Bearded Woman, Female Christ: Gendered Transformations in the Legends and Cult of Saint Wilgefortis
The legend of Saint Wilgefortis tells of a young princess who converts to Christianity and, in order to evade a forced marriage, miraculously grows a beard. Her pagan father has her crucified as a punishment, and she becomes a saint, symbolized by the image of a crucified, bearded woman. This article examines the written legends and some of the unusual cult practices associated with Saint Wilgefortis to demonstrate that gender crossing and gender blending (gendered transformations) were central to her emergence as a powerful symbol in the late Middle Ages, and that her representation as a bearded woman influenced how and for what she was venerated. As both bearded virgin and female Christ, both “disfigured” and transcendent, the symbol of Saint Wilgefortis becomes a site for the expression of late-medieval Christianity's most fundamental paradoxes.
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