Hannibal Free Public Library

Pope Joan

Donna Woolfolk Cross

April 26,2010

 When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, the brilliant young Joan assumes his identity and enters a Benedictine monastery where, as Brother John Anglicus, she distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer. Eventually drawn to Rome, she soon becomes enmeshed in a dangerous mix of powerful passion and explosive politics that threatens her life even as it elevates her to the highest throne in the Western world.


  1. How important is it to this story to believe in its historicity?
  1. What similarities or differences do you see between Pope Joan and Saint Joan of Arc? Why was one Joan expunged from history books and the other made a saint?
  1. Are reason and faith incompatible?
  1. What implications does Joan’s story have with regard to the role of women in the Catholic Church?
  1. One reviewer wrote: “Pope Joan... is a reminder that some things never change, only the stage and the players do.” Are there any similarities between the way women live in some places of the world today and the way they lived back then?
  1. Why might medieval society have believed so strongly that education hampered a woman’s ability to bear children? What purpose might such a belief serve?
  1. Joan sacrificed much because she loved Gerold. Do you know women who have sacrificed opportunities to exercise mind, heart, and spirit for love of a man? For love of a child? Are such sacrifices justified?
  2. If Joan had agreed to leave with Gerold when he first came to Rome , what would her life have been like? Did she make the right choice or not?
  1. What causes Joan’s inner conflict between faith and doubt? How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever resolve these conflicts?
  2. What are there lessons to be learned from Joan’s story, regardless of whether it is legend or fact?

    Questions adapted from http://www.readinggroupguides.com