The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis Since the Middle Ages

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Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2001 M05 16 - 173 pages

Featuring more than twenty illustrations, including several works of art that were rediscovered by the author and are published here for the first time, The Female Crucifix: Images of St. Wilgefortis Since the Middle Ages provides a new perspective on a very old phenomenon.

The legendary bearded female St. Wilgefortis, also known by a variety of other names including “Kummernis” and “Uncumber,” was the object of fervent veneration in areas of Western and Central Europe for almost half a millennium.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, the legend of her dramatic transformation from a beautiful, privileged princess into a bearded, Christlike martyr on the cross inspired scores of paintings, sculptures, poems, prayers and shrines in her honour all across Europe. In spite of frequent opposition by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, her cult of veneration at one point nearly rivaled that of the Virgin Mary in some parts of Europe.

In this informative and groundbreaking new book, Professor Ilse E. Friesen examines the phenomenon of St. Wilgefortis from an art historical perspective, tracing the origins of depictions of the saint from an early medieval Italian statue known as Volto Santo, or “holy face,” through the emergence of increasingly feminized crucifixes over the course of the subsequent centuries. In particular, Professor Friesen focuses on an analysis of paintings, sculptures and frescoes originating in the German-speaking regions of Bavaria and Tyrol, where the veneration of the saint attained its peak.

With its emphasis on art as situated in the context of religion, spirituality, mythology, popular literature and gender relations, this book will have wide appeal.


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The Volto Santo and the Triumphal Crucifix
Gender Integration Imitation and Identification
3 The Origin of the Fiddler and the Legend of Gmünd
Images from Holland and England
The Bavarian Cult of the Female Crucifix in Neufahrn
6 The Kümmernis Chapel of Burghausen in Bavaria
7 St Kummernus or St Kümmernis in Tyrol
Past and Present
9 Christa and the Blending of Gender in Contemporary Society

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Page 11 - Spirit in the inward man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.

About the author (2001)

Ilse E. Friesen has been a professor of art history and coordinator of Fine Arts at Wilfrid Laurier University since 1988.

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