click here for gadget for god  
about the ship sign up for our newsletter
community the mystery worshipper gadgets for god caption competition foolishness features ship stuff
features home columnists archive
loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

More Loose Canons here
25: St Wilgefortis and her miraculous beard
capital SANY SAINTS HAD THEIR beards plucked out as a standard accessory to martyrdom. Here's a rare (but not unique) example of the opposite.

Wilgefortis was the daughter of the King of Portugal, who announced to her one day that she was to marry the King of Sicily. Like all good Christian girls, the prospect of marriage appalled and revolted her, and she looked for a way out. (To be fair, I would find being given in marriage to a medieval king of Sicily a pretty horrible prospect too, so fair play to her.)

No escape offered itself, so Wilgefortis prayed for a miracle. Boy, did she get one. Just as his Sicilian majesty arrived to inspect his bride, the Lord blessed her with a beard, a real, magnificent, Old Testament one. The King of Sicily suddenly remembered he had left his cauldron on and went home to disembowel his royal portrait painter.

The Portuguese king flew into a rage. Quite how he knew the beard was her fault was not clear but he was determined to punish her. There are only a certain number of times you can ground your kids before it becomes a routine gesture, so he had her crucified, her superabundant hirsutery billowing prophetically in the wind.

A post-structuralist deconstruction of Wilgefortis: her story seems to empower women – allowing her to define herself not as daughter and wife, but as independent person – but only at the cost of becoming masculine; and then it punishes her feminism with (phallic) execution.

Medieval scholars on the other hand tell us the legend grew out of effeminate images of Jesus crucified in what looks like a dress, such as the Volto Santo at Lucca in Tuscany, but there's little that medieval scholars won't tell us if we give them the chance.

Personally, I would just like to say that without miraculously bearded women we would all be the poorer. St Wilgefortis's Day is 20th July. She is the patron of unhappy wives, and should that leave her any time at all, I'm sure she takes an interest in unhappy fiancées too. If you find she is able to get you out of a marital jam, bearded or otherwise, do please let us know.

More Loose Canons
st simeon
St Simeon
Don't forget to pay your respects to our patron saint, St Simeon the Holy Fool.
follow ship of fools on twitter
buy your ship of fools postcards