|Doellinger’s study of all the extant sources is still standard. For modern readers it has been superceded by Alain Boureau, La Papesse Jeanne, published in English as The Myth of Pope Joan (trans. Lydia G. Cochrane, University of Chicago Press, 2001). In 1999, Peter Stanford published The Legend of Pope Joan, which argues in favour of her existence. However, the work has convinced few scholars, despite being a valuable compendium of sources.|
For Boureau’s work, here is an excerpt from the review by Sandra Miesel,
Boureau’s pace quickens when Joan finally comes on stage. He quotes essential texts from the first mention of Joan in a Metz chronicle of 1255. He traces how the story spread in histories and sermon exempla, initially by way of the Dominican Order. Boureau asks how medieval Catholics "believed" in Joan and shows how energetically they used her story in their controversies.
Joan served apocalyptic Joachimites expecting a new age of the Holy Spirit, Spiritual Franciscans denouncing pseudo-popes, rival claimants to the Holy See during the Great Western Schism, and proto-Protestants Ockham and Wycliffe impugning papal authority and the efficacy of the sacraments.
Joan even found her way into the Tarot as the Popess trump, thanks to the example of the Gugliemites, an Italian sect suppressed in 1300 that worshiped a female incarnation of the Holy Spirit led by a popess and cardinalettes.
Boureau compares Joan with seeress and witch views of Joan of Arc and with prophetic women including the mythical sibyls of antiquity and medieval Hildegard of Bingen. He notes Joan’s entrance into literature with Boccaccio’s De Mulieribus Claris (1362) and Fraw Jutta (1480), the first tragic drama in German.
But the Protestant Reformation made Joan intolerable among Catholics. The Great Whore of Babylon wearing a papal tiara was one of the milder references to Joan in Lutheran propaganda, where she was used to depict Rome as a place of corruption and deviance. Early Calvinists were apparently too high-minded to bother with Joan.
Catholics countered in 1562 with the first systematic historical attack on the myth, written by the Augustinian Onoforio Panvinio. Panvinio argued that there was no trace of Joan in contemporary records and no interval to allow her reign. An even more magisterial refutation by the excommunicated Catholic scholar Ignaz von Döllinger in 1863 should have put the matter beyond dispute for any reasonable person, although of course this has not been the case. (end of excerpt)