The coins of the Popess
I would like to present the article in a somewhat unusual way, instead of describing the method that finally produced the result, I will present the generally accepted methods of history and archaeology first and then apply them to material many readers will not yet have heard off.
Coins and historical sources
Coins usually bear witness to the real existence of the person who had the right to issue coins. In the Middle Age this regalia was strict and only few people had the right (the emperor, kings, the pope, some noblemen and clerical people).
Coins are often the only hard fact for the existence, especially in crisis, when the arts are on the ground:
Several military emperors of the 3rd Cent. AD are mostly attested by coins only. Their real existence has not been questioned by experts.
The existence of a person can further be corroborated by records from the past as well as the fact that other scientists also supports the hypothesis. The combination of coins and historical records are highly convincing.
Out of such evidence, I will develop in the article a theory that takes the social situation of the age in account as well as the psychology. A proposed theory must be realistic for the social situation of the time period. The theory can also be tested, if there are absolute certain default criteria. In addition the psychological aspects should be realistic too.
The coins of the Popes in the 9th Century
During the time of Pope Leo III, papacy became dependent from the Carolingian Empire. Leo III did not only crowned Charlemagne at Christmas day of the year 800 AD, but also adapted the Frankish Denier (Denaro) as currency for the papal state (Berman 1993).
The papal state now minted silver coins as combination issue: One side for the pope, the other for the emperor. Thus we have an interesting combination of pope and parallel ruling emperor.
As forunner of the signature, monograms were used at that time, the most famous monogram is the one of Charlemagne. Also the popes adapted the monogram to sign official documents. Popes and emperor also used their monogram on the coins.
The papal monograms found on the coins are an essential part of the presented theory. We know from the combined coins: Leo III signing as LEO P combined with Emperor Charlemagne.
Very similar, only distinguished by one letter and a different style we have another combination: Leo IV signing as LEO PA in combination with the name and monogram of Emperor Lothair I.
Most interesting are the coins of Pope Benedict III. They are known in numismatics to be combined with two successive emperors, Lothair I and Louis II. Thus it must be assumed that Benedict III was the successor of Pope Leo IV.
The combination of Benedict III and Emperor Lothair I is most remarkable. According to official chronology, Lothair I had abdicated in early summer 855 and retreated to the monastery of Prün. There he died 29th September 855. Thus, such a combination coin type should not exist at all. But they do and are considered to be authentic in numismatic (Corpus Numorum Italicorum. Vol. XV - Roma, Parte I 1934; Berman 1993)
According to official papal chronology, Benedict III was elected in a popular vote as new Pope the very same day, which is rather suspicious. Furthermore, Anastasius shall have attempted a coup-d’état against Benedict III with the political support of Emperor Lothair I. Thus, is rather unlikely as the emperor was no longer in power in autumn 855.
The coins of Benedict III and Louis II attest, that Benedict III was Pope in the year 855, at least until late autumn, as he signed the privileges given to the monastery of Corbie, dated 7th October 855. This is odd to, as just new elected and not even formally crowned new Pope he signed a document, giving far reaching privileges (they must have been negotiated months in advance, and furthermore, once again emperor Lothair I is mentioned in the document).
All this information strongly points to the possibility that Benedict III was Pope already in 854 or even since late 853 AD. This assumption is supported by the fact that his predecessor Leo IV is only firmly attested with dates in the Liber Pontificalis until 853. The death of Leo IV was recorded 16th July but without a year. It was not before the early 17th Century when the Jesuits produced a printed new edition of the Pontificates that the year 855 was amended for Leo IV.
Next, we have the odd combination between a Pope Johannes and Emperor Louis II. The style of the coin (all the details of the letter, the overall design) clearly speaks in favour of placing them in the 850s. In addition, the complex ligature of the name Johannes is distinctly different to the known monogram of the later Pope Johannes VIII (872-882). The later Johannes VIII used not only a different monogram, the coins attributed to him with certainty are quite different in style (they are certain because they are combined with the Emperor Charles II the Bald).
