First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…

Year of the World 6043

Year of Christ 844

Sergius, the second pope of that name, a Roman whose father was Sergius from the fourth region[The ‘fourth region’ is the shortened name of the fourth region of Augustus, a neighborhood or quarter of Rome also named Sacra Via from the historical street which formed its southwestern boundary.], was elected pope to succeed Gregory, and until then he had been called Pig’s Snout; but because of the offensive significance or his name, he was compelled to adopt another—Sergius. From this originated the custom of the Roman bishops (although all did not follow it) of changing their names when entering upon the pontificate. During the pontificates of his predecessors, Leo the Third, Stephen the Fourth, Eugenius the Second, and Gregory the Fourth, Sergius so demeaned himself in the practice of good morals and learning, that upon the death of Gregory he alone was considered worthy of the office. After entering upon his pontificate he directed his attention to the adornment of the houses of God. He restored the Basilica of Saints Sylvester and Martin that had collapsed on account of its age, and placed many holy relics in it. In the vicinity of these churches he also built a monastery in honor of Peter and Paul for perpetual service of God. The Romans, who through his intercession were relieved of their fears of tyrannical cruelty, loved this pious pope as a true vicar of Christ, and as the sole father of their country. At last, with ecclesiastical matters well and properly managed, he died in the third year of his pontificate, and was buried in the Basilica of Peter. After his death the Roman seat was vacant for two months and 15 days.[Sergius II, a Roman, succeeded Gregory IV in 844, and was consecrated without the emperor’s confirmation. Lothair, resenting this insult, sent his son Louis, king of Italy, to Rome. After exacting a promise of more regularity in the future, he confirmed the election, and the pope, in turn, crowned Louis as king of the Lombards. At this time the Saracens, who had established themselves in Sicily and Calabria, penetrated as far as Rome and plundered St. Peter’s. Martinus Polonius affirmed that the pope changes his name, as stated in the test, and that this gave rise to the custom of setting aside the family name on elevation to the papacy.]

Pope Leo the Fourth, a Roman whose father was Rudolf (Rodulfo), was elected pope, in the Year of the Incarnation eight hundred forty with the unanimous consent and good will of all the people; and deservedly so, for throughout life he was blameless in his service of God, renowned for his kindness, magnanimity, grace, generosity and spiritual learning. Some say that God, pursuant to the prayers of this pious man, caused the Saracens to be shipwrecked and drowned while homeward bound with Christian plunder; and he silenced them. His piety was such that his prayers exorcised a venomous serpent, the basilisk,[A basilisk (Greek for ‘little king’) is a mythological creature whose breath and look were considered fatal. It was shaped like a reptile and, as its name implies, reputed to be king of serpents. According to Pliny the Elder ( 8.33) the basilisk is a small snake native to North Africa that is not more than 12 inches in length with a bright white marking on its head resembling a diadem. In addition to killing any creature that looks into its eyes, it can destroy bushes not only by its touch but by its breath, as well as scorch grass and burst rocks.] out of the vaults of Saint Lucia the Virgin into a cave. This serpent by its breath and poison had destroyed many people. By the sign of the cross he also extinguished a dangerous fire in Rome. He restored many old ruined buildings there, and added fifteen towers. He also discovered the bodies of the Four Crowned Martyrs.[Probably the Four Martyrs of Gerona, adapted from the Acts of the “Quatuor Coronati,” whose story, according to Baring-Gould (June 8) is devoid of foundation in truth.] The Saracens, having attacked the Romans and Neapolitans with a large fleet, the pope took up arms against them, and proceeded as far as Ostia; and in tears he appealed to God and made the sign of the cross over his forces; and in consequence the enemy was defeated and routed. At last he, who was exceedingly well-deserving of the name of a Christian concerning both the Church of God and the city of Rome, died in the eighth year, third month, and 6th day of his pontificate on the 16th day of the Kalends of August, and was buried in the Basilica of Peter. The seat was then vacant for two months and fifteen days.[Leo IV, pope from 847 to 855, was a Roman by birth, succeeding Sergius II. His pontificate was distinguished chiefly by his efforts to repair the damage done by the Saracens. He built and fortified the suburb on the right bank of the Tiber, still known as Civitas Leonina. A conflagration that he is said to have extinguished by his prayers is the subject of Raphael’s great work in the of the Vatican. Leo held three synods.]

John (Ioannes) of England (and, as they say) born in Mainz (Mogunciaco), secured the pontificate through evil arts; for although she was a woman, she traveled in the guise and manner of a man. In early youth she went to Athens with her lover, a learned man. There she became so highly educated in the Scriptures that when she came to Rome there were but few equal to her in the Holy Scriptures. In the guise of a man, having concealed her sex, she acquired such favor and credence by her lectures and subtle disputations, that upon the death of Leo she was elected pope in his stead (as Martin states) by common consent. But afterwards she became pregnant by one of her attendants; and having carried it in her womb for sometime, and having one day decided to go to the Lateran Basilica, she was taken in labor on the way, between the Colossus of Nero (i.e., the Colosseum) and Saint Clements; and there she gave birth, and died on the spot. Some say that when a pope desires to go to the Lateran Basilica, and reaches the vicinity where this happened, he avoids the same highway in detestation of the memory of such event. And secondly, when a pope has been newly elected, he is placed upon Peter’s perforated chair; and in order to avoid a repetition of such an error in the future, the youngest deacon touches his genitalia through this perforated chair.

