Book Review

Entertaining history of 'female pope' has scholarly gaps

MISTRESS OF THE VATICAN: THE TRUE STORY OF OLIMPIA MAIDALCHINI: THE SECRET FEMALE POPE, by Eleanor Herman. William Morrow (New York, 2008). 438 pp., $25.95.

Eleanor Herman is not afraid to take on seemingly controversial topics and unusual aspects of history. She has written Sex With Kings and Sex With the Queen. In her latest effort, Mistress of the Vatican, she chronicles the story of Olimpia Maidalchini, whose brother-in-law was Pope Innocent X. Historians agree that Maidalchini had considerable influence with the pope and his papacy, which lasted 1644-1655.

Herman has an engaging style and creates an interesting read about Maidalchini, Rome and the state of the church at that time.

However, there are many implications in the book that make a reader wonder.

For example, the introduction notes, "The church, too, looked on females as defective creatures. ... The church fathers, who in the second through fifth centuries grappled with Scripture to hammer out Catholic theology, were notorious misogynists."