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Pope John VIII
|Papacy began||13 December 872|
|Papacy ended||19 December 882|
Rome, Papal States
16 December 882|
|Other Popes named John|
Pope John VIII was pope from 13 December 872 to 16 December 882. He is often considered one of the ablest pontiffs of the ninth century and the last bright spot on the papacy until Leo IX ascended the papal throne in 1049.
He was born in Rome. Among the reforms achieved during his pontificate was a notable administrative reorganisation of the papal Curia. With little help from European kings, he attempted to expel the Saracens from Italy after they had penetrated as far as Rome. He failed and was forced to pay tribute. John defended St. Methodius against his German enemies, who objected to his use of the Slavonic language in the liturgy. John later confirmed the permission to use Slavonic that had been originally granted by Pope Adrian II, John's predecessor. In 879 he recognised the reinstatement of Photius as the legitimate patriarch of Constantinople; Photius had been condemned in 869 by Pope Adrian II. In 878 John crowned Louis II, king of France. He also anointed two Holy Roman Emperors: Charles II and Charles III. He was assassinated in 882.
Pope Joan and connection to the name John VIII
According to the legend of Pope Joan, a woman reigned as pope under the name of John earlier in the 9th century. Her true sex was discovered, and she would eventually be erased from the historical record because of this. If she existed, when regnal numbering was applied to papal reigns in the 10th century, she would have been designated John VIII and the Pope John that is the subject of this article would have been John IX. However, there are no contemporary references to a female pope; the legend was apparently created during the 13th century. The historical John VIII is not otherwise connected with this legend.
According to Patrick Madrid, author of Pope Fiction, a book about the legend of Pope Joan, Pope John VIII himself may have been the origin of the legend. He writes,
He appears to have had a very weak personality, even perhaps somewhat effeminate.
Cardinal Casesare Baronius, in his history Church Annals, suggests that John VIII's reputation as effeminate gave rise to the legend. Indeed, it would seem that over time, the common folk added ever more lurid embellishments until the vulgar jokes about the hapless (and certainly male) pope ballooned and metamorphosed into a female "popessa."
- Fred E. Engreen, "Pope John the Eighth and the Arabs," Speculum, 20 (1945), pp. 318–330
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