Friday, 20 July 2012

Uncumber [or Wilgefortis] 20/07

A wonderful example of a sainted bearded lady?


Unfortunately, she may also be an example of a 'saint' whose biography is more popular fiction than recorded history.  Still, she is listed in the standard catholic reference works, and has had an official feast day, as well as bewildering array of aliases, among them Liberata, Kummernis,  Uncumber, and Livrade,   Of the biographical details, take them as you will.  For what it is worth, the legend says that she was the daughter of a king, who had taken a vow of virginity.  When her father wanted to marry her off to the King of Sicily, she prayed for deliverance from this evil fate.   Whereupon she grew a beard.  What self-respecting king would want to marry a bearded princess?  Her father was said to be so enraged at this that he had her crucified.  This may be the reason she bacem known as the patron saint of difficult marriages - but crucifixion seems an extreme way to end one.

Modern sceptical scholars suggest that the story of her beard and crucixion are sheer invention.  Spoilsports!  Why let facts get in the way of a good story?  Sadly, her "cult was supressed and she was dropped from the calendar in 1969".

For more, see:

Catholic Online

Patron Saints Index


LGBT Catholic Handbook (Calendar of LGBT Saints)

For more images of the bearded wonder, see

Google images
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Select bibliography on TV Saints

Catholic Encyclopedia - entry on Pelagia (available online)

Catholic Encyclopedia - entry on Wilgefortis (available online)

Anson, J., "The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: the Origin and Development of a Motif", Viator 5 (1974), 1-32

Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

Delcourt, Marie, "Le complexe de Diane dans l'hagiographie chretienne", Revue de l'Histoire des Religions 153 (January-March 1958), 1-33

Patlagean, Evelyne, "L'histoire de la femme déguise en moine et l'evolution de la sainteté feminine à Byzance", Studi Medievali ser. 3 17 (1976), 597-625, repr. in Structure sociale, famille, chretienté à Byzance IVe-XIe siècle, (London: Variorum, 1981), XI

Marina Warner, St. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, (London: 1981, pb. Penguin, 1985), esp 149-63

1 comment:

  1. It makes more sense to think that Uncumber came from veneration of a gowned Christ as a woman saint, and the folk story grew around that.