Pope Joan Discussion Questions
1. Donna Woolfolk Cross wrote the story of Pope Joan as a work of fiction. Do you think there really was a Pope Joan?
2. How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?
3. Although the position of women in society has changed dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?
4. According to the author, Joan's story was universally known and accepted until the seventeenth century. Why do you think that changed?
5. Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated?
6. Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother following the Viking attack? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?
7. What do we learn about medieval medicine, and the logic of the learned medieval mind, in Pope Joan?
8. What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were so resistant to such improvements?
9. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces--between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?
10. Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not become pregnant or miscarried during the Papal procession?