Archived Story

SMC hears about Pope Joan ahead of film

Published 4:16pm Friday, March 15, 2013


To talk on “4,000 years of uppity women” for Women’s History Month at Southwestern Michigan College Thursday, Dr. Mary Young-Marcks is fond of the Middle Ages.

She made the topic timely by focusing on lesser-known figures, from her own flag-making namesake to Pope Joan, since Jorge Begoglio of Argentina became Pope Francis, the 266th pontiff, on Wednesday.

Mary Young-Marcks
Mary Young-Marcks

Young-Marcks presented Pope Joan as a well-documented myth. The German allegedly reigned for a few years. It was widely believed for centuries, though modern religious scholars dismiss it as fiction.

Pope Joan, who hid her identity under bulky tunics, supposedly was undone by giving birth during a street procession. “John the English” would have served for two years, seven months and four days in AD 855 after the death of Pope Leo IV.

A woodcut engraving by Giovanni Boccaccio from around 1353, now in a British museum, depicts a jester behind the Corinthian column mocking the event. The column bears the face of a demon.

The Vatican claims she was made up by early Protestants to embarrass Rome.

It’s a story Catholicism failed to suppress.

Now, it’s revived by a new film starring John Goodman.

The title of Young-Marcks’ Spring Academic Lecture Series talk in the Zollar Student Activity Center event theater comes from a book by Vicki Leon.

Young-Marcks has been studying women’s history and collecting books of it as a “hobby” since college.

“I had so many at one conference, I had to ship them home,” she said.

She teaches political science and sociology for SMC.

Since marrying last June, Young-Marcks, whose Niles house is for sale, has lived in Edwardsburg.

“To study women’s history, you have to deal with the lack of sources,” she said, “so official documents are supplemented with more personal items like journals, diaries and letters. He who wins writes the history. It’s not that women weren’t there, they weren’t on the front lines. They were invisible. We often think of power in terms of voting rights. Women got to vote with the 19th Amendment in 1920,” though women in Switzerland were not permitted to vote until 1971.

Females are still prohibited from casting ballots in Saudi Arabia and the Vatican because “they only vote on the pope and the cardinals are all men.”

The series continues at 2 p.m. April 4 with the future of nuclear energy by Terry Groth, quality assurance at Entergy of Kalamazoo and an SMC alumnus.

The free public series concludes with SMC’s speech competition from 4:30 to 6:15 p.m. April 19.







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