Conversations on our parish pilgrimages are often wide ranging, going from the deeply spiritual to the exotic, from the everyday to the bizarre. One topic some of the pilgrims on a recent pilgrimage were discussing was 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 in the monastery ‘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 because ‘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).
Many of whose lives are almost entirely legendary – and yet that in itself raises the question – why did the legends come about?
There are other examples in the Christian tradition; 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 date from before the sixth century, a very different time (especially for many women) from today.
Are there other examples?
In a time in which women had few rights, cross dressing had a totally different significance then than it does now. The church and society has come a long way in recognising that women are people too.
Don’t forget St. Joan of Arc!
Hmm. But no male saints who tried to pass for women, for whatever reason? Even only temporary, honorable reasons?
Madre Juana de la Cruz of 16th-century Spain did some cross-dressing. She insisted that God changed her gender in the womb, transforming her from male to female:
I invite you to check out my series on LGBT Saints at: