Friday, April 6, 2007

St. Mary of Egypt

While conversing with my aunt today about college and the paper I'm writing on the deconstruction of gender in early Christianity, I stumbled over a happy recognition that a point made in class on Wednesday brings together an illustration of the subject I'm discussing in my paper and my favorite subject iconography. *does the happy dance*

I mentioned that I planned to focus on eunuchs and cross-dressing women in my paper and used St. Mary of Egypt as an example of a cross-dressing woman ascetic. I then rambled for a moment about how I thought that it was quite interesting that out of several female saints who cross-dressed that only St. Mary of Egypt's iconography has preserved that aspect of her life, and even furthers it by portraying her without breasts to indicate that she through ascetic practices had become a spiritual male. St. Thecla, St. Pelagia -- not so much, they're both in women's clothing in the icons I found on a quick Google search. So, I wonder, what factors were different in case of St. Mary's iconography?

Icon of St. Mary Egypt pulled from here. (They also have a rather lovely one of St. Mary Magdalen.)


Anonymous said...

I might misunderstand your statement due to not knowing the point of your paper, but I must suggest you actually read the life of St. Mary of Egypt. She was not a cross dresser. She is depicted in her icons a certain way because it would be wrong to depict her naked as she was in the desert for quite some time.

But if you are interested in a woman dressing up as a man, talk to an Orthodox priest (you are in Russia, there are many) not only about St. Mary of Egypt, but also St. Dositheus, who lived as a monk and only at death was it discovered she was a woman. There are a couple of these saints in the Church.

WordK said...

I appreciate your comment, and assure you that I have actually read the life of St. Mary of Egypt. Several times.

I do agree with you that Mary is not a cross-dresser given further analysis. She is, however, frequently grouped with a number of saints who did in fact cross-dress. I have found in the intervening months between this stage of the paper and later stages, that a sophisticated analysis can be best achieved by both comparing and contrasting both types of accounts -- and the iconography is what tipped me off to pay closer attention to the differences.

Thanks for the suggestion to consider the life of St. Dositheus.