Divinity Manifest in a Female Body

Guglielma of Milan as the Holy Spirit, Female Deity and Female Leadership in the Later Middle Ages


  • Britt Istoft University of Southern Denmark




heresy, female godlanguage, the Middle Ages


The article investigates a medieval heretical group, the Guglielmites, who worshipped their founder Guglielma of Milan (d. 1281) as the Holy Spirit incarnate and expected another woman, Maifreda da Pirovano, to become pope, the vicar of the Holy Spirit, at Guglielma's second coming in the year 1300. This event was prevented, however, by Dominican inquisitors, but we know that Maifreda's priestly activities had been going on for years. The article argues that the theology and practice of the Guglielmites developed gradually on a background of mysticism, eschatological expectations, imitation of Christ, and Eucharistic devotion. However, contrary to much female godlanguage in the Middle Ages, which was symbolic, female divinity was seen as taking flesh in a woman, and for that reason also her vicar on earth had to be a woman. The feminizing of the Holy Spirit justified a change in the gender system of the Church.

Author Biography

Britt Istoft, University of Southern Denmark

Assistant Professor, Ph.D. Institute of Philosophy, Education and the Study of Religions


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How to Cite

Istoft, B. (2012). Divinity Manifest in a Female Body: Guglielma of Milan as the Holy Spirit, Female Deity and Female Leadership in the Later Middle Ages. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 41(2), 27–35. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsor.v41i2.27