CURIOUS MYTHS OF THE MIDDLE AGES (Illustrated)

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Others, however, insist upon her name having been Gilberta; and some stout Germans, not relishing the notion of her being a daughter of Fatherland, palm her off on England. As soon as we arrive at Reformation times, the German and French Protestants fasten on the story with the utmost avidity, and add sweet little touches of their own, and draw conclusions galling enough to the Roman See, illustrating their accounts with wood engravings vigorous and graphic, but hardly decent. One of these represents the event in a peculiarly startling manner.

The procession of bishops, with the Host and tapers, is sweeping along, when suddenly the cross-bearer before the triple-crowned and vested Pope starts aside to witness the unexpected arrival. The Protestant writers were not satisfied that the father of the unhappy baby should have been a servant: some made him a Cardinal, and others the devil himself. According to an eminent Dutch minister, it is immaterial whether the child be fathered on Satan or a monk; at all events, the former took a lively interest in the youthful Antichrist, and, on the occasion of his birth, was seen and heard fluttering overhead, crowing and chanting in an unmusical voice the Sibylline verses announcing the birth of the Arch-persecutor:—.

The Reformers, in order to reconcile dates, were put to the somewhat perplexing necessity of moving Pope Joan to their own times, or else of giving to the youthful Antichrist an age of seven hundred years. It will be seen by the curious woodcut reproduced as frontispiece from Baptista Mantuanus, that he consigned Pope Joan to the jaws of hell, notwithstanding her choice.

The verses accompanying this picture are:—. It need hardly be stated that the whole story of Pope Joan is fabulous, and rests on not the slightest historical foundation. It was probably a Greek invention to throw discredit on the papal hierarchy, first circulated more than two hundred years after the date of the supposed Pope. Even Martin Polonus A. The great champions of the myth were the Protestants of the sixteenth century, who were thoroughly unscrupulous in distorting history and suppressing facts, so long as they could make a point. A paper war was waged upon the subject, and finally the whole story was proved conclusively to be utterly destitute of historical truth.

She is commonly called the Papess Joan. During the five subsequent centuries the witnesses to this extraordinary event are without number; nor did any one, prior to the Reformation by Luther, regard the thing as either incredible or disgraceful to the Church.

From Marianus Scotus or Sigebert de Gemblours the story passed into other chronicles totidem verbis , and generally with hesitation and an expression of doubt in its accuracy. Martin Polonus is the first to give the particulars, some four hundred and twenty years after the reign of the fabulous Pope.

Curious Myths of the Middle Ages by Sabine Baring-Gould (English) Hardcover Book

Mosheim is false again in asserting that no one prior to the Reformation regarded the thing as either incredible or disgraceful. This is but of a piece with his malignity and disregard for truth, whenever he can hit the Catholic Church hard. Marianus Scotus, the first to relate the story, died in He was a monk of St. Martin of Cologne, then of Fulda, and lastly of St. How could he have obtained reliable information, or seen documents upon which to ground the assertion?

Again, his chronicle has suffered severely from interpolations in numerous places, and there is reason to believe that the Pope-Joan passage is itself a late interpolation. If so, we are reduced to Sigebert de Gemblours d. Leo IV. It is, however, true that there was an antipope elected upon the death of Leo, at the instance of the Emperor Louis; but his name was Anastasius. This man possessed himself of the palace of the Popes, and obtained the incarceration of Benedict.

However, his supporters almost immediately deserted him, and Benedict assumed the pontificate. The reign of Benedict was only for two years and a half, so that Anastasius cannot be the supposed Joan; nor do we hear of any charge brought against him to the effect of his being a woman. Here again is confusion.


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John VIII. He assumed the triple crown in , and reigned till December 18, John took an active part in the troubles of the Church under the incursions of the Sarasins, and letters of his are extant, addressed to the princes and prelates of his day. The final development of this extraordinary story, under the delicate fingers of the German and French Protestant controversialists, may not prove uninteresting. Joan was the daughter of an English missionary, who left England to preach the Gospel to the recently converted Saxons.

She was born at Engelheim, and according to different authors she was christened Agnes, Gerberta, Joanna, Margaret, Isabel, Dorothy, or Jutt—the last must have been a nickname surely! Thomas, are indications of a Nestorian bias.

A brief glance at the history of this heretical Church may be of value here, as showing that there really was a foundation for the wild legends concerning a Christian empire in the East, so prevalent in Europe. Nestorius, a priest of Antioch and a disciple of St. Chrysostom, was elevated by the emperor to the patriarchate of Constantinople, and in the year began to propagate his heresy, denying the hypostatic union. The Council of Ephesus denounced him, and, in spite of the emperor and court, Nestorius was anathematized and driven into exile.

His sect spread through the East, and became a flourishing church. It reached to China, where the emperor was all but converted; its missionaries traversed the frozen tundras of Siberia, preaching their maimed Gospel to the wild hordes which haunted those dreary wastes; it faced Buddhism, and wrestled with it for the religious supremacy in Thibet; it established churches in Persia and in Bokhara; it penetrated India; it formed colonies in Ceylon, in Siam, and in Sumatra; so that the Catholicos or Pope of Bagdad exercised sway more extensive than that ever obtained by the successor of St.

