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04/18/2005: "Fabulae Pontificalis (Today's episode: Does this miter make my ass look fat?)"
Number One on the list of The 10 Most Popular Questions Which Milkmen
Fans Ask Me upon Meeting Me for the First Time is "Where's Joe?" I
could understand this question if Joe and I had made a career of appearing
in side shows, joined at the side, or if we were married (which, no matter
what you've read in Kerrang!, we are not). Often, just to freak the
questioner out, I'll close my eyes, extend my arms, and, after a moment's
silence say something like, "At this exact moment he's in Buffalo, New
York: enjoying his meal at a pizzeria called Angelo's. My God! He's
wearing new shoes!"
The tenth spot on the list is held by "So what's the deal with Pope Joan?"
For the longest time this question was as mysterious to me as "Where's
Joe?", until someone pointed out to me that in a series of interviews,
following the release of Soul Rotation, I had said (lied, to be
specific) that the DM's next project would be a Rock Opera based on the
life of Pope Joan.
"So what is the deal with Pope Joan?"
"In the middle of the 9th century an Englishwoman named Joan, who'd been
raised in Mainz and spent many years posing as a man and being promoted
up the clerical ladder, managed to be elected Pope. Her reign either fell
between that of Leo IV and Benedict III, or between Benedict and Nicholas
I: depending on whom you believe.
Apparently her secret came out when she gave birth, in public, on the way
to St. Peters. Something like that would, obviously, be a little hard to
put a positive spin on. 'It's a miracle! The Pope just had a baby!' She
was either hanged, forced to enter a convent, or died giving birth (once
again depending on whom you believe). Her name was stricken from the
official Vatican records. I've heard that her baby grew up to become the
Bishop of Ostia.
And that's why, to prevent a repeat of this sort of embarrassing episode,
to this day, shortly after a new Pope is elected he has to sit in a special
"groping" chair and have his testacies felt by a Cardinal as proof of his
gender: The Pope's, that is; not the Cardinal's"
"Wow. There was a woman Pope?"
"No. There was never a Pope Joan. She was a Protestant invention; you know,
like mayonnaise or golf. They circulated the myth during the early days of
the Reformation in order to cast doubt upon the authority of the Catholic
Church. She's kinda like Pope Bigfoot."
"So the Pope doesn't get his balls felt after he's elected?"
"At least not officially. I mean, there is no 'groping' chair."
"Damn. That's a shame, because it's a good story. So…um… where's Joe?"
Now, those of you who are regular readers of RATYHTL are no doubt familiar
with the doctrine of Anonymal Infallibility which states, simply,
that I can never be wrong; however, I can, from time-to-time, make
tiny mistakes. But I'm positive that Pope Joan was a Protestant invention!
Pope Joan Was Not a Protestant Invention
The reason that I, along with just about everybody else who has looked into
the Pope Joan story, considered the tale to be a Protestant invention was
because no one could find a reference to Joan that had been written before
the Reformation. True, there were over 500 documents which mentioned Pope
Joan, but these were mainly copies of earlier medieval manuscripts: not the
originals. It would have been easy for either a Protestant copier, or a
monk who harbored Protestant sympathies, to insert a few lines about Joan
into the new version of a manuscript.
This was my take on the matter until I recently picked up a copy of The
Legend of Pope Joan by Peter Stanford. No investigator of historical
weirdness' library should by without this handy little tome.
While digging into the Pope Joan saga, Stanford found, in Oxford's Duke
Humfrey Library, an authentic 14th century copy of Martin Polonus'
Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatum which, in part read:
After the aforesaid Leo, John, an Englishman by descent, who came from
Mainz, held the see two years, five months and four days, and the
pontificate was vacant one month. He died at Rome. He, it is asserted,
was a woman. And having been in youth taken by her lover to Athens in
man's clothes, she made such progress in various sciences that there was
nobody equal to her. So that afterwards lecturing on the Trivium she had
great masters for her disciples and hearers. And for as much as she was in
great esteem in the city, both for her life and her learning, she was
unanimously elected Pope. But when Pope she became pregnant by the person
with whom she was intimate. But not knowing the time of her delivery, while
going from Saint Peter's to the Lanteran, taken in labor, she brought forth
a child between the Colosseum and Saint Clement's Church. And afterwards
dying, she was, it is said, buried in that place. And because the Lord Pope
always turns aside from that way, there are some who are fully persuaded
that it is done in detestation of the fact. Nor is she put in the Catalogue
of the Holy Popes, as well on account of her female sex as on account of
the foul nature of the transaction.
