Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
Women who were leaders in the Middle Ages

Women who were leaders in the Middle Ages

Catherine of Siena


Catherina Benincasa was born in 1347. When she was 16 years old she became a Dominican tertiary. She was involved in an active apostolate, but was also a mystic who received the stigmata in 1371. In 1376 she travelled to Avignon and persuaded Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome. After writing her Dialogues, she died in 1380.

Catherine felt called to the priesthood. Her spiritual director records:

“Remembering that she was a woman, she many times (as she confessed to me) thought of imitating St. Euphrosyne, who had gone into a monastery dressed in men’s clothing, so that she could go into distant parts where no one knew her, pretending to be a man, and so enter the Order of Preaching Friars and help towards the salvation of souls.

In his visions to her Christ said to her:

“Do you not remember that the zeal for souls which I planted and watered in your soul in the days of your infancy grew to such an extent that you planned to disguise yourself as a man and enter the Order of Preachers, and so be more useful to yourself and other souls? . . . What if I were to lead you now to do what in infancy you desired to do?”

"Am not I He who created the human race, and divided it into male and female? I spread abroad the grace of my spirit where I will."

“In my eyes there is neither male nor female, rich nor poor, but all are equal, for I can do all things with equal ease.

of the

Adele of Pfazel

Adele was the daughter of eight-century King Dagobert II. Married to the nobleman Alberic, she proved herself a devoted wife and mother. When her husband died she became a nun and founded a convent at Pfazel near Treves. As its Abbess she became known for her great compassion towards the poor. abbess

Agnes of Prague

She was the daughter of King Ottokar of Bohemia in the 13th century. She was a very wealthy woman and used her wealth to found hospitals, a friary and a convent. Rather than get married, she wanted to serve God, so she entered the convent of Poor Clares in Prague. When she became the Abbess there, she promoted charity throughout the city. abbess

Angela Merici

She lived in the sixteenth century. She did not marry, nor become a nun, but a lay teacher. Horrified by the lack of education for girls, she gathered a group of women round her to help her teach the poor girls. Later this group became the Ursuline order. In her time nuns were enclosed, but she ensured that her followers would be allowed to work outside of the convent in education. foundress
of schools


She lived in the early seventh century. She was an English Princess. She married, was widowed, married again, then separated. She became a nun and founded the great abbey of Ely. ‘St. Audrey’s Fair’, celebrated on 23 June through the Middle Ages, presented the marketing of such shoddy merchandise that the word tawdry entered the language (corruption of ‘St. Audrey’). queen and

Beatrice da Silva Meneses

She was born 1424 in Ceuta, Portugal, daughter of the Count of Biana. She spent most of her life at the royal court of Queen Isabel of Castile in Spain. She became a nun. When she was 60 years old she founded the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. princess

Bridget of Kildare

Bridget was born around 450 to a druid family. At an early age, she decided to become a Christian and she eventually took vows as a nun. She ruled over the joint monastery for men and women at Kildare as an Abbess with all the authority that involved. According to ancient sources, she was ordained a bishop by Bishop Mél of Telcha Mide. abbess

Bridget of Sweden

Born of rich landholders, she married Ulfo, Prince of Nericia, and had eight children. After her husband’s death, she built a monastery at Wastein. This was the start of a monastic order of women called Brigittines. She made many journeys to other countries. She died as a pilgrim in Rome (1303 - 1373).


Clare of Assisi

Clare was the eldest daughter of Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso. When she heard St Francis of Assisi preach she wanted to live a life like his and she embraced poverty. She ran away from her home so that she could live the life of a religious. She was joined by other women who wanted to share her life of utter simplicity (1194 - 1253). religious

Elizabeth of Portugal

She was a Spanish princess who married King Denis of Portugal. She loved to spend time in prayer and doing works of charity. Because her husband was suspicious and jealous, it was not always a happy marriage but she continued to remain faithful to it. She was noted for her kindness to the poor and was a successful peacemaker between members of her own family and between nations (1271 - 1336). queen

Elizabeth of Hungary

She married Louis of Thuringia. She was always concerned for the poor, she donated all her money to them and show much love and care. After her husband died in the Crusades, she renounced worldly wealth, built a hospice for the weak and sickly and invited the poorest people to come and stay with her. queen

