A new film has revived the story of Pope Joan — an Englishwoman who, legend has it, disguised herself as a man and became the only female pontiff.
The film will fuel the debate over whether Pope Joan really existed or whether, as the Catholic Church maintains, she was a mythical figure used by the early Protestants to discredit and embarrass Rome.
The epic stars German actress Johanna Wokalek as the female pope, John Goodman as Pope Sergius II and the Lord of the Rings actor David Wenham as her lover.
The church has long argued that Pope Joan is not mentioned in contemporary records and that the tale is a fantasy, cooked up by scheming Protestants.
'L'Avvenire', the newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference, dismissed the story as “a hoax”.