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The Female Crucifix

Images of St. Wilgefortis Since the Middle Ages

Ilse E. Friesen

Hardcover 181 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-365-5

Release Date: May 2001

Online discount: 25%

$85.00  $63.75


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Featuring more than twenty illustrations, including several works of art that were rediscovered by the author and are published here for the first time, The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis Since the Middle Ages provides a new perspective on a very old phenomenon.

The legendary bearded female St. Wilgefortis, also known by a variety of other names including “Kummernis” and “Uncumber,” was the object of fervent veneration in areas of Western and Central Europe for almost half a millennium.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, the legend of her dramatic transformation from a beautiful, privileged princess into a bearded, Christlike martyr on the cross inspired scores of paintings, sculptures, poems, prayers and shrines in her honour all across Europe. In spite of frequent opposition by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, her cult of veneration at one point nearly rivaled that of the Virgin Mary in some parts of Europe.

In this informative and groundbreaking new book, Professor Ilse E. Friesen examines the phenomenon of St. Wilgefortis from an art historical perspective, tracing the origins of depictions of the saint from an early medieval Italian statue known as Volto Santo, or “holy face,” through the emergence of increasingly feminized crucifixes over the course of the subsequent centuries. In particular, Professor Friesen focuses on an analysis of paintings, sculptures and frescoes originating in the German-speaking regions of Bavaria and Tyrol, where the veneration of the saint attained its peak.

With its emphasis on art as situated in the context of religion, spirituality, mythology, popular literature and gender relations, this book will have wide appeal.

Ilse E. Friesen has been a professor of art history and coordinator of Fine Arts at Wilfrid Laurier University since 1988.


“Despite the potentially sensational nature of the subject matter, Friesen adopts a matter-of-fact tone in her praise-worthy attempt to chart the long and rather confusing history of an unusual cult....[A] useful addition to the scholarship of hagiography, providing a number of unedited Germanic works and updating the 1934 study of Schnurer and Ritz, unavailable in Canadian libraries.”

— Gwendolyn Trottein, Bishop’s University, RACAR

“Friesen is to be applauded for her efforts to bring Saint Wilgefortis back into the public arena—quite literally in some cases, for the author includes some charming anecdotes of her rediscoveries of supposedly lost and deliberately hidden images of the saint.”

— Samantha J.E. Riches, Religion and the Arts