A long standing Medieval Tale. “Pope Joan” appears in Medieval Literature around the 13th Century. Both France and England developed the probable “Story”. Most Scholars denounce the reality of a “Pope Joan”(as does The Roman Catholic Church). Some Sources state that “Joan” although a Woman, wished to serve The Church in ways that a Female of The Era could not. As a Woman, she would have been regulated to the life of a Nun (often in quiet contemplation and Prayer). This was unacceptable to Joan.
Disguising herself as a Man (which was easy for Joan who had many “masculine” features), she achieved first entering The Priesthood and then rising up through the Clerical Ranks to Cardinal. All the while, she concealed her “true” identity. After the death of Pope Leo IV (855 AD), “Joan” was so respected that she was elected as Pontiff of The Church. “Joan” maintained her secret for 10 more years, until her own death. It was at that time her “secret” became known. So shamed, The Church quickly removed all record of her Reign and (although buried with great respect) – was granted no pomp, with absolutely no one having knowledge of her actual burial place.
Other Sources state that perhaps the “Pope Joan” myth started as a result of one of Pope John XIIs mistresses. One was known to named “Joan” and she had huge influence over The Pontif. So much so that many felt she in fact “ruled The Church”. She may have been given the nickname “Pope Joan” out of derision.