Um, Your Eminence, that wasn't in my job description…

Reading Bill Keller’s review of “Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy” by John Julius Norwich, my eyes fell upon this choice paragraph, which mentions deacons, and a task one deacon in particular allegedly had to perform:

“A scholar or devout Roman Catholic would probably not have had so much fun, for example, with the tale of Pope Joan, the mid-ninth-century Englishwoman who, according to lore, disguised herself as a man, became pope and was caught out only when she gave birth. Although Norwich regards this as ‘one of the hoariest canards in papal history,’ he cannot resist giving her a chapter of her own. It is a guilty pleasure, especially his deadpan pursuit of the story that the church, determined not to be fooled again, required subsequent papal candidates to sit on a chaise percée (pierced chair) and be groped from below by a junior cleric, who would shout to the multitude, ‘He has testicles!’ Norwich tracks down just such a piece of furniture in the Vatican Museum, dutifully reports that it may have been an obstetric chair intended to symbolize Mother Church, but adds, ‘It cannot be gainsaid, on the other hand, that it is admirably designed for a diaconal grope; and it is only with considerable reluctance that one turns the idea aside.'”

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9 responses to “Um, Your Eminence, that wasn't in my job description…”

  1. The Pope Joan legend is one of the puppet stories of those who like to mock the papacy while insisting (ignorantly) that women have been ordained before. As far as I know this is just a legend with no basis in reality. And even if it was a real story (very doubtfully), it proves nothing about women ordination.

  2. “Would that more Church leaders had figuratively what is to reported to be observed literally above…”

    would that more of the lukewarm laity had then too.

  3. Deacon, thank you for this interesting tid-bit. John and Joe, thank you both for your FANTASTIC comments. John made me laugh out loud and Joe, you are spot-on.

  4. See:

    Peter Stanford “The She-Pope: A Quest for the Truth Behind the Mystery of Pope Joan” Arrow Books, 1998

    Joan Morris, “pope John VIII–an English Woman: Alias Pope Joan, Vrai Publishers, 1985

    Martin of Poland “Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatum” (quoted in Stanford)

    The chair is called the sedia stercoraria and is in the Vatican Museum; an eye-witness, Adam of Usk, said it was created becasue another womanly deception could not be tolerated.

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