0225 Transvestite Women Saints: Performing Asceticism in Late Antiquity

  • Hannah Hunt (Author)

    Hannah Hunt was a Reader in Eastern Christianity at Leeds Trinity University, UK, and is a Research Associate of The Open University, UK. Publications include Joy-Bearing Grief: Tears of Contrition in the Writings of the Early Syrian and Byzantine Fathers (Brill, Leiden, 2004), translated in Romanian by Doxologia Press in 2013; Clothed in the Body (Ashgate, Farnham, 2012); A Guide to St. Symeon the New Theologian (Cascade Series, Wipf and Stock, 2015). She researches into the spirituality of the early Eastern Christian Church, especially with regard to Syrian writings, and the gendering of spirituality. Another field of inquiry is the Mid-Byzantine socio-political context of the Abbot St Symeon the New Theologian.

Identifiers (Article)


During Late Antiquity, the secondary importance of women compared to men was manifest through attitudes to their spiritual prowess; it was assumed that a characteristic of the female was an absence of potential asceticism except in exceptional circumstances. Monastic asceticism at the period was dominated by male participants; there were cultural anxieties about 'womanish men', meaning that iconic representations of gender and spirituality are complex and informed by both secular and religious practices. In order to perform asceticism, some women dressed as men. This transvesticism did not simply guarantee acceptance, and some interpretations of church teachings asserted that true holiness predated a division between gender. Virginity was greatly valued. The metaphorical adorning of the soul rather than the body became a means to performing asceticism.


Transvestite, virginity, asceticism, gendering, Patristic, desert, soul, image of God