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.