The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Saturday, April 16, 2011


When I began writing The Flight of the Sorceress, I was sort of forced into learning a bit about the early popes, most of whom ended up being martyred. So, one thing led to another and I fell into a rabbit-hole, rumor mill of papal anecdotes. In the spirit of Lent, Passover and Easter, I decided to do a “diversity tour d’pope.”  Now some of you may ask: “Why is he picking on popes? Why not be more ecumenical?” The simple answer is that the popes were the ones who declared papal supremacy and papal infallibility. Having assumed top billing on matters related to the Kingdom of Heaven, it seems to me that they made themselves fair game. Anyway, here are a few diversity stories, I turned up.


In the town of Mainz, Germany around 800 A.D. English missionaries who were attempting to convert the pagan Germanic tribes to Christianity founded a monastery called Fulda, which became a center of education, but it was only for boys. However, a monk named Martin Polonus tells of a young woman from Mainz who learned Greek and Latin and became "proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge." It is believed that to get this education she disguised herself as a boy.

Such a disguise may not have been as hard a task as it seems today. Back then, personal hygiene was virtually nonexistent. Nobody bathed. There were 12-year-old popes and a 5-year-old archbishop. In fact, there are credible accounts of over 30 saints' lives in which women dress as men. They are called "transvestite nuns." In one such case, St. Eugenia became a monk while disguised as a boy. She was so convincing in fact that she was brought to court on charges of fathering a local woman's child. She was forced to prove her innocence by baring her breasts in public. In the ninth century, the Vatican was home to cross-dressing saints.
Polonus wrote that this woman from Mainz was "led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers." Indeed, the heroine of Flight of the Sorceress, Glenys, does something similar. Joan, known as John Anglicus, or English John, became secretary to a curia, a cardinal, and then, according to Polonus, "the choice of all for pope" in the year A.D. 855.  

Pope Joan was only discovered to be a woman when she gave birth unexpectedly in the middle of a procession. Accounts vary on whether she was immediately killed or shuttled off to a convent. The Church and many historians dispute the accuracy of this story and call it a myth. But apparently there is an unaccountable 2-year gap in popes around that time. So a Pope Joan is not so far fetched.


Obviously, the very first pope, Peter, was a Jew. His original name was Simon.

The next one I was able to locate was Pope Zosimas, 417-418 A.D.  Zosimas is mentioned in The Flight of the Sorceress. His father’s name was Abram, which is the big piece of evidence in support of his being Jewish.

About seven hundred years after Zosimas, Anacletus II, was elected as pope (1130) by a majority of the College of Cardinals.

Originally named Pietro Pierleone, he was the great-grandson of a Roman Jew, Baruch Pierleone. Anacletus II studied in Paris and was made a monk in Cluny, France. He was named a cardinal in Rome in 1116 by Pope Paschal II. His reign as pope was one of the most tumultuous in the history of the Church. At the time of his election, a minority of cardinals elected as pope Cardinal Gregorio Papareschi, who chose the name Innocent II. This initiated a serious schism in the church. Bernard of Clairvaux, who was a zealous supporter of Innocent in France, apparently forgetting about St. Peter himself, wrote ironically of Anacletus II: "to the shame of Christ a man of Jewish origin was come to occupy the chair of St. Peter."

There are two other popes who reigned before Anacletus who were also descendants of the Pierleone family: John Gratian Pierleone, known as Gregory VI, 1045-1045;

and Gregory VII, 1073-1084.

Gregory VII. Gregory contested the right of lay leaders, such as the Roman emperors, to grant church officials the symbols of their authority. Gregory VII was elevated to sainthood and canonized in 1606.


First up is Pope Paul II. Pietro Barbo was born in Venice on February 23, 1471 to a rich merchant family. His uncle was Pope Eugene IV and by 47, he too became pope. He liked to call himself Pope Formosus, from the Latin meaning, "beautiful, handsome". However, as you can see from his profile, he was anything but. It took some persuasion but he finally settled for Paul.

Paul had quite a sex life, not just for a pope, but for anybody. Paul has been accused of preserving a certain unsavory papal “tradition.” Allegedly, for several centuries, popes maintained a convent full of sex slaves who were particularly adept in staging satanic sexual orgies as well as producing babies for sacrifice.  Although this is not really supported by documentation and sounds like the kind of stuff that would be whispered in the medieval alleyway, we all know what can happen with “evidence” especially when the powerful want to get their mitts on it. But there is apparently substantial written material attesting that Paul liked to keep the company of attractive young men while shunning women. Easily moved to tears at the sight of his favorite boys, Paul’s cardinals referred to him as "Our Lady of Pity". Paul supposedly died of heart attack while being sodomized by a boy lover. 

Paul was succeeded by Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484), another gay pope:

Educated by the Franciscans, Fransesco della Rovere was a priest and skilled theologian by the time of Pope Paul II's death. When elevated, he took the name Sixtus. Immediately after his election, he appointed two nephews, Pietro Riario and Giuliano della Rovere (who later became Pope Julius II), as cardinals. In all, Sixtus elevated six of his nephews to cardinal. Nephew Pietro was the Pope's lover, and Sixtus lavished riches on him.

And last, but certainly not least among the identifiable gay popes is Julius III (1550-1555)

Giovanni del Monte was born in Rome, September 10, 1487 and took the name Julius III. Julius was always “out,” but in his sixties he got really far out. He brazenly plucked a cute 14-year-old boy, ironically named Innocenzo, off the streets of Parma, had his brother adopt the kid, and then promptly named him a Cardinal. The Venetian ambassador reported that Innocenzo shared the pope's bedroom and bed. The relationship became a staple of anti-papal polemics for over a century


According to Church historians, there have been three “black” popes. Though they are described as “black,” the pictures more accurately would portray them as “dark.” They definitely were Africans, but the old chronicles use of the term “black” really tells us more about what the ancients though of as white, than anything else.

Pope Victor I (186-198 A.D.)
Until Victor's time, Rome celebrated the Mass in Greek. Pope Victor changed the language to Latin. Other than that, he got himself martyred.

Pope Miltiades (311-14 A.D.)

This pope was probably a Berber. It was during his short tenure as pope that Emperor Constantine presented him with the Lateran Palace, which became the papal residence and seat of Church government. Also during Miltiades’ reign, Constantine granted Christians freedom of religion and restored church property.

And finally:
Pope Gelasius (492-496 A.D.)

Gelasius did much to provoke the split in the Church between East and West, asserting the primacy of Rome, which needless to say, pissed off the more powerful Eastern Emperor and the Archbishop of Constantinople. Not satisfied with stirring up international shit he also created a ruckus in Rome suppressing ancient pagan festivals and declaring the Manichaean sect to be heretical because they refused to take communion in the form of wine, knowing the sect believed using alcohol to be sinful. But once he got rid of the Manicheans, the old method of communion—just bread—became okay again. Such high-jinx earned him sainthood. But, more telling is that there have no dark-skinned, black or African popes since him.

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