If you've never heard the story of "Pope Joan," we feel sorry for you, because it's awesome. For instance, if your initial reaction to hearing the name was "I didn't know they let women be pope at all," well, that's the point -- they don't. This is the story of a woman who pulled off the con of a millennium.
Despite the handicap of a right arm that started well below her waistline.
In the ninth century, a German woman named Joan started studying at a monastery, claiming to be a man. Covered from head to toe in junk-hiding monk clothes like everyone else, no one suspected that she wasn't a dude. Then she made her way to Rome, where she became a secretary to a cardinal. And when the pope died, according to one 12th century chronicler, Joan was deemed the best person for the job.
For two whole years she pulled off the charade, until the day came when she gave birth in the street during a procession.
To a toddler, apparently.
The story gets fuzzy from there. While still trailing afterbirth, Joan died or was stoned by the crowd or was dragged from the tail of a horse, a worthy punishment for being a religious leader with a vagina.
For centuries after, papal processions avoided the street where Joan plopped out a Pope Jr. A statue was erected to commemorate the story. Her face showed up on ancient Roman tarot cards and statues in cathedrals. For years, each papal candidate was forced to sit on the sedes stercoraria, a special throne with a hole cut in the seat ... so cardinals could reach up underneath to confirm there were balls a-danglin'. Like this:
Popes and the Papacy
"While I'm down here, how about the ol' stroke-and-wiggle?"
Someone even made a whole movie about Pope Joan's story, shockingly not starring Tilda Swindon or Glenn Close.
Aaaaand, it's bullshit.
Unfortunately, Pope Joan's story has some birth-canal-sized plot holes. Like the year of Pope Joan's coronation, 855. That can't be right, because Leo IV was immediately replaced by Benedict III in 855. Unless she was actually John VIII, who reigned from 872 until 882, except that fully penised guy had his own backstory and sad demise. There really are no empty spots in the church's history where a theoretical mystery pope could have stepped in.
Or squatted down.
The most damaging evidence against Pope Joan is the fact that there are no contemporary references or relics that support her existence -- no commissioned paintings of a suspiciously feminine pope or papal panties or anything.
As for the reason the church avoided that street where she allegedly gave birth, it was because it was too narrow for the pope's entourage. And the statue erected on the spot had actually always been there -- it was a pagan goddess later attributed to Pope Joan. And as for the part everyone wishes were true -- that every pope has to go through a laborious scrotum-groping ritual -- we have to disappoint you once again. It was a conclusion people came to when they saw the hole in the sedes stercoraria, which is really a ceremonial toilet.
Franco Origlia / Getty
His Holy Taco Poops are too good for regular porcelain.
Maybe that's the real story here -- that somebody who at one time was considered an expert looked at a chair with a hole in it and instead of thinking "toilet" thought "This must be the pope's nut-grabbing chair." We've got to say, we kind of like how that guy's mind worked.
When Paige Turner isn't writing about dicks on the Internet, she's ... writing about dicks elsewhere. Matt Martin is currently in training to become a novel editor. Send him a PM if you're interested in hiring him for some cheap freelance work.
For more ways your school is full of a bunch of liars, check out 6 Ridiculous History Myths (You Probably Think Are True) and 5 Fictional Stories You Were Taught in History Class.
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