The number of Christians belonging to that communion probably exceeded that of the members of the true Catholic Church in East and West. But the Nestorian Church was not founded on the Rock; it rested on Nestorius; and when the rain descended, and the winds blew, and the floods came, and beat upon that house, it fell, leaving scarce a fragment behind.

Rubruquis the Franciscan, who in was sent on a mission into Tartary, was the first to let in a little light on the fable. He writes, "The Catai dwelt beyond certain mountains across which I wandered, and in a plain in the midst of the mountains lived once an important Nestorian shepherd, who ruled over the Nestorian people, called Nayman. When Coir-Khan died, the Nestorian people raised this man to be king, and called him King Johannes, and related of him ten times as much as the truth. The Nestorians thereabouts have this way with them, that about nothing they make a great fuss, and thus they have got it noised abroad that Sartach, Mangu-Khan, and Ken-Khan were Christians, simply because they treated Christians well, and showed them more honor than other people.

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Yet, in fact, they were not Christians at all. And in like manner the story got about that there was a great King John. However, I traversed his pastures, and no one knew anything about him, except a few Nestorians. This Johannes had a brother, a famous shepherd, named Unc, who lived three weeks' journey beyond the mountains of Caracatais.

This Unk-Khan was a real individual; he lost his life in the year Kuschhik, prince of the Nayman, and follower of Kor-Khan, fell in Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller , identifies Unk-Khan with Prester John; he says, "I will now tell you of the deeds of the Tartars, how they gained the mastery, and spread over the whole earth. The Tartars dwelt between Georgia and Bargu, where there is a vast plain and level country, on which are neither cities nor forts, but capital pasturage and water.

They had no chief of their own, but paid to Prester Johannes tribute. Of the greatness of this Prester Johannes, who was properly called Un-Khan, the whole world spake; the Tartars gave him one of every ten head of cattle. When Prester John noticed that they were increasing, he feared them, and planned how he could injure them. He determined therefore to scatter them, and he sent barons to do this. But the Tartars guessed what Prester John purposed When John observed the superiority and serviceableness of the other, he envied him, and plotted to seize and murder him.

But two sons of Unk-Khan, having heard this, told it to Tschingys; whereupon he and his comrades fled by night, and secreted themselves. Next morning Unk-Khan took possession of the Tartar tents, but found them empty.

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Then the party of Tschingys fell upon him, and they met by the spring called Balschunah, and the side of Tschingys won the day; and the followers of Unk-Khan were compelled to yield. They met again several times, till Unk-Khan was utterly discomfited, and was slain himself, and his wives, sons, and daughters carried into captivity.

Yet we must consider that King John the Kergtajer was not cast down for nought; nay, rather, because he had turned his heart from the fear of Christ his Lord, who had exalted him, and had taken a wife of the Zinish nation, called Quarakhata. Because he forsook the religion of his ancestors and followed strange gods, therefore God took the government from him, and gave it to one better than he, and whose heart was right before God. Some of the early travellers, such as John de Plano Carpini and Marco Polo, in disabusing the popular mind of the belief in Prester John as a mighty Asiatic Christian monarch, unintentionally turned the popular faith in that individual into a new direction.

Curious Myths of the Middle Ages

They spoke of the black people of Abascia in Ethiopia, which, by the way, they called Middle India, as a great people subject to a Christian monarch. Marco Polo says that the true monarch of Abyssinia is Christ; but that it is governed by six kings, three of whom are Christians and three Saracens, and that they are in league with the Soudan of Aden. Bishop Jordanus, in his description of the world, accordingly sets down Abyssinia as the kingdom of Prester John; and such was the popular impression, which was confirmed by the appearance at intervals of ambassadors at European courts from the King of Abyssinia.

The discovery of the Cape of Good Hope was due partly to a desire manifested in Portugal to open communications with this monarch,[22] and King John II. The might and dominion of this prince, who had replaced the Tartar chief in the popular creed as Prester John, was of course greatly exaggerated, and was supposed to extend across Arabia and Asia to the wall of China. The spread of geographical knowledge has contracted the area of his dominions, and a critical acquaintance with history has exploded the myth which invested Unk-Khan, the nomad chief, with all the attributes of a demigod, uniting in one the utmost pretensions of a Pope and the proudest claims of a monarch.

FROM the remotest period a rod has been regarded as the symbol of power and authority, and Holy Scripture employs it in the popular sense. Thus David speaks of "Thy rod and Thy staff comforting me;" and Moses works his miracles before Pharaoh with the rod as emblem of Divine commission. It was his rod which became a serpent, which turned the water of Egypt into blood, which opened the waves of the Red Sea and restored them to their former level, which "smote the rock of stone so that the water gushed out abundantly. In this instance we have it no longer as a symbol of authority, but as a means of divining the will of God.

And as such it became liable to abuse; thus Hosea rebukes the chosen people for practising similar divinations.