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Pope Joan

The story of an alleged female pope was widely believed from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries. So much so, that when David Blondel argued in 1647 that it was a legend he was criticized by fellow Protestants. The story has it that a scholarly woman, disguised as a man, succeeded to the chair of Peter about 1100 (later versions state 855). After about two years in office she gave birth to a child as she was taking part in a procession to the Lateran, and then died. It seems that a thirteenth-century Dominican chronicler, Jean de Mailly, first gave respectability to the legend and that it gained wide currency in the Middle Ages, partly due to the influence of Martinus Polonus (d.1278) and the use of the story in fifteenth- century controversies over the extent of papal power. Some scholars interpret the story as a modification of a Roman folk- story, the original possibly relating to a priest of Mithra and a child.