From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature (The Middle Ages Series)

Why did hagiographers of the late Middle Ages praise mothers for abandoning small children? How did a group of female mystics come to define themselves as “apostles to the dead” and end by challenging God’s right to damn? Why did certain heretics around 1300 venerate a woman as the Holy Spirit incarnate and another as the Angelic Pope?

In From Virile Woman to WomanChrist, Barbara Newman asks these and other questions to trace a gradual and ambiguous transition in the gender strategies of medieval religious women. An egalitarian strain in early Christianity affirmed that once she asserted her commitment to Christ through a vow of chastity, monastic profession, or renunciation of family ties, a woman could become “virile,” or equal to a man. While the ideal of the “virile woman” never disappeared, another ideal slowly evolved in medieval Christianity. By virtue of some gender-related trait—spotless virginity, erotic passion, the capacity for intense suffering, the ability to imagine a feminine aspect of the Godhead—a devout woman could be not only equal, but superior to men; without becoming male, she could become a “womanChrist,” imitating and representing Christ in uniquely feminine ways.

Rooted in women’s concrete aspirations and sufferings, Newman’s “womanChrist” model straddles the bounds of orthodoxy and heresy to illuminate the farther reaches of female religious behavior in the Middle Ages. From Virile Woman to WomanChrist will generate compelling discussion in the fields of medieval literature and history, history of religion, theology, and women’s studies.

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

Write Publish Promote at Cowgirlheart Media
Write, Publish, Promote. Words I am learning to live by. Want this to be your motto too? Join me and together we'll navigate the path to publishing success.

Latest posts by Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor (see all)

About Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor 2429 Articles
Write, Publish, Promote. Words I am learning to live by. Want this to be your motto too? Join me and together we'll navigate the path to publishing success.


  1. Influences that shaped the lives of medieval women. In this book, many early and late medieval texts, mostly on Christianity as intended for and lived by female religious, are put into historical context. It is Barbara Newman’s perspective that these texts hold the imprints of authentic human experience and beliefs, filtered by the cultural and religious climate at the time of writing. This perspective is evident in the lively, often stirring, way in which she presents the facts about and implications of the texts. I consider the essays…

  2. The unexhausted woman question This is an excellent–well written, finely researched, and interesting–book. . Although there are a number of areas where I would be inclined to question the author’s conclusions, the author’s eminendly even-handed presentation of the research relevant to the problem at hand fully engaged my thinking about the subject. My sole caveat is a regret that some of material relegated to the footnotes located at the end of the book had not been integrated into the text where surely some of it…

  3. The Status of Medieval Christian Women A very interesting book. I had ordered this book, not really knowing what it was about. I saw that the book was one of the secondary sources used by theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether in her book “Goddesses and the Divine Feminine” over the Medieval portion. Once I began reading, I was enthralled by what I learned. The Medieval period has always been a period in time that I knew was difficult for people to live through, especially women. Newman’s research showed some of the…

Leave a Reply