John VII (Pope Joan), by some regarded as a fact, by others as a fiction, has been the subject of much dispute. If fact, then she succeeded Leo IV in 853; held the pontificate for two years, one month and four days, and was succeeded by Benedict III. She is now omitted from the list of the popes, the pontificate of her predecessor, Leo IV, being reckoned from 847 to 855, and that of her successor Benedict III from 855 to 858. The authority invoked by Schedel, the chronicler, Martin of Troppau, also called Martinus Polonius, or Martin the Pole, was a devout Roman Catholic historian. Just before his death, about 1278, he completed his huge Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum (‘History of the Popes and Emperors’). Martin was born at Troppau in Silesia. In youth he entered the order of St. Dominic at Prague, and later proceeded to Rome, where Guy Fucoldi, surnamed the Fat—a Languedocian warrior and lawyer before he turned priest—held the pontificate as Clement IV. Clement soon named Martin his papal chaplain and confessor; and it was at the pontiff’s request that Martin commenced his great history. While engaged in this work Martin saw five more popes elevated in six years. After completing his book, the then pope appointed Martin Archbishop of Gnesen; but he died while on his journey to Poland to take up his new office. In his history, after speaking of the conclusion of the pontificate of Leo IV in 853, he states:

After the aforesaid Leo, John, an Englishman by descent, who came from Mainz, held the see two years, five months and four days. And the pontificate was vacant one month. He died at Rome. He, it is asserted, was a woman. And having been in youth taken by her lover to Athens in man’s clothes, she made such progress in various sciences that there was nobody equal to her. So that afterwards lecturing on the Trivium, at Rome, she had great masters for her disciples and hearers. And for as much as she was in great esteem in the city, both for her life and her learning, she was unanimously elected pope.

But while pope she became pregnant by the person with whom she was intimate. But not knowing the time of her delivery, while going from St. Peter’s to the Lateran, being taken in labor, she brought forth a child between the Coliseum and St. Clement’s church. And afterwards dying she was, it was said, buried in that place. And because the Lord Pope always turns aside from that way, there are some who are fully persuaded that it is done in detestation of the fact. Nor is she put in the catalogue of the popes, as well on account of her female sex, as on account of the foul nature of the transaction.

The story of a female pope was current in Christendom for several centuries, fully attested by writers of the Catholic faith, and was not a Lutheran slander, as some have supposed. Martin of Troppau is not the only witness. Ranulph Higdon, an English Benedictine chronicler from the monastery of Werberg in Chester, whose life reached from the end of the 13th century to about 1363, included the account of Joan’s tenure in his celebrated Polychronicon, a universal history from the beginning of the world to the death of Edward III, in 1377. He credits Martin of Troppau as his source. Both books were regarded as standard histories during the 15th century. Some historians also mention a marble statue of the woman pope, erected on the narrow street between the Coliseum and St. Clement’s Church, at the point where she died – a statue showing her with her young baby in arms.

In recent years there has been much controversy as to whether Pope Joan was a fact or a myth, brought on no doubt by the fact that the Catholic Church has thought it was to suppress all matters that scandalize it. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th Ed., refers to Joan as a “mythical pope (fl. 855), between Leo IV (847-855) and Benedict III (855-858).” Authorities are cited which are said to explode the tale, but they do not, as Clement Wood has shown in Part I of his book “The Woman Who was Pope,” published in 1931. In addition to citations already referred to, he quotes from other authorities, and also analyzes the evidence as to:

  • The marble statue of the woman and child;
  • The inscription on it;
  • The street avoided in the papal processions;
  • The perforated chair.

He establishes that the statue did exist and that it was of the female pope; that the inscription “P. P. P. P. P.” which the ancient chronicler Jean de Mailly said stood for Peter pater partum papissae prodito partum establishes that the woman pope had born her child here. So too, there is no question that the narrow street existed and that church processions did formerly pass that way, but avoid it now. No other reason for the change has ever been assigned. The story of Joan fits in perfectly.

Now as to the pierced chair.
The authorized Catholic Encyclopedia disingenuously refers to it thus:

Further, on the occasion of his formal inauguration, in front of the Lateran Basilica, the newly elected pope always seated himself on a marble chair. The seat was a marble bath-stool, of which there were many in Rome; it was merely made use of by the pope to rest himself. But the imagination of the vulgar took this to signify that the sex of the pope was thereby tested, in order to prevent any further instance of a woman attaining to the chair of St. Peter.