Nevertheless, the coins of the ‘earlier Johannes’ were attributed by numismatists to the later Pope Johannes VIII, not with good arguments at all but due to sheer necessity. According to official papal chronology there is no Pope Johannes in the mid-850s. At least not someone who is acceptable for the Church.
It is quite obvious that something is wrong with the dating of the pontificates and that there is a Pope Johannes attested.
Is it possible to support the existence of a proposed Pope Johannes in this time by historical sources of other nature (chronicles, letters)?
The answer is: Yes, we can.
A Pope Johannes in the mid-850s
The identification of a Pope Johannes in the 850s is further corroborated by historical sources: The chronicle of Conrad Botho "Chronicon Brunsvicensium picturatum diaclecto saxonica conscriptum" (Botho 1489) reports for the year 856 that a Pope Johannes had crowned the new Emperor Louis II, who had inherited the crown from his father Lothair I in summer 855.
A letter of the famous Anastasius Bibliothecarius, officially published and accepted as authentic is the Codex Vat. Reg. 1046 (Perels and Laehr 1928). The title used by Anastasius in the letter head is: DOMINO COANGELICO IOHANNI SUMMO PONTIFICI ET UNIVERSALI PAPAE ANASTASIUS EXIGUUS.
Anastasius addresses a Pope Johannes who is Pontifex Maximus. Anastasius used this title until 858 AD. Then he was promoted and from 858 to 868 he was abbot and signed: Anastasius Exigius Abbas Monasteri Sanctae Dei Genetricis Maria Virginies siti Trans Tiberim.
After 868, Anastasius finally is the librarian of the Pope, now he always signed: Anastasius Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Bibliothecarius.
Thus it is most likely, that the letter to Pope Johannes must have been written between c. 855 and 858 the latest. The content of the letter also supports this dating, as it refers to the council of Frankfurt, held in 794 AD. In the 850s this council was important for the Frankish Empire and the papacy alike. The letter was wrongly filed under the later Pope Johannes VIII (872-882), but then, the Frankish Empire just had disintegrated and the content of the letter would have been massively outdated.
The Magdeburger Zenturien, a Renaissance chronicle also reports that Æthelwulf of Wessex had visited Pope Johannes Anglicus in Rome before he left to visit Charles II the Bald, King of Western Francia (Flacius et al. 1559). According to Joan Morris, the visit must have taken place before summer 856.
Later, the donations of Aethelwulf to Johannes Anglicus were redistributed to other popes. But the forgeries were not coordinated, and some reports attributed them to Leo IV, others to Benedict III.
Elisabeth Gössmann regarded this contradiction as further evidence for a manipulation to make Pope Johannes disappear (Gössmann 1994, 252).
The name Johannes Anglicus probably sound familiar to many readers. The pope is the most famous pontiff of the middle age, perhaps of all time. What makes this pope so famous is the wrong sex of the Vicar of Christ. Chroniclers of the high Middle Age reported that this pope was actually a woman and therefore removed from the official papal lists.
Presenting the case to an educated, scientific audience: This is the moment, when many realize the tremendous impact of the result achieved so far. Especially the female part of the audience now celebrates ‘Pope Joan’, the icon of feminism and gender equality as historical reality. Most of the media covering the story in autumn 2018 did not raise any evidence against this identification of Johannes as Pope Joan (Whelan 2018; Yazbek and Lincolins 2018; Solly 2018; Podbregar 2018; Fischer 2018; Bussolati 2018).
Also known as Martin von Troppau was a Dominican and bishop. His chronicle Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum was the most famous one during the middle age and was frequently quoted (Von Troppau 2014). He noted for Johannes Anglicus:
Post hunc Leonem Johannes Anglicus natione Maguntinus sedit annis II, mensibus V, diebus IIII or, et mortuus est Rome, et cessavit papatus mense I. Hic, ut asseritur, femina fuit, … Nec ponitur in catalogo sanctorum pontificum propter muliebris sexum quantum ad hoc deformitatem.
