Saint Wilgefortis was crucified for miraculously growing a beard after a period of prayer and was a popular religious figure across Northern Europe during the Middle Ages.
Wilgefortis was a Portuguese teenage noble woman who had devoted her life to Christ and virginity. Wilgefortis’ father promised her in marriage to a local pagan king against her will. In order to stop the marriage, Wilgefortis prayed that she might be made hideously unattractive, in answer to her prayer she miraculously grew a long beard overnight. The marriage was then called off and in a rage her father had her crucified.
Whilst her legend may seem somewhat bizarre, or even humorous today, there is a dark edge to the story when looked at from a context where trans and gender non-conforming lives are at risk in many places today. Wilgefortis stands as an early icon against transphobia and a hatred for those who reject the gender binary.
The Wilgefortis legend most likely arose after depictions of the Crucified Christ started to become more androgynous due to theological reasons. When these more feminine images of Christ were brought to Northern Europe they were, wrongly, assumed to be of someone else and so Wilgefortis’ legend was created.
Despite her, probable, lack of existence Wilgefortis continues to be venerated in parts of Europe today and she continues to be a symbol for those in abusive relationships and, more recently, for the trans* community.
A Prayer for Wilgefortis:
Lord God, we thank you for the legend of Wilgefortis. We pray for all those who find themselves in forced or arranged marriages around the world today. We ask for strength and bravery for those who fight against child marriage and ask that those who find themselves trapped in abusive relationships be comforted and set free. We pray also for gender rebels and nonconformists who live between genders that they may be free to express who they are without fear of persecution or violence. In your most Holy Name we pray. Amen
Suggested Bible verse: