Between the 12th and the 16th centuries, women assumed public roles of unprecedented prominence in Italian religious culture. Legally subordinated, politically excluded, socially limited and ideologically disdained, women's active participation in religious life offered them access to power in all its forms. These essays explore the involvement of women in religious life throughout northern and central Italy and trace the evolution of communities of pious women as they tried to achieve their devotional goals despite the strictures of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The contributors examine relations between holy women, their devout followers and society at large. This book shows how women were able to carve out broad areas of influence by carefully exploiting the institutional church and by astutely manipulating religious precepts.