Conversations on our St Chrysostom’s Walsingham pilgrimage were wide ranging, going from the deeply spiritual to the exotic, from the everyday to the bizarre. One topic among some of the pilgrims was the subject of women saints who spent much of their lives living as men. The following information comes from Butler’s Lives of the Saints.
St Marina lived as a monk, Marinus, for many years. She was known as the ‘beardless brother.’ She suffered many misfortunes, and after she died ‘the brethren came to prepare the body for burial, her gender was discovered. The abbot was overcome with remorse for the injustice which he had unwittingly committed and with admiration for the heroism of the woman.’ (Feast Day July 17th)
The illustration shows St Marina (in red) entering the monastery
St Euphrosyne dressed as a man to escape her overbearing father and entered a monastery as a monk. She lived as a monk until her death. In the monastery ‘her beauty and charm were a cause of distraction to the other monks, she retired to a solitary cell.’ (Feast day February 11th)
St Eugenia also entered a monastery living as a man. She became abbot of the monastery when she was accused of adultery by a woman and Eugenia revealed before the judge that she was in fact a woman. Her accuser was burned to death. (Feast day December 25th).
There are others; St Reperata, St Pelegia (who is mentioned by St John Chrysostom), St Theodora etc. These were women who lived as men. It would be interesting to know if any men saints lived as women. These ‘transvestite’ saints (many of whose lives are almost entirely legendary) date from before the sixth century, a very different time (especially for women) from today.
You can read a little more on the subject here.
Are there other examples?