Veils, Virgins, and the Tongues of Men and Angels: Women’s Heads in Early Christianity

  • Mary Rose D’Angelo


Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s wonderment at the preoccupation of early Christian male writers with women’s clothing—and, in particular, headdress—directs our attention to the real foreground of early Christian writings on women’s heads: the minds of men. For early Christian men, as, it seems, for men of antiquity in general, women’s heads were indeed sexual members, and at least two of these men, Paul and Tertullian, expended much thought and no little ink in efforts to enforce the sexual character of women’s heads. Their association of women’s heads and genitals seems to be entirely conscious; in the case of Tertullian, it is startlingly explicit. It is far from clear, on the other hand, that early Christian women experienced their heads as sexual organs. While it is possible to discern traces of the women’s religious clothing and hairdressing practices in the works of these men, we have no direct access to the meanings the women themselves gave them. Antiquity provides some clues suggesting that these meanings may have differed widely from male interpretations of women’s bodies and dress. But for the most part, the women of early Christianity are visible to later generations only through the eroticizing veil of the male gaze.


Fourth Century Great Honor Biblical Literature Christian Woman Visionary Experience 
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Copyright information

© Elizabeth A. Castelli 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Rose D’Angelo

There are no affiliations available

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