Flora of Beaulieu

She was born in France in 1309. She did not want to be married and entered the Priory of Beaulieu of St John of Jerusalem. She found it hard to live in community and suffered from depression. Nevertheless she gained a reputation for holiness and was reputed to have visions. People flocked to her for spiritual direction. mystic

Germaine Cousin

Germane came from a very unhappy home. She was severely abused and neglected as a child. She made her living as a simple shepherdess. Her faith was central to her life. She lived in poverty, but always shared what she had with other people. She did not have any education, but had a total faith in God’s love for her. She is the patroness of abused children (1579 - 1601). exemplary

Gertrude of Helfta

Born at Eisleben in Saxony. She entered a convent at the age of five. She was elected Abbess in 1251. She was very well educated which was unusual for a woman at that time. She wrote in Latin. She was also very well versed in the study of the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church. Hers was a hidden life with great mental activity. She wrote various books on spirituality. mystic
and abbess

Hildegard of Bingen

Born in Brockelheim (1098). She entered a monastery at the age of 33. She eventually became Abbess of a double monastery of men and women. She opposed bishops who interfered with her autonomy. She was extremely well educated. She was a great mystic, a poetess and prophetess. Her best known book Scivias is a medieval classic. mystic
and abbess

Isabel of France

She was the sister of St Louis and daughter of the French King, Louis VIII. She refused offers of marriage, but wanted a life where she could minister to the sick and the poor. After the death of her mother, she founded a Fransican Monastery at Longchamps and went to live there in austerity, but did not take the veil and refused to become Abbess. princess,


She was born in England and was a relative of the great St Boniface. She entered the monastic life at Wimbourne in Dorsetshire. She was sent with twenty-nine companions to become abbess of Bischofheim Monastery in Mainz, Germany. She herself founded other houses in Germany and served as an abbess for twenty-eight years. She died in 781. abbess


She was born of a noble family and married King Henry I in 909. As a queen she was noted for her generosity to the poor. In her life time she built many churches and supported many monasteries. She was also involved in mediating between her younger son who revolted against his brother the king. Her final years were spent in a monastery. queen


Mildred was the daughter of the seventh-century Anglian ruler Merewald. She entered the convent of Minster on the Isle of Thanet. There she became the Abbess after a time and devoted her ministry to the community, but also to the poor people of the area. She would take care of the sick and help farmers and their labourers in any way she could. She never turned any one away. abbess

Natalie Sabigotho

Saint Natalie married Saint Aurelius, the son of a Moor and a Spanish woman who was secretly raised as a Christian. When she married him she became a Christian and adopted the name Natalie. They lived at a time of persecution by the Moorish rulers of Cordoba in the 10th century and they were both martyred by beheading for practising the Christian faith. martyr

Olga of Kiev

Born in 879, she married Prince Igor I of Kiev, Russia. When he was assassinated, she proved a ruthless queen who condemned many of her husband’s enemies to death. However, she was baptised and changed totally. She tried to bring Christianity to her country by asking for missionaries, but they failed in their efforts. She died in 969. queen

Rita of Cascia

She was born in Roccaporena in Italy, in 1381. Her parents forced her to marry against her will. She had two sons who died and the marriage was very unhappy. When she was widowed she joined the Augustinians in Cascia. She was noted for her austerity of life, but even more for her charity to the poor and needy. She died in 1413. mystic

Rose of Lima

She was born at Lima, Peru, in 1586. Although her real name was Isabel, she was so beautiful that she was called Rose. She looked after her parents rather than be married. When they died, she continued a very simple life of charity and simplicity. She is the patroness of Latin America and of the Philippines. carer,

Teresa of Avila

Born in Avila, Spain, in 1515. In 1535 she entered a Carmelite Convent. She became a great reformer of religious life, and founded many convents. She was a mystic and wrote many books, among them the “Interior Castle” and “Way of Perfection”, classics on prayer and mysticism. She was declared a Doctor of the Church. She died in 1582. mystic,

Yvette of Huy

Born near Liege in 1158, she married at the early age of 13 but was widowed when she was 18. By then she had three children. While looking after her own children she also took up the care of lepers. For the last thirty-six years of her life she lived on her own as a hermit and was noted for her mystical experiences. Many people came seeking her advice. hermit
and mystic
Why sponsor a ‘saint’? What do we mean with ‘saints’? The rationale of our sponsorship scheme What do you gain by sponsoring a ‘saint’? What is the procedure of sponsoring?

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.