Elite female pilgrims are some of the most celebrated and well-studied women of Late Antiquity. The narratives surrounding the travels of women such as Egeria or Paula constitute a large proportion of our knowledge about pilgrimage practice in general and have formed the focus for the study of gender and pilgrimage in particular. This bias towards famous literary sources and elite experience, however, obscures our understanding of the “normal” women who made up the majority of female pilgrims. This article seeks to redress this imbalance by integrating material and textual sources from three sites of early Christian pilgrimage in order to better understand the interconnected relationship women had with these shrines. Evidence from the shrines of Saint Menas at Abu Mina, Saint Simeon the Stylite the Elder at Qal'at Sem'an, and Saint Thecla at Seleucia show how gender could shape pilgrimage experience and how sites recognised women as a specific visitor demographic and catered to their needs. This was achieved through the provision of narratives related to the dangers of pilgrimage, segregated spaces, and products aimed at women to purchase. In a wider sense, it argues that many women in Late Antiquity had greater freedom to travel and move in public spaces than is often recognised and that this freedom was not necessarily dependent on marital or sexual status.
Research Article| June 01 2019
Early Christian Female Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Saint Menas, Saint Simeon the Elder, and Saint Thecla1
Studies in Late Antiquity (2019) 3 (2): 251–293.
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Grace Stafford; Early Christian Female Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Saint Menas, Saint Simeon the Elder, and Saint Thecla. Studies in Late Antiquity 1 June 2019; 3 (2): 251–293. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sla.2019.3.2.251
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