Despite religious claims of a spiritual egalitarianism in the heavenly kingdom, there was a definite tendency in the Middle Ages to organize the celestial realm according to the established customs, values, and hierarchy of earthly society. In this study of over 2500 female and male saints, Jane Schulenburg explores women's status and experience in early medieval society and in the Church. She focuses on the changing social contexts of female sanctity (women saints as embodiments of cultural models) as well as extravagant, "transgressive" or "deviant" female behaviour which frequently challenged male order and authority. She argues that between 500-1100 a clear gender-based asymmetry existed in the selection of saints, which became more exaggerated during certain eras. The title, "Forgetful of Their Sex," is taken from St Jerome's writings and refers to women's ability to deny or transcend the "natural frailty" of their sex, or to act in a "virile" or heroic manner. This study depicts the lives of these strong, creative, independent-minded women who achieved a visibility in their society which led to recognition of sanctity.
She also examines some of the major contributing factors involved in establishing reputations for sanctity and the recruitment and promotion of saints, including family wealth and power, patronage, monasticism, virginity, motherhood, and longevity. Invaluable for what they tell us about early medieval society and the Church, the lives of these early saints also afford rare insight into the private world of medieval men and women, the special bonds of family and friendship, and the collective mentalities of the period. This book should constitute a major contribution to the study of medieval history, gender and religion. 20 halftones