However, according to authorities much nearer to this custom, this chair did exist and was used to test the sex of persons about to be elevated to the papacy. In the Latin texts it is variously referred to as sella stercoraria, sella perforate, and exploratoria. The examination was made by one of the youngest deacons present, who, if the result was favorable, made the fact known by the exclamation, Habet! (‘He has (testicles)!’). Apparently, this test is no longer made.

Needless to say, the jury is still out on this one, though the preponderance of most contemporary scholarly opinion is that there never was a Pope Joan.

Theodolphus, bishop of Orleans, distinguished by birth and celebrated for his art and learning, was held in great esteem in the above mentioned times. He was falsely accused to Emperor Louis (Ludovicum), and imprisoned. While in prison he wrote many excellent poems, particularly the hymn of praise, Glory, praise, and honor to you, Christ, the redeemer, which is sung on Palm Sundays before the doors of the churches. Now when the emperor on Palm Sunday heard this song, and was informed that it was written by this bishop, he relented; and he caused the bishop to be released, sent for him, and reinstated him in his bishopric.[Theodulf, bishop of Orleans, was born about the middle of the eighth century, of a noble family of Gothic extraction, probably in Spain. He was abbot of Fleury and Saint Aignan, and in 781 became bishop of Orleans. He supported Charlemagne’s principles of government and educational reforms. He established schools, and was a member of the learned circle that graced the Carolingian court. In 798 he was appointed missus dominicus (‘envoy of the lord/ruler’) and two years later performed such great services for Leo III as judge in the cause between the pope and his enemies, that he returned from Rome with the pallium. After the death of Alcuin he became the king’s principal theological adviser. At Charlemagne’s request he made a collection of the opinions of the fathers on the disputed question of the procession of the Holy Spirit. After the death of Charlemagne, he was accused, perhaps unjustly, of having taken part in the conspiracy of Bernard of Italy, and in 818 was deposed and imprisoned in the monastery at Angers. He died in prison, probably from poison, in 821.]


John the Seventh (Joannes Septimus), i.e., Pope Joan. The young papess is represented in triple crown, her newly born child in her arms. The history of Pope Joan as recorded in the Chronicle has been the cause of the mutilation of many copies of this work. In some cases the portrait, as well as the text, has been cut away; in other instances ink has been employed to blot out the child in the arms of the papess, or to obliterate the woodcut altogether, and the text has been struck out. Sometimes scathing notations are written in the margin. And so in the copy of the first German edition from which this translation into English is made[That is, the copy used by Walter M. Schmauch, the principal translator of this text.], (once the property of J.A. Fuller Maitland), the following notation has been written below the text, although the portrait remains unmutilated:

N.B. Was Martiny Polony von dieser schwangeren Papstin schreibt, ist eine scheinbare Lüge. Dann dieser gedachte Polony und Johannes der 7 (haben) fast über 200 Jahre von einander gelebt. Hat also mit dieser Fabel die Warheit gelehrt; wie der Fleischlich gesinnte Luther, welcher auch durch Hülfe des Tuefels die heilige Schrift besser verstanden den als viel hundert Bischöfe. Waere gesetzetdasz sie Weib gewesen war, qui tam non est, so ware des Pabstum darumb nicht verwönnet worden, maszlos such der teufel selbst, nach Luther’s Lehre, kann geistliche Officia verwalten, etc. wan rechte sakramenta machen (hinreichen?). Ja, was nur aus den Teufel gesprochen ist. NOSCE TE IPSUM
The translation into English follows:
N.B. What Martinus Polonius writes of this papess is an apparent lie. For said Polonius and John VII lived over 200 years apart in point of time. So with this fable he taught the truth, like the sensually-minded Luther, who by the help of the Devil better understood the Holy Scriptures than many hundreds of bishops. It was stated that she was a woman, qui tam non est (‘which is not so’). So the papacy was not perverted on that account, for without doubt the Devil himself, according to Luther’s teachings, can administer the spiritual official, where the right sacraments are employed. Yes, which is spoken only out of the Devil. KNOW YOURSELF

The “Lover of Truth,” who in 1675 wrote “A Present for a Papist: or the Life and Death of Pope Joan,” in submitting his authorities that such a woman pope actually existed makes the following interesting reference to the author of the Chronicle (pp. 31-32).

Laziardus is of the same opinion; so is Hartmannus Schedel a Doctor of Physick, yet not ignorant of holy Scriptures, nor atheistically inclined, as it is bewailably common for such to be, yet by Florimondus he is accused for being one of the brood of the Hussites, and lived in Nurimberge when that City was infected with Husses Heresy, and therefore would fain persuade his party that no credit is to be given him, because whatever he writ concerning the pope dome of Joan the Woman was partial. In answer to this, I rather believe Florimondus to be one of the brood of abominable Lyars; for Hartmannus Schedel, born in Nurimberg, was y (a?) student in Padua where he was created Doctor of Physick by the great Matthiolus, and he was so far from Husses opinion, that in the same book quoted in the Margint he hat inserted one whole Chapter about the Heresy of the Hussites, and their original.