Lives of the popes in glorious colour

The Popes: A History. By John Julius Norwich, Chatto and Windus, €31.50.

16th April, 2011

The papacy has attracted some strange characters in its time, but the one that stands out for obvious reasons is Pope Joan. An Englishwoman who supposedly disguised her sex and ruled as pontiff between 855 and 857, she rather blew her cover by giving birth on horseback one day and was duly stoned to death. Her legacy was the creation of a new papal throne with a reclining back and a hole in the seat...

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