St Wilgefortis / Uncumber / Liberada: Saintly Bearded Woman?

A wonderful example of a sainted bearded lady?


Unfortunately, she may also be an example of a ‘saint’ whose biography is more popular fiction than recorded history. Still, she is listed in the standard catholic reference works, and has had an official feast day, as well as a bewildering array of aliases, among them Liberata, Kummernis,  Uncumber, and Livrade,  Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love blog expands on these names, with some notes on their origins:

The name Wilgefortis may come from the Latin “virgo fortis” (strong virgin). In Spanish she is Librada — meaning “liberated” from hardship and/or husbands. She also goes by a bewildering variety of other names. Her alternate English name Uncumber means escaper. In addition, she is known as Liberata, Livrade, Kummernis, Komina, Comera, Cumerana, Ulfe, Ontcommen, Dignefortis, Europia, and Reginfledis.

Jesus in Love

Of the biographical details, take them as you will.  For what it is worth, the legend says that she was the daughter of a king, who had taken a vow of virginity.  When her father wanted to marry her off to the King of Sicily, she prayed for deliverance from this evil fate.   Whereupon she grew a beard.  What self-respecting king would want to marry a bearded princess?  Her father was said to be so enraged at this that he had her crucified.  This may be the reason she bacme known as the patron saint of difficult marriages – but crucifixion seems an extreme way to end one.

Modern sceptical scholars suggest that the story of her beard and crucixion are sheer invention, arising from a misinterpretation of a conventional crucifix, with Christ in a tunic, incorrectly identified as a woman in a dress. Spoilsports!  Why let facts get in the way of a good story?  Sadly, her cult was supressed and she was dropped from the calendar in 1969 (along with many others who had been treated for centuries as saints by popular acclaim, including Saints Sergius and Bacchus).

Myth or not, as a gender transgressive person of deep faith, Kittredge Cherry has a note on why her story is today of importance to LGBT Christians :

Contemporary readers have come up with many theories about Wilgefortis. She has been interpreted as the patron saint of intersex people, an asexual person, a person with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or a powerful lesbian virgin.

Jesus in Love

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