Although never proven, there are claims that a ‘popess’ once resided on the papal throne. In the mid-9th century, a woman called Joan is said to have disguised herself as a man, getting herself promoted through the ranks of Cardinal to become head of the Church.
In the 13th century, stories arose about a Pope Joan who came to office in 855, which are said to have been taken as undisputed fact by the 15th century. It is said that, two years into her alleged reign, Joan gave birth.
This was apparently made a public event as a way of punishing Joan for her deception and, if legend is to be believed, she was then publicly stoned and killed. Historians are sceptical about how realistic the Joan story is but, with so much debate, literature and paintings centred on the topic, it is unlikely that there is not some truth in such claims.