POPE JOAN

Donna Woolfolk Cross

For more than a millennium, her existence has been hidden and denied. But hers is the legend that will not die—Pope Joan, the woman who, disguised as a man, rose to rule Christianity in the ninth century as the one and only woman ever to sit on the Throne of St. Peter.

In this stirring international bestseller, Donna Woolfolk Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor, and shares the dramatic story of a woman who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept—a woman whose courage makes her a heroine for every age.

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For more than a millennium, her existence has been hidden and denied. But hers is the legend that will not die—Pope Joan, the woman who, disguised as a man, rose to rule Christianity in the ninth century as the one and only woman ever to sit on the Throne of St. Peter.

In this stirring international bestseller, Donna Woolfolk Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor, and shares the dramatic story of a woman who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept—a woman whose courage makes her a heroine for every age.

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  • Three Rivers Press
  • Paperback
  • June 2009
  • 432 Pages
  • 9780307452368

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$15.00

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About Donna Woolfolk Cross

 Donna Woolfolk Cross is the author of Word Abuse and Mediaspeak, two books on language. The product of seven years of research and writing, Pope Joan is her first novel. Cross is at work on a new novel set in 17th century France.

Praise

“A fascinating and moving account of a woman’s determination to learn despite the opposition of family and society. . . . Cross vividly creates the 9th century world. . . . Above all, she brings to life a brilliant, compassion­ate woman who has to deny her gender to satisfy her desire for learning. Highly recommended.”Library Journal

 

Discussion Questions

How important is it to this story to believe in its historicity? Are there lessons to be learned from Joan’s story whether it’s legend or fact? What are they?

Francis Bacon, the 17th century philosopher, said “People believe what they prefer to be true.” How does this relate to Joan’s story compared to, say, that of King Arthur? What is it about Joan’s story that people might not “prefer to be true”?

Are reason and faith incompatible? What do you make of Aesculapius’ argument that lack of faith leads people to fear reason? What about Joan? Does her study of reason in the work of classical authors such as Lucretius diminish her faith?

Joan sacrificed much because she loved Gerold. Do you know women who have sacrificed opportunities to exercise mind, heart, and spirit for love of a man? For love of a child? Are such sacrifices justified?

What implications does Joan’s story have with regard to the role of women in the Catholic Church? Should nuns play a greater—or different—role? If so, what should that role be? Should women be priests? What effect would women priests have on the Church and its liturgy? What effect have they had on the Episcopal Church?

One reviewer wrote: “Pope Joan…is a reminder that some things never change, only the stage and the players do.” Are there any similarities between the way women live in some places of the world today and the way they lived back then?

What causes any society to oppress womankind? What are the root causes of misogyny? Are they based in religion or in society? Both? Neither?

Why might medieval society have believed so strongly that education hampered a woman’s ability to bear children? What purpose might such a belief serve?

What similarities or differences do you see between Pope Joan and Saint Joan of Arc? Why was one Joan expunged from history books and the other made a saint?

If Joan had agreed to leave with Gerold when he first came to Rome, what would her life have been like? Did she make the right choice or not?

What causes Joan’s inner conflict between faith and doubt? How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever resolve these conflicts?