As if that weren't shocking enough, there, in the margin of the manuscript
as written ffemina fuit pp. That's a sort of medieval shorthand for
"The Pope was a Woman". In order words, some nameless monk, living in the
Middle Ages, had come across the passage above and, being unable, thanks
to his vow of silence, to cry out "Sweet Mother of Crap! The Pope was a
Woman!" he scribbled a little note in the margin, drew and arrow pointing
to the remarkable passage, and slid the book over to the monk sitting next
to him, who immediately soiled his habit.
Well that answered a couple of question that had been rolling around in my
studio apartment of a brain for some years now: namely, how could a
conspiracy to alter hundreds of documents over centuries and in dozens of
countries be pulled off, and why would the Protestants even need to invent
Pope Joan when there was such a wealth of factual dirt in the official
histories of the Popes?
OK, so the Protestants didn't invent Pope Joan. That doesn't prove that she
actually existed. I mean, where's the evidence? It's not like the "groping"
chair actually exists.
The "Groping" Chair Actually Exists
While it may be easy to believe that a myth somehow got copied into some of
the official histories of the Catholic Church, the idea of a Cardinal
cupping the Popes nuts is a little hard to fathom. After all, it's not like
anybody has ever witnessed this ceremony.
Unless, of course you want to count Bernardino Coreo, a Milanese author
who, in 1503 had this to say about the coronation of Alexander VI nine
Finally, when the usual solemnities of the "sancta sanctorum" ended and
the touching of the testicles was done, I returned to the palace.
The irony here is that Alexander's four adult sons (Alex was one of the
Borgia Popes) were in the audience for the ceremony.
So what (Quid ergo)? That's just one guy's account. It's not like there's
any collaboration of this Gayest of Catholic Rites out there. Oh yeah,
there is this chunk o' strangeness which was penned by Adam of Usk in 1404
about the election of Pope Innocent VII:
Then, after turning aside out of abhorrence of Pope Joan whose image
with her son stands near Saint Clement's, the Pope dismounted from his
horse, enters the Lanteran for his enthronement. And there he is seated in
a chair of porphyry, which is pierced beneath for this purpose, that one of
the younger Cardinals may make proof of his sex; and then while a Te Deum
is chanted, he is borne to the high alter.
OK, so a Wop and a Welshman claiming to have witnessed the Pope getting felt
up. It's dark in the Vatican; who knows what could've really been going on.
It's not like there are any pictures of the "groping" chair. I mean, other
than this one:
And that picture doesn't count because it's a drawing. In this case an
illustration from a 1644 account of the coronation of Pope Innocent X by
Swedish writer, Lawrence Banck, but a drawing nonetheless (By the way, I
can't make out the words in that little speech bubble, but the second word
is "habet": "he has". So we can now guess what the first word is). Hell, I
could draw a picture of Rick Santorum in bed with George Bush, but that
would'nt prove they've every acted on their mutual lust. What I'm talking
about is an actual photograph of the "groping" chair. And no picture of
that sort has ever existed. With the exception of this one:
That pic was snapped by Peter Stanford who found the chair, unaccompanied
by any sort of description, in a small room that was off limits to the
general public in the Vatican Museum.
Shit Martin Luther (I've been waiting years to say that), sure the
Protestants didn't make up Pope Joan, and yes; the "groping" chair is real,
not to mention the Vicus Papissa (the street of the woman Pope) in Rome,
but c'mon, Pope Joan couldn't have been a real person.
