The Church’s gifts to civilisation

The status of women

St Therese of Lisieux is a saint and doctor of the Church and is venerated by Catholics

Contrary to popular prejudice, extraordinary and influential women have been one of the hallmarks of Catholic civilisation. The faith has honoured many women saints, including recent Doctors of the Church, and nurtured great nuns, such as St Hilda (d 680) (after whom St Hilda’s College, Oxford, is named) and Saint Hildegard von Bingen (d 1179), abbess and polymath (expertise spanning many subject areas). Pioneering Catholic women in political life include Empress Matilda (d 1167), Eleanor of Aquitaine (d 1204) and the first Queen of England, Mary Tudor (d 1558).

Catholic civilisation also produced many of the first women scientists and professors: Trotula of Salerno in the 11th century, Dorotea Bucca (d 1436), who held a chair in medicine at the University of Bologna, Elena Lucrezia Piscopia (d 1684), the first woman to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree (1678) and Maria Agnesi (d 1799), the first woman to become professor of mathematics, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XIV as early as 1750.

 Click for next page