Hidden Marks of Leadership: Holy Women and Invisible Stigmata in the Late Middle Ages

Carolyn A Muessig

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


This 11,000-word article considers ‘invisible stigmata’, sacred wounds that were described by those who claimed to have them as real and sometimes painful, but indiscernible to onlookers. These wounds are associated with a number of notable women; the article focuses on four of them: the nuns Beatrice of Nazareth (1200–1268) and Gertrude of Helfta (1256–1302), and the holy women Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) and Osanna of Mantua (1449–1505). I demonstrate that invisible stigmata indicated that these women were significantly involved in the religious formation of themselves and of others; and, with the examples of Catherine of Siena and Osanna of Mantua, the invisible marks highlighted a remarkable engagement in ecclesiastical and secular affairs. The sacramental quality of the hidden wounds both defended and validated these women’s active participation in late medieval religious life, facilitating a loosening of the gendered restrictions of ordination.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Essays on Medieval and Early Modern Mystical Women
Place of PublicationTurnhout
PublisherBrepols Publishers
Publication statusSubmitted - 6 Sept 2019


  • Beatrice of Nazareth; Gertrude of Helfta; Catherine of Siena; Osanna of Mantua; women and ordination; invisible stigmata


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