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The time is 814, the place is Ingelheim, a Frankland village. It is the harshest winter in living memory when Joan is born to an English father and a Saxon mother. Her father is a canon, filled with holy zeal and capable of unconscionable cruelty. His piety does not extend to his family members, especially the females. His wife, Gudrun, is a young beauty to whom he was attracted beyond his will--and he hates her for showing him his weakness. Gudrun teaches Joan about her gods, and is repeatedly punished for it by the canon. Joan grows to young womanhood with the combined knowledge of the warlike Saxon gods and the teachings of the Church as her heritage. Both realities inform her life forever.
When her brother John, not a scholarly type, is sent away to school, Joan, who was supposed to be the one sent to school, runs away and joins him in Dorstadt, at Villaris, the home of Gerold, who is central to Joan's story. She falls in love with Gerold and their lives interesect repeatedly even through her Papacy. She is looked upon by all who know that she is a woman as a "lusus naturae," a freak of nature. "She was... male in intellect, female in body, she fit in nowhere; it was as if she belonged to a third amorphous sex." Cross makes the case over and over again that the status of women in the Dark Ages was little better than cattle. They were judged inferior in every way, and necessary evils in the bargain.
After John is killed in a Viking attack, Joan sees her opportunity to escape the fate of all her gender. She cuts her hair, dons her dead brother's clothes and goes into the world as a young boy. Gerold is away from Villaris at the time of the attack and comes home to find his home in ruins, his family killed and Joan among the missing. After the attack, Joan goes to a Benedictine monastery, is accepted as a young man of great learning, and eventually makes her way to Rome.
The author is at pains to tell the reader in an Epilogue that she has written the story as fiction because it is impossible to document Joan's accesion to the Papacy. The Catholic Church has done everything possible to deny this embarrassment. Whether or not one believes in Joan as Pope, this is a compelling story, filled with all kinds of lore: the brutishness of the Dark Ages, Vatican intrigue, politics and favoritism and most of all, the place of women in the Church and in the world. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The story moves along well with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting although most were fairly predictable.
Whether or not Joan existed is controversial, but the book was carefully researched by the author, and the historical details create a very believable story.
True story or not, this is the tale of a strong, intelligent woman who could be an inspiration to young women everywhere!
This book held my attention as I wondered how a woman could become a pope and then how she would be found out by the church authorities. Read morePublished 12 hours ago by D. DeFreese
Surprised to find that such an interesting book has it's roots in a TRUE story. It is quite an inspirational book!Published 1 day ago by jsmillie
Fascinating book! Glad I didn't live in this period of history (as far as I know)! Wonderfully developed character and intriguing story. Women can do anything! Read morePublished 2 days ago by R. Marciniak
Had it been available, I would have given this book a 4.5 rating. It was well worth reading for the historical background of the time. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Dorothy E. Young
Caught my attention and kept it. Politics, religion, fanaticism, war, and romance with a powerful female as the main character.Published 3 days ago by Susan