Power Through Purity: The Virgin Martyrs and Women’s Salvation in Pre-Reformation Scotland
Women in Scotland : C.1100 – c.1750, edited by Elizabeth Ewan and Maureen M. Meikle (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1999)
In late medieval Scotland the key to success in the afterlife was gaining sufficient spiritual worth to move quickly from the fires of purgatory to the joys of heaven. The church offered women role models to help them achieve this spiritual worthiness. Jesus himself was the greatest role model for Christians, and male saints could also provide direction, but the Blessed Virgin Mary and the virgin martyrs were considered women’s best exemplars. Contemporary understanding of women’s nature derived from Aristotelian biology.’ Scottish theologians held Eve to account for the Fall and humanity’s sinfulness and associated her female descendants with matter, the senses and a lack of moral strength, shame or selfrespect. In the poem The Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo, William Dunbar (c.146o-1514) created female characters who equated ‘love’ and `nature’ with sexual appetite rather than with constancy and loyalty.