College of Arts and Sciences



Faculty Mentor

María Bullón-Fernández, PhD

Faculty Editor

Katherine Koppelman, PhD

Student Editor

Jack Kuyper; Sareena Toothaker


The legends of female saints in the Middle Ages, characterized by a genre called hagiography, are steeped with violence towards women’s bodies in a favoring of their spiritual purity. These stories center the violence in tales of competition between men, where an idolterous man continually threatens her virginity and she ultimately dies in the name of her Christian faith. Their virginity, which is emphasized more through their spiritual selves than their physical bodies, is ultimately performed; performance, here, is defined by Judith Butler and serves to aid in analysis of why the stories of female saints center physical violence and highlight spiritual chastity. Research thus far focuses on the ways in which virginity defined the saints’ identities, but there is little scholarship on the anxiety of men and patriarchal rule that is unconsciously revealed in these formulaic tales. The investigation of the female saints’ performance in the context of competition between men both unveils the attitudes towards women of the time and demonstrates places where they could unexpectedly gain agency. Overall, this research hopes to unpack the medieval genre of hagiography, its treatment of women, and its impact on medieval society.