Impersonating a Male with a "Beard" in the Protection of Virginity as God's Grace to Women: The Cult of Saint Wilgefortis (Virgo Fortis) and its Iconographic Background

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Tinaz I. E.

JOURNAL OF ART HISTORY-SANAT TARIHI YILLIGI, no.31, pp.489-513, 2022 (ESCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.26650/sty.2022.1060957
  • Journal Indexes: Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), Scopus, TR DİZİN (ULAKBİM)
  • Page Numbers: pp.489-513
  • Keywords: Saint Wilgefortis, Saint Kummernis, Volto Santo, Medieval Art, Iconography
  • Istanbul University Affiliated: No


This study investigates the iconographic process of Saint Wilgefortis (the bearded virgin on the cross) who was given male-like facial hair by God, for the protection of virginity, was crucified and became a symbol of devotion.The oldest known record of this Saint, detes back to the 12th century after which her cult emerged in the 13th century. Although her name details of her life include certain differences in France, Germany, Netherlands, and Spain, her cult lasted for approximately three hundred years. On the other hand, due to the criticism and emerged in the 16th century, the legitimacy of this iconographic arrangement and the actual personality of the Saint herself began to be questioned. Moreover, due to its undoubted similarities with the represantations of Volto Santo Cross, she was removed from the canonist calendar by the Catholic Church in 1969. Thus, this study also examines each argument, without choosing between the interpretations, and focusing on the origins of the representations in Southern Europe where the cult emerged, between the 13th and 15th centuries. Overall, Saint Wilgefortis, regardless of whether she was fictitius or real, shoul be methodologically considered, especially in terms of the representations showing the iconographic progress, and in terms of containing a hagiographic entity which has become a symbol of devotion in certain cultures.