POPE JOAN - legend, history or both?
Address by Dr. Rick Rickards
Tuesday April 8, 1997
The idea of Pope Joan has fascinated me for many years. So much is known about her but so much is missing. In order to put the story into perspective it is necessary to try and create a historical time line for the 9th century. In those days Europe was more or less, one country. Neither Germany, France, Spain, nor Italy existed as separate nations. There was not yet a French, Spanish or Italian language. Feudalism had not yet started. There was a never ending battle for power between the Emperors and the Popes. The so-called Temporal and Spiritual powers needed each other and came to a series of uneasy truces. The Emperor had to be crowned by a Pope, but the Pope had to be approved by an Emperor before taking office.
Europe was a very dangerous place to live. There were Vikings [Norsemen] raiding from the north and Saracens [Arabs] coming up from the south to plunder the various local groups that were always fighting among themselves. Charlemagne [768-814] was King of the Franks, and, on Christmas day in the year 800, Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the Romans. Charlemagne was a Christian by convenience. He massacred 4000 Pagan Saxons and built the Holy Roman Empire by the sword. In Charlemagne's day, either you converted to Christianity or you died. It was that simple. The Church gave the king their stamp of approval and allowed him to keep 4 wives.
In 814 Charlemagne died. He was survived by his oldest son, Louis the
Pious. King Louis had three sons, Lothair, Charles and Ludwig. One happy
family until 833 when they rebelled against their father and deposed
him. King Louis the Pious was down but not out. He regained the monarchy
and forgave his treacherous sons. An uneasy calm prevailed until 840
when Louis died and the three brothers had their armies fight for the
crown. There was great bloodshed but in the end Lothair won the title
Holy Roman Emperor in 841. He stayed in power until 854. Then, he divided his empire among his three sons and, at the suggestion of the Pope, went to live in a monastery!