Papessa Joana (also La Papessa) according to some theories was supposedly Pope from 855 to 858, based on a legend that circulated in the Middle Ages. She reigned under the name of Pope Joan VIII, after Pope Leo IV. Pope Joan is regarded by most modern historians and religious scholars as fictitious, possibly originating as an anti-papal satire.
The story of Pope Joan is known mainly from the 13th century Polish chronicler Martin of Opava. According to him this event took place between the reigns of Benedict III and Nicholas I in the 850s. In his Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatum, he writes:
"John Anglicus, born at Mainz, was pope for two years and seven months and four days, and died in Rome, after which there was a vacancy in the papacy of one month. It is claimed that this John was a woman, who as a girl had been led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers. There she became proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge, until she had no equal, and afterwards in Rome, she taught the liberal arts and had great masters among her students and audience. A high opinion of her life and learning arose in the city, and she was chosen for pope. While pope, however, she became pregnant by her companion. Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St Peter's to the Lateran, in a narrow lane between the Coliseum and St Clement's church. After her death, it is said she was buried in that same place. The Lord Pope always turns aside from the street and it is believed by many that this is done because of abhorrence of the event. Nor is she placed on the list of the holy pontiffs, both because of her female sex and on account of the foulness of the matter." (Martin of Opava, Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatum).
The other version is that she was not murdered after being revealed as a woman. Instead she is deposed, lives the rest of her life in a convent and her son made a career and became Bishop of Hostia.