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Home | Exhibitions | Online | The Sacred Feminine | Beyond Human: Female Sainthood

exhibition bannerBeyond Human: Female Sainthood

Introduction

With the growth of Christianity in the West, the pagan goddesses were destined for history, but vestiges of their personalities remained in the female saints whose number proliferated in both religious doctrine and the accompanying artistic record.

To be canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, one has to demonstrate remarkable qualities. This is achieved by selfless obligation to the faith and often performing miraculous deeds throughout one’s lifetime. As such, saints serve as models for exemplary behavior and are often beseeched for guidance or aid. Moreover, as positive representations of the Church, they often function as tools for propaganda. A large number of these saints are female and exemplify one role that can be appropriately filled by a woman in a male-dominated hierarchy.

Some female saints have performed selfless acts of charity, some have dedicated their lives to promoting their faith, some have died in defense of their faith, and some have been the mothers of important saints. Many of the qualities that characterize female saints, such as virginity, motherhood, or wisdom, also distinguish the pagan goddesses of antiquity. While women are marginalized in both religions, they can be paradoxically elevated to divine status.

Saints are often represented with distinctive attributes or with the symbols of their martyrdom. St. Catherine of Alexandria, who was to be killed on the wheel, is often accompanied by the wheel, or by the sword with which she was ultimately beheaded. Perhaps the most well-known of the female saints is Mary Magdalene. She emerged as the consummate symbol of female repentance and love for Christ. She is frequently shown in the act of repentance or with an ointment pot, the symbol for the washing of Christ’s feet.

(Use the links on the right to see this online exhibition.)

The Sacred Feminine Links:

The Sacred Mother
- Introduction
- Objects

The Dangerous Feminine
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Beyond Human: Female Sainthood
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Models of Knowledge and Power
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Devotees and Consorts
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

The Divine Queen
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

The Cult of the Virgin
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Contemporary Interpretations
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

exhibition illustration

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