Writing holiness, writing violence suffering and the construction of female sanctity

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Patricia Cox Miller


Women and Christianity, Women and violence, Christian hagiography, Female saints, Medieval mysticism, Medieval Christianity

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Religion


This dissertation explores the correlation between violence, suffering, and female sanctity in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. I argue that due to changing ideas about Christian authority, the nature of women, and the body of Christ, suffering became a nearly exclusive component of female sanctity and one of the main ways women gained access to sainthood. Furthermore, the ideas of the suffering woman are connected to ideas of purgatory and women suffering for the salvation of others. I explore a wide range of texts, from early Christian martyrdoms, to late antique and medieval accounts of married female saints, to the writings of the mystics of the late Middle Ages. I argue that what once was a way for a male hagiographer to construct the holiness of a woman became so ingrained that women in the late Middle Ages began to see their own encounter with God as violent and view their own suffering as positive and redemptive.


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