Translation: After Leo (IV), Johannes Anglicus, born in Mainz, seat (on the Holy See) for 2 years 5 months and 4 days, he died in Rome and the seat was vacant for one month, it is said she was a woman. … She was not added to the list of Popes because of the deformation of the female sex.
From real to legend
His account triggered a huge follow-up debates by other chroniclers, intellectuals and clergymen and goes until today (Kerner and Hebers 2010; Boccaccio 1374; Gössmann 1994; Stanford 2009; Habicht 2018). By the late Middle Age and the early Renaissance the existence of Pope Joan was generally accepted, sometimes with some reservation.
Also the Protestants firmly believed in the existence of Pope Joan, but with negative intentions. She was regarded as ‘evidence’ of the morally rotten nature of papacy. Only then, Pope Joan became unbearable as historical reality for the Catholic Church. As part of the counter-reformation, it was decided to declare Pope Joan a legend and remove evidence.
The study of Pietro Ratto in 2014 show exemplary how this manuscript manipulation was done with the chronicle of Bartolomeo Platina (Ratto 2014).
Friedrich Spanheim actually saw a letter to Anastasius with the order to supress the pontificate of Pope Joan and remove her from the records (Stanford 2009, 34; Spanheim 1725; Spanheim 1736). Today this letter is gone missing (or made missing by the church). Spanheim and other theologians of the 17th
Century strongly complained and protested against the removal of Johannes Anglicus from the Liber Pontificalis in 1602 (Morris 1985, 61–62).
Manipulations of the Liber Pontificalis
Instead of reading the printed edition of the Liber Pontificalis, the theologian Joan Morris studied the original manuscripts instead (Morris 1985).
For the edited version of the Liber Pontificalis, the copy from Salerno, now in the Vatican is used. This is remarkable, as it is not the oldest version.
As the original is lost, the Paris Version (Paris, Bibliothèque National de France, Manuscrit Latin 5140) from the 11th Century is the oldest copy (and well preserved).
It is quite obvious, why some scientist avoids the Paris Version of the Liber Pontificalis. It describes the lives and deeds of the Popes in chronological order: The life of Pope Leo IV reaches the year 853, then it breaks off in the middle of a word. The rest of the well-preserved page remained empty.
On the next side, the life of an ‘unnamed Pope’ follows. The life of Benedict III is missing entirely. A medieval reader assumed, that the life of the ‘unnamed Pope’ must be Benedict III and wrote with red ink “Benedictus”. But in the text, the ‘unnamed Pope’ conducted the funeral of Benedict. The later reader recognized that he was wrong and now added the new title “Nicolaus”, assuming that It must be Pope Nicholas I (858-867).
But a close inspection of the manuscript reveals that one ‘l’ in the middle of Nico-l-aus was written by another hand and in black. Morris assumed with good reasons, that the title was changed and the remaining ‘l’ actually originates from Johannes Ang-l-icus...
The described life of the ‘unnamed Pope’ closely resembles the story of Pope Joan later reported by Martinus Polonius, down to detail of her life and character.
The character of an intended manipulation becomes even more obvious, if one consults the later copy of the Liber Pontificalis in the Vatican from Salerno (Vatican Lat. 3464): The Live of Leo IV is normal until c. 853, then a fill-in-the-gap story which has little to do with the life of a pope was put in. The death day of Leo IV is given (17th July) but the year is missing (it was added later in the 17th Century when Popess Joan was removed to 855.
Then, a very short biography of Benedict III follows, only consisting of very general and unspecific nature. It gives the impression to be invented (and some experts in the past even speculated that Benedict III never existed and was only invented to cover-up Popess Joan). Coins attest the real existence of Benedict III as they attest Joan. But a pontificate lasting several years (official 855-858) seems unrealistic.