Pope Joan Was (Most Likely) a Real Person
As Peter Stanford points out in the conclusion of his book, the odds that
Pope Joan actually existed, although perhaps not in exact concordance with
the legend, are pretty good. There was, for example, a woman known as the
prophetess of Moguntia (Mainz) who conned her Archbishop into ordaining her
as a priest. It's very possible that this woman's story was later
exaggerated into the legend of Pope Joan.
I hate to sound like on of those tinfoil hat wearing beardoes who presents
a crop circle and a story about an anal probe as proof of alien
intelligence, but I'm almost positive that Pope Joan, in some form or
I can't believe I just wrote that.
Replies: 29 Comments
on Monday, April 18th, razlerja said
Woa! Rodney (or Rdoney or Dnorey or...),
Once again it is my pleasure to say: brilliantly written. Not just the subject matter which is interesting. But, also your style was engaging. Thanks. ...and, uh, where is Joe?
on Monday, April 18th, Doc said
What about Pope Irving?Did he really exist too or was somebody in hebrew school yanking( with out the f-in' chair thank you...) me? And ,uuuhhh, where is Joe?
on Monday, April 18th, Mochi The Jackass said
So, the groping chair exists, but I've got to wonder, is it still in use?
on Monday, April 18th, the drunk mailman said
that must why pope jp could hardly talk or sit up straight for the last ten years...someone was squeezing his balls and wouldn't let go...
on Monday, April 18th, SlowMotionRiot said
There's a great story in the most recent Heavy Metal Magazine (It was released last month, I believe) featuring the very same piece of furniture you now realize exists. The new Pope's jewels are checked and everything. It's a great read, although if you're Christian I'm sure you'd be shocked beyond belief.
"And that young Cardinal gave me a squeeze, that chills me to this day." --Pope John Paul II
on Monday, April 18th, Rodney said
The "groping" chair, as far as I can find out, hasn't been used the late 1600's.
This is one of those pieces I wish I'd had more time to work on. Given a day or two more, I could've done a much better job.
on Tuesday, April 19th, Travis said
Of all the popes, the Borgias are my favorite.
Also, my favorite local band from Cincinnati.
on Tuesday, April 19th, Brian Bubonic said
I think the photo is actually the papal port-o-potty that several Popes brought along on hunting trips. That or Pope Leo I, who was known to have some nasty piles, used for relief during long holiday masses.
Rodney, could you please compose and record a song in the style of Nick Cave titled "The Groping Chair"?
on Tuesday, April 19th, Matt said
New Pope, Benedict XVI. Hard-liner, supporter of doctrinal orthodoxy. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7523254/
on Tuesday, April 19th, Andy said
Vatican picks a former Hitler Youth... what a shocker
on Tuesday, April 19th, mykel armory said
now roney is tells us that he is that the pope was a woman with a grouping char? No. i am shure this makes you all happy and smiles with making fun at pope all wekk. sick. you are so suck rodeny that it makes me anger at you so much. you are sick. thier is a antichrist spioirit that is takeing over your mind rondey. you are doing the work of the beats. now how does you sleep with this in your head. you cant you cant. when the idea is a week f tearing for fun at the popes. you can de better. now lets look at your life in sted pf looking at the opep the way way you do. we will do the hisrpt of rondey anonmous. rondye anonymos was boen in the u s a at the years of before 70s. he was no one as a child. he was grow up to be in a band. the dead mikmen. he was sing of bad things only. he did not sing of nothing but sick stuff. no normal stuff,. he did this for albume ons big hit sellers. he makes millions in rock and then goes to not be in the band. he makes job at web on telling of curent events. tellsu s in his colum that he is terri shivo dies. the people his boss at the web sight sels him to do normal stuff but does he. NO not the rodeny doing normal stuff insted he dows and sick things. tells us terri shivo desert to die. then tells us of rasists with blacks and jers who he hates. then he tel us of dorkin and fat and dead and good for that. he is glad as people dies. then the pope he is so happy to see die that he watches him. then he tells us pople iin hell. then his sheep all agree and laff at him an his death wishes on people. he then helps kid kill a nother singer in a hotel room and then he goes to do pipe week telling us at pope s were women and grouping chari for tescles. then he is calls hiterl youth on the pope. sick. you are sick. you are worng. rondey is a sick man. i am not sorry for calling a fat at you. you urned it. i never say this to no one but to you rodney i will say this. basterd. you are that and more.a sick fat basterd. and you will pee but into hell better than any one in the world. no. worse. you are a sick satin with eyes of cast death oink eeping the world in evils bathe.
