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Pope Joan

According to medieval legend, Pope Joan was a female English pope. Disguised as a man, she is supposed to have risen to the highest office of the church, taking the name John Anglicus, before the spectacular failure of her disguise when she went into labour during a procession and gave birth to a child. She was dragged feet-first by a horse through the streets of Rome, and stoned to death by the people. She was buried in the street where her identity had been revealed, between the Lateran and St. Peter's Basilica. This street was (supposedly) avoided by subsequent papal processions - though when this latter detail became part of the popular legend in the 14th century, the Papacy was at Avignon, and there were no papal processions in Rome.

Supposedly, since that time, any candidate for the pope undergoes an intimate examination to ensure he is not a woman (or eunuch) in disguise. This involved sitting on a chair which has a hole in the seat. The most junior deacon present then feels under the chair to ensure the new Pope is male.

"And in order to demonstrate his worthiness, his testicles are felt by the junior present as testimony of his male sex. When this is found to be so, the person who feels them shouts out in a loud voice `He has testicles' And all the clerics reply `God be praised'. Then they proceed joyfully to the consecration of the pope-elect" - Felix Hamerlin, De nobilitate et Rusticate Dialogus (ca. 1490), quoted in The Female Pope, by Rosemary & Darroll Pardoe (1988).

The Vatican denies the existence of the chair (supposedly held in an antechamber there), and also the existence of Pope Joan.

There is little evidence that Pope Joan ever existed, though some hold that the High Priestess[?] card in the Tarot pack is a depiction of Joan.

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