Gemma Animae (146-147): Women

Chapter 146
On the Women

Veiled Face

And the women do not enter the church after giving birth (Levit. 15), because they signify the unclean who are excluded from the heavenly temple. If their health permits, however, they may enter the church to give thanks to God on the same day on which they give birth. On account of this same signification, it is the custom in many places in which the men and women are mixed together in the nave [1], that women who are menstruating stand outside the church, and must not enter the Church, as those doing penance. Pope Linus commanded women to be veiled in church, following the teaching of Blessed Peter and Paul. This was done for three reasons. First, to prevent the hearts of the young men from being filled with impure desires incited by their free tresses, since they are a snare of the devil. Second, lest certain of them be puffed up with pride on account of the beauty of their locks. Third, so that they recall how the guilt of original sin came through the woman. For Christ is the judge of the wicked, and the priest is his vicar. Therefore the woman must veil herself before the priest, as a guilty women who is conscious of so great a sin hides her shame before the judge. Thus when the Apostles says mulier velata sit propter angelos (I Cor 11), he means priests. For they are not permitted to speak in the churches (I Cor 11), which means to address the people. Neither are we allowed to speak in church except in hymns, psalms, and spiritual canticles, and prayers, so that we may be married (conjungamur) to heavenly things [2].

[1] It was common in many places in Europe, as it is in some eastern churches today, for men and women to stand on opposite sides of the nave, separated by a sort of secondary choir screen. Honorius has interpreted the significance of this division in several places before in a way that shows that he considers it normal. See, e.g., Ch 22:

“The deacon, according to rule, turns towards the south while he reads the Gospel, because the men to whom spiritual things must be preached usually stand in this part. Men, of course, signify the spiritual, and the south represents the Holy Ghost. Now, however, according to the usual custom he turns towards the north where the women stand; they represent the carnal, for the Gospel calls the carnal toward spiritual things.”

In another arrangement (see below), the men would stand within the choir screen and the women without.

[2] Recall that Honorius is writing to brother monks, who have given up the conjugal state to give themselves wholly to the contemplative life.

Rood Screen (Women outside)
Miracle of the Crib of Greccio, Giotto, Church of San Francesco (Source)


St Bernard preaching in the Campo of Siena.

CAP. CXLVI. – De mulieribus.

Mulieres quoque post partum (Levit. XV) ecclesiam non intrant, quia immundos a templo coelesti excludi designant. Alioquin si prae infirmitate valerent, eadem die, qua parerent, intrare ecclesias eis liceret, ut Deo gratias agerent. Propter hanc significationem in multis locis menstruae viris commistae, foris ecclesiam stare solent, et ob hoc poenitentes intrare ecclesiam non debent. Linus papa ex praecepto beatorum Petri et Pauli constituit, ut mulieres in ecclesia velatae sint. Et hoc propter tres causas fit: una est, cum sint decipula diaboli, ne laxis earum crinibus iuvenum animi illaqueentur; alia est ne quaedam illarum ob formositatem capillorum superbia eleventur, quaedam vero ne ob deformitatem illorum deturpentur; tertia est ut reatus originalis peccati, qui per mulierem evenit, ad memoriam nobis revocetur. Iudex quippe malorum est Christus: sacerdos eius vicarius. Ante sacerdotem ergo debet se mulier velare velut rea et tanti mali sibi conscia coram iudice celare. Unde dicit Apostolus, ut mulier velata sit propter angelos (I Cor. XI) , id est sacerdotes. In ecclesiis enim non permittitur eis loqui (II Cor. LVI) , id est populum alloqui. Et nobis quoque non licet loqui in ecclesia, nisi in hymnis, et psalmis, et canticis spiritualibus, et orare, ut coniungamur coelestibus.

eyck veils

Ch. 147
On the Cemetery

The cemetery, which means the dormitory of the dead, is the bosom of the Church, because just as she bore them dead to the world for Christ through the womb of baptism, in the same way, when they are dead in the flesh, she cradles them in her bosom and leads them to eternal life.

Our churches, which are made in the form of a cross, show us that the people of the Church must be crucified to the world. But the round ones that are made in the form of a circle show us the Church is being built throughout the whole circle of the world into the circle of an eternal crown, through love.



2 thoughts on “Gemma Animae (146-147): Women

  1. “Men, of course, signify the spiritual, […] they [the women] represent the carnal, […].”
    I find this an interesting take because it seems nowadays that there is the opposite idea – men are more carnal, and women more spiritual (please correct me if I’m wrong).

    “Third, so that they recall how the guilt of original sin came through the woman.”
    Now this is an eye opener! I have heard modern priests argue for women to recover the veil because “the church veils that which is sacred” (and women are “sacred” in the sense that they are able to bring forth life). I wonder how these priests would square that with this interpretation!


  2. Also, what is meant by the guilt of original sin coming through woman? I thought Adam was to blame (even though Eve let herself be tricked first).


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