Hartmann Schedel, Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Pope Joan, Nuremberg Chronicle

Nuremberg Chronicle, page CLXIX: illustration of "Joannes Septimus" or Pope Joan. Defaced in many copies of this book.

The Liber Cronicarum, popularly known in English as the "Nuremberg Chronicle" after the city in which it was published, is an illustrated history of the world compiled by Hartmann Schedel and printed by Anton Koberger in 1493. Containing more than 1,800 woodcut illustrations, it was the most lavishly illustrated book of its time. Approximately 1,400-1,500 copies of the first Latin edition were printed, and 700-1,000 of the German translation. Of these, an estimated 400 Latin copies and 300 German copies survive today.

One noteworthy feature of the Nuremberg Chronicle is its entry on the legendary and controversial female Pope Joan. According to the myth, she disguised herself as a man and was elected Pope in 855, but was discovered when she gave birth to a son during a procession. At the time the Nuremberg Chronicle was printed, Pope Joan was generally believed to be a real historical figure and was therefore included with other popes in the chronicle. During the sixteenth century, the story became increasingly embarrassing to the Catholic Church, which finally refuted Pope Joan in 1562. As a result, the woodcut and account of Pope Joan were later defaced or cut out of many copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle (although both of the Clements Library copies have remained intact). Readers of the book often added handwritten annotations to denounce Pope Joan, sometimes citing other sources that refuted the legend.

Clements Library copy of the Liber Cronicarum