Significant Christian women in European History – David Watts

Significant Christian women in European History – David Watts

There are many inspiring records of Christian women

from the Reformation era onwards. But that period is

only one quarter of Church history so far. Prior to the

16th Century reformation, Christian believers were

members of the Early – and later – the Mediaeval

(Western) and Eastern-Orthodox Churches. We

should not allow our Protestant sensibilities to

consider ourselves superior to those earlier followers

of Christ, amongst whom were some remarkable

women. Here we glance at a few examples.


Euphemia, known as the All-praised in the Eastern

Orthodox Church, was a Christian saint martyred for

her faith in AD 303 for refusing to offer sacrifices to

the Greek ‘god’ Ares. She was arrested and, after

suffering torture, died in the arena at Chalcedon in

Bythinia from a wound sustained from a bear. She is

commemorated by the Anglican Church, on

September 16th, the date of her martyrdom.


Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) was a

princess of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Her ancestry included many notable figures

of European royalty, going back as far as

Vladimir the Great of the Kyivan Rus

(Ukraine). The famous Elizabeth bridge in

Budapest is named after her. In those days,

the Kingdom extended into the region of Thuringia (now central Germany).

Elizabeth was happily married at the age of 14 to

Louis IV, Landgrave of Thuringia. Thereby, Elizabeth

lived at the Wartburg castle at Eisenach, where –

three centuries later – Martin Luther translated the

Bible into German. But she was widowed aged 20 –

just a few weeks before the birth of her third child,

Gertrude. After her husband’s death, Elizabeth

assumed control of affairs at home, building a

hospital at Marburg where she herself served the sick

and distributed alms in all parts of their territory, even

giving away state robes and ornaments to the poor.

Nevertheless, like many widows in that era, Elizabeth

had a very difficult life. She became a symbol of

Christian charity after her death at the age of 24.


Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) was born during an

outbreak of the plague in Siena, Italy. She was the

25th child born to her mother, although half of her

brothers and sisters did not survive childhood.

Despite her deep Christian beliefs, she did not enter a

convent but joined the Third Order of St. Dominic,

which allowed her to live at home. Fellow Dominican

sisters taught Catherine how to read. Meanwhile, she

lived quietly, within her family home and developed a

habit of giving things away including her family’s

food and clothing to people in need. At the age of 21

she had a mystical vision of Christ which led her to re-

enter public life and to help the poor and sick.

Although she only lived to the age of 33, her life had a

profound influence on Italian literature and the

Christian Church in her day.