New Internationalist


Issue 244

new internationalist
issue 244 - June 1993

...that have always intrigued you about the world will appear in this,
your section, and be answered by other readers. Please address
your answers and questions to ‘Curiosities’.

I’ve heard that part of the ceremony of Pope-making involves touching of the testicles.
If this is true, how and why did this curious custom come about?

Guy Lambert
Oxford, UK

photo by CAMERA PRESS [image, unknown] The Roman Church, according to legend, stipulated that anyone elected Pope should prove that his genitalia were intact. To this end a special chair was fashioned that had a horseshoe-shaped seat. The Pope to be would sit on the seat and the cardinals would pass by, checking the papal procession and proclaiming: ‘testiculos habet et bene pendentes’. A loose translation being: ‘testicles he has and well-hung ones’.

It is unclear when the custom first begun. The reason for its initiation is that according to the Law of Moses eunuchs could not enter into the sanctuary. Leviticus considered castrated animals and humans as unworthy of the sacrifice, both in a literal and a religious sense.

Richard Riddle
New Barnet, UK

[image, unknown] This information from The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis (Penguin 1971) provides an answer:

‘Joan, a handsome young English girl made her way to Athens disguised as a monk... armed with a degree in philosophy, she came to Rome where Pope Leo IV made her a cardinal. Upon Leo’s death in 853 Joan was elected Pope by her fellow cardinals.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia goes on to say, “she served as Pope for two years, four months and eight days, when she was discovered to be a woman and stoned to death (she gave birth during a papal procession)”...

‘The name “John VIII, a woman from England” graced the papal list from 855 to 1601 ...(when she was)... officially declared mythical... Pope John (872-882) who is now numbered VIII was for seven centuries listed as John IX.

‘From the time of Pope Joan, all candidates for the papacy for 700 years had to undergo a physical examination to prove their sex... (this) examination went into effect in 855... Benedict was the first of the popes to submit to the test.’

Cabby Laffy
London, UK

[image, unknown] See Leviticus 21:16-21. Guys with crushed testicles are not good enough for God, who is not – as women already know – an equal opportunity employer.

I presume the priests do the checking to ensure that a woman in drag is not trying to sneak into the job, because a dick and nuts are essential to the holy job of being Pope and female genitalia are just not good enough.

Greg Erwin
Quebec, Canada

Awaiting your answers...

Has anyone heard of a vegetarian famine relief organization called VEGFAM?
If so what is their address and/or phone number?

Catherine Cawood
Bristol, UK

What are the origins and meaning of the expression ‘ethnic cleansing’? Who first used it?

Kathleen Jones
Bishops Castle, UK

I’ve recently discovered loo roll made from cotton which is so soft I find it difficult to believe that I can use it with a clear conscience.Can anyone advise me whether it’s likely to have been produced in circumstances that are environmentally friendly and politically correct?

Jenny Viseck
London, UK

If you have any questions or answers please send them to Curiosities,
New Internationalist, 55 Rectory Road, Oxford OX4 1BW, UK,
or to your local NI office (click here for addresses).

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Big Bad World Money Talks [image, unknown]
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cartoon by POLYP cartoon by POLYP [image, unknown]
cartoon by POLYP [image, unknown]

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  1. #1 Renny 14 Mar 13

    No, this is a complete hoax, as is the entire story of a ’female Pope’ giving birth. Sorry, dude.

  2. #2 Chris Yarsawich 03 Jan 14

    Both the fable of Popess Joan and the testicle-checking chair ceremony are pure bunk.

    The above interpolated quote supposedly from the Catholic Encyclopedia is easily shown to be fabricated: first by Googling it in quotes, which returns few hits and none of them authoritative or reputable; and second, by actually reading what is written in the Catholic Encyclopedia, entry ’Popess Joan,’ available for free online at New Advent (www [dot] newadvent [dot] org).

    You can also read about the history of this fable in the Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Or for a longer read, Rosemary and Darroll Pardoe's THE FEMALE POPE: THE MYSTERY OF POPE JOAN
    The First Complete Documentation of the Facts behind the Legend, can be found, or read online for free (by the authors' consent) if you search for it.

    Elizabeth Gould Davis apparently didn't mind making up a few facts of her own when writing The First Sex, or at least ignoring the work of real historians in favor of salacious tidbits to spice up her own. While her motives as a feminist writing about history may have been laudable, she digs up what had by the mid-20th century already been a long-dead lie. The fact that she and so many others continue to bring up both Joan and the chair demonstrate just how tempting (and apparently acceptable) it is to repeat slander against the Catholic Church.

    The supposed testicle-checking chair is also a piece of rubbish: there neither is nor has been such a practice in Rome, however much anti-Catholic gossip mongers would repeat it. Even Wikipedia gets it right on this one.

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