Vatican Lat. 3464 even recycled the life of the unknown Pope as the ‘beginning’ of the vita of Nicholas I. The character of the ‘unnamed Pope’ fits to Popess Joan in every aspect but is high unfitting to the quite different Nicholas I (according to Joan Morris, and I concur). In addition, if the described life of the ‘unnamed Pope’ really would be Nicholas I, the Pope and Emperor Louis II would have an affair with homosexual character (Habicht and Spycher 2018). But it makes much more sense, to attribute the vita to Popess Joan.
Various evidence clearly indicates a removed pontificate in the mid-850s. Let us resume:
- Coins of a Pope Johannes, contemporary evidence from her pontificate.
- Chronicle from 871 (Paris Lat. 5516) with hints of removed content
- A now lost letter to Anastasius Bibliothecarius to remove Johannes Anglicus, the female Pope, dated around 870.
- A manipulated Liber Pontificalis (Paris Lat. 5140) from the 11th Cent.
- The later account of Martinus Polonius from 1277, confirming the existence of the female Pope.
- Reports of chroniclers that a Pope Johannes crowned Louis II in 856
- Accounts that Johannes Anglicus received Æthelwulf of Wessex in 856
Some of the evidence predate even the Pornocracy-theory presented by the official ecclesiastical ‘history’.
Morris suspected that Martinus Polonius may have seen the Paris manuscript in an already manipulated condition but he also knew the story of the female Pope assumed in this period. Martinus may have placed Popess Joan just minimally off the real succession. If one consults his work with the knowledge presented above, the placing of Popess Joan after Leo IV is understandable, as the ‘unnamed Pope’ follows directly after Leo IV. Martinus tells you clearly ‘after Leo’ and described the life of Joan. The next entry is odd: for the year 851 he switches back to Leo IV. Benedict III is not recorded with any deeds worthy of reporting in this chronicle.
Later, most chronicler assumed too, that Pope Joan (alias Johannes Anglicus) directly followed after Leo IV. This might be a most fatal minimal error, as this placing causes problems explaining the historical records for Joan and finding the chronological gap of two and a half year. The legend-theory supporters used this mismatch to claim that Popess Joan must be a fiction.
The legend-theory debunked
The denial of Pope Joan as real figure of history became standard theory for church history during the 19th Century. Defiant against all good arguments, the legend theory is constantly repeated. Only few experts have challenged this politically motivated decision.
The arguments of the defenders of the legend theory are swallow and easy to debunk as utter rubbish. Their main arguments are:
- The first reports on Pope Joan shall be 400 years after her legendary pontificate, starting in the 12th Century. They don’t tell you the fact, that the monopoly on books by the church did fall around 1200 AD. Before that, the clergy de-facto controlled the official records. But the coins (contemporary to her pontificate), the letters and the copies of the manipulated Liber Pontificalis all predate the 12th Century. The first historical documents with signs of manipulation (a chronicle in Paris Lat. 5516) is dated by his first owner not later than 871 AD (Morris 1985, 58–59).
- Another produced story is the urban legend that a papal whore named Johanna during the time of Pornocracy (10th Cent.) shall be the base of the legend. There are no hard facts supporting this invented story and the mentioned earliest evidence predate the Pornocracy. The fact that opposing variations of the legend-theory are in existence also speak for their invented nature.
- The stupidity of argumentation is continued until today if one reads the entries for Pope Joan on Wikipedia, where some conservatives try to control this official position, allegedly held by all ‘respectable scientists’ and ‘respectable journals’. Discussing the facts is totally refused.
The existence of a female Pope undermines the official dogma that only man can be priest and as there was never a Popess is therefore ‘mandatory’. By challenging this modern fake news produced by the Church, the Church would be forced to change her politics. Demographic developments (the lack of male priests, gender equality legislation and the acceptance of the church basis) will see in near future the woman ordination as priests almost for certain. In 20 years the second female Pope might be reality.
(Per la versione in italiano, si veda: Michael Habicht, Le monete della Papessa)
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