Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wilgefortis Comes To Brisbane

On Friday July 20 a group of Brisbane artists launched an exhibition titled "Wilgefortis"  at The Art Factory Gallery in South Brisbane. Even a well rounded Catholic like myself was surprised to discover that my cultural inheritance included this legend  of a bearded woman on a cross.

St Wilgefortis in keeping with any decent legend also went by various aliases: Liberata, Kummernis,  Uncumber, Ontkommer, Debarras and Livrade. None of these have made  the list of "popular name choices for your new baby" in ancient or contemporary sources.

She gets a decent coverage in a google search and her story can be told  in contemporary genre  using easy read dot points:

  • A happy virgin is promised in a traditional marriage transaction by her father to some equally patriarchal character.
  • Being a good Catholic girl she prays for a non violent  bit of divine intervention.
  • Her prayers are answered and she wakes up one day sporting enough facial hair to scare off any suitor.
  • Her dad does the only thing any honourable a chap could do in the circumstances and had her strung up on a cross.
There is also a youtube version for the  visually inclined:


The Brisbane Exhibition is not so much a hagiography as a reflection on the themes and images that this story tells of the human condition  The Church has eliminated devotion to  Wilgefortis along with other legendary characters as part of its quality control in the Second Vatican Council. However, it cannot eliminate the stories of exploitation,  abuse and the control of women's live and bodies that it has endorsed and supported for generations.

To really explore the creative vision that our local artists have brought o this exhibition I suggest you  visit the album I have created and read the bio notes. At the launch of the exhibition the costs of  refreshments were donated to the Ozcare Womens Refuge. This gesture speaks volumes of the artists commitment to their role as agents of social change.

 I am particularly thrilled to note that this exhibtion is on show as we celebrate another great medieval story, Christina The Astonishing, Virgin.

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