on Tuesday, April 19th, Brian Bubonic said
That gave me a headache. Maybe something was lost in the translation.
on Tuesday, April 19th, jimbob said
Ok myke, the first couple weeks were slightly amusing, but now it's just boring. Go start your own blog, write a letter to your congressman, tell your mommy...whatever. Just shut the fuck up, please. Thank you.
on Tuesday, April 19th, Oneword said
Ha that Mykel cracks me up. Why does he do this ?, he probably doesnt even care about the pope,Mykel dosent even exist, and if he was for real, he wouldnt be waisting his time on this web site.He is just a character made up by a former DM fan to piss off Rodney for not playing DM any more.The stuf he says isnt even real christian like,and very hipocritical.He was just a disturbed child when he was young, and now that his father is dead, he needs to take his anger out on people he believes is lower than he, which also is not very Christ like. Either that, or he is just saying these things to be funny....Hey that picture on top of this page looks like the little girl from growing pains, if she were older. Rodney, I dont care if the Dead Milkmen ever play a show ever again. Burn Witch Burn has touched my heart much deeper, and how the hell do I get a Butterfly Joe cd speaking of Joe? even harder to find, is the Town Managers. Ive been looking for over 5 years.
on Tuesday, April 19th, mykel armory said
i hate and I never hate no thing. i hate rondey and his evil. my farher is not dead and you shoood not joke on that. dear milnem were not a good band. the were not clever i like some punk rock. rancid. they are good. green day. they deseve the money they maek. bu rodney and he is to coward to tell who he is. he hides. i have tried to tell him of his evil and he dont care. i have told him of his wrong. but he dont care. i will not ban no thing but i would lofe to see kids nt listen to him. and you sheep are to stupid to see any things. you have no hearts. i think roney is a fat jerk. thats all. i tried to save him but he is scum. now for a karma on him. rondey i pray for you. i pray you to die. like ou wish for death of shivo. you shood die of cancer. your whole band shoud die. of starving. and you use your free speech to say garbage. in pakistan we are not as free but we are more deceny. i come here and no one remembers the god. the god who craete you. you are all wrong. you are dead in side. burn in hell. you are wrong with usa. may you die to see the wromngs of your waysa.
on Wednesday, April 20th, Twitch said
Yeah, so my mom called today about 3 minutes after I read this shit. Mind you: We have NEVER been Cathlic. I was actually raised mormon and got my first copy of Big Lizard taken away cause of Tiny Town, until I could convince them it was all satire...yeah...So I have no idea why this stresed her so...Also, she was a little drunk.
"Hey Brad, there is a NEW POPE!"
" Yeah, I know..."
(me) "So did you know there was a female pope?"
"Yeah. Pope Joan. And now they have this 'Groping Chair', so they can make sure he's-"
"No really. I'll show you this website-"
"Brad, don't tell me about this right now."
So, bottom line: This web page influanced my life. Somewhat. Yeah.
on Wednesday, April 20th, keyblur said
i hope you all pee in hell.
man i love that mykel, he cracks me up. I think he might be Gf'nW that might explain the spelling
on Wednesday, April 20th, Nigel Tailwind said
May your god keep you well for you sure as shit make me laugh.
on Wednesday, April 20th, johnshaughnessy said
We had John the other day, now Joan. I was just wondering. Have all the popes been Cusacks?
on Wednesday, April 20th, Rory said
No, next up is Pope Jeremy Piven.
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