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

1400 - 1500 AD

from a perspective of women in the Church



before Christ
0-100 AD

This century was marked by ordinary citizens fighting for their rights against the old feudal overlords.

Pockets of this new world emerged in the Netherlands, Switserland and other parts of Europe. Unfortunately, this new trend did not extend to an understanding of human rights.

The Portuguese began to capture slaves in Africa and put them to work at home and on overseas plantations. The bull 'Dum Diversas' by Pope Nicholas V (18 June 1452) authorised the Portuguese to reduce captives to the status of slaves provided they were not Christians. Two years later (Romanus Pontifex, 8 January 1454) the same Pope granted the monopoly of the slave trade to the Portuguese - which the Spanish ignored. Thus started the official Church's shameful condoning of slavery in modern times.

Religious intolerance dominated Christian thinking. Wycliffe's tranlation of the Bible into the vernacular was rejected and his books burned (1409). The Czech reformer John Hus was burnt at the stake (1415). The Inquisition terrorised Spain. Jews were expelled from Austria and Switserland. Joan of Arc was captured by the English, accused of being a witch and publicly burnt at the stake (23 May 1430)

Meanwhile Pope Innocent VIII worsened the madness of witch hunting by publicly endorsing the atrocious 'Hammer of Witches' (Summis Desiderantes, 5 December 1484 .

The new citizens of Europe

from painting by Rogier van der Weyden

Post-scholastic theologians

This was a low point in Christian theology. There were few original thinkers. The prejudices from the past were usually simply repeated or brought down to new levels of insanity. There were some exceptions to this rule.

c. 1370-1430 "Extraordinary thing that Christ, the first pontiff . . . . when considering a sign visibly instituted for humanity, he would never choose his own mother, predestined and a virgin, for the priesthood, but rather chose Judas, a married male, lost in such monstrous sins and known beforehand to be so . . . . . "
1402-1471 "Some women both from natural disposition and from the gift of grace are more disposed for elevation to God than many males; are wiser, more virtuous in all devotion. Therefore ahead of many males they are likewise more suitable and worthy of holy orders. And if it is said that the feminine sex is the sex of subjugation; it may be objected that there are many feminine leaders, and one of them has been constituted lady or queen of the whole world, the mother of God incarnate, the most holy and most transcendent virgin Mary . . . . "
Characteristic of the opinion of post-scholastic theologians is the so-called "Hammer of Witches", a handbook on how to discover and punish witches. Excerpts from this book reveal incredible prejudices against women!

The theme of Mary’s priestly dignity
1400 -1500

From this time the devotion to Mary Priests beings to flourish in the West. The painting on the left (Amiens, 1438) shows Mary wearing a priestly chasuble. She stands at the altar and distributes holy communion.

Antoninus had imbibed the anti-feminine prejudices of the Decree of Gratian but his true Catholic sense showed in his respect for Mary's womanhood and her priestly dignity.
He wrote that: “Mary is high priest, second after Christ”.


Women's Emancipation 1400 - 1500

We find some outstanding examples of women who avail themselves of fortunate circumstances to take on leading roles in society, proving that women do not deserve the lowly status usually accorded to them.

One of the main obstacles facing women was the lack of education. Sons would routinely be offfered opportunities that were systematically withheld from daughters.

An extraordinary example - outside Europe - of women transcending cultural prejudice.


The first woman in Europe to successfully make a living through writing.


c. 1373 - after 1438
The story of Margery Kempe's travels and the mystical conversations she conducted with Christ for more than forty years.


c. 1480
Contains an essay on hunting attributed to Dame Juliana Barnes who traditionally was the prioress of Sopwell Priory near St Albans.


She played an important part in 15th century English politics and also founded colleges and chairs at Oxford and Cambridge.


The star rating indicates the importance
for the advance of women

John Wijngaards


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.