”

Pope Joan?” I cackled in delight – grateful for the change of subject. “Oh how I always loved that fiasco.”

“What choice did the Church have but to cover up that scandal?” Alan was quick to defend.  And before we could stop him, he embarked on a history lecture. “You know the story told by the chronicler Martin of Opava – the orphan Joanna Anglicus was raised to live as a man by her older lover, a Greek named Frumentius. In Athens, Joanna became proficient in a wide range of knowledge, and as time wore on her intellect knew no equal. When she later went to Rome, a high opinion of her arose in the city, and she became first a papal secretary, then a cardinal, and finally, when her respect was at its peak, she was elected Pope John VIII – the FIRST to be called that name.”

“Ah, but she couldn’t abide by the Vow of Celibacy, eh?” I chuckled, “for while pope she became pregnant by Frumentius!”

Pope Joan

“Indeed. And through ignorance of the time when she was to deliver,” Alan continued, “while Joanna was mounting a horse, she was delivered of a child. That event occurred in a lane once named Via Sacra, but now known as the shunned street – its location is between the Coliseum and St. Clement’s, and as you both know, no current popes will travel down that street. In the end, to avoid a scandal of momentous proportions, Joanna’s name was removed from the list of holy pontiffs — both because of her female sex and on account of the… delicacy of the matter.”

“A changing of the records made all the easier because of the destruction of knowledge that occurred during the Dark Ages.” Miriam said gloomily. “And yet, I still believe Joanna could have been one of the greatest Church leaders of all time. After all, she was the one who–.”

“And but let’s not overlook the legendary ending to this tale,” I interrupted.  “After giving birth, our Pope Joan was bound by the feet to her horse’s tail and dragged through the streets and stoned. And until 1485, at the place of her supposed grave, it was written: Petre, Pater Patrum, Papisse Prodito Partum – ‘O Peter, Father of Fathers, Betray the childbearing of the woman pope’.”

“Wait, as I recall,” Alan said, “Joanna wasn’t really stoned to death?”

“Correct,” I advised. “The official unofficial version was that she was deposed for incontinence and forced into a convent. Meanwhile, to keep her quiet the new pope made Joanna’s son the Bishop of Hostia. And, in a final twist of irony, when Joanna was on her deathbed, she instructed that her burial should be in that place where she had given birth – the Via Sacra! Ha, oh the miracles which God works, eh?”

“But what has all this—“ Alan began.

“Wait,” I was still laughing. “Don’t forget the sedes stercoraria!”

“What’s he talking about?” Miriam was annoyed with this tangent.

“He’s referring to… defecation seats.” Alan stammered. “It seems, after Joanna, pope-elects were forced to sit on a special throne — with a hole in it.”

“For what purpose?” Miriam asked, confused.

“To verify the sex of the pope!” I grinned impishly.

“Preposterous!” Miriam gasped. “You two are making all this up.”

“Ah, I’m afraid John is telling the truth.” Alan blushed. “After Joanna, prior to any official announcement, the new pope-elect was made to sit upon the sedes stercoraria, robes lifted so that his bare bottom touched the seat. The chair was hollow in the middle and underneath, therefore the cardinals were allowed to reach underneath and… ah, confirm he was indeed a man.”

A long line of cardinals could make for a long day…

(This is true, my friends. Check it out for yourself if you don’t believe me).

“Why that’s just horrible.” Miriam was aghast at the thought.

“What’s so bad about a little—“ I started off again.

“Be that as it may.” Alan raised his voice to drown out my bawdy humor. “We must get back to the tale at hand. Miriam, regarding what you wrote to Pope Joanna about Michael’s war on terror, please, tell us more.”

Thankful to be past that last bit of the conversation, Miriam advised, “Among other things, I wrote about the climax of The Infernal War – a covert attack led by Michael against the walls of the underworld.”

“Moving the battle lines,” Alan agreed, “from Heaven’s Gates — where they have been since Lucifer’s Fall – to a new front: The Doors of Hell! Yes, I remember, now; it was a bold tactical move – something I ever wondered why Michael didn’t do previously.”

“Because that time was never right… until now.”

(Damn, if she’s right about this…)

“But how can you be sure, Miriam?” Alan asked.

“Shortly before I rescued you, Alan, Gabriel revealed that Michael is on the move and that Hell itself was about to be laid to waste.”

“Well, that settles it then, eh?” I chimed in. “If Michael is taking matters into his own hands, then what do they need us for? I guess we can all relax. Seems like our entire existence has been nothing but—“

“John, stop!” Miriam yelled. “You know that even if Michael does open the gates of Hell, if the Antichrist stops the Second Coming of Jesus in this world, then Lucifer can escape Michael and come here. God would be driven away and the earth would then become Lucifer’s new home!”

“All hope would be gone.” Alan surmised. “The battle would be over, and we would end up be on the losing side.”

“Not if we change sides now.” I said in a deadpan tone, looking at each of my companions and waiting to see how they replied.

(I’m a stinker, I know. But an old man’s gotta have some fun, neh?)

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27 – A Rose by any other Name
Book II Table of Contents