Interesting Women: Wilhelmina Bohemica

Innocently reading through an introduction to European mysticism* I found a strange person mentioned, Wilhelmine von Böhmen. In the chapter about Italian mystics the usual suspects are listed like Dante, Francisus, Angela da Foligno (Ger., Eng.), Katharina da Siena (Ger., Eng.; book) et al. In the last paragraph Guglielma (Vilemina, Wilhelmine) Bohemica is called a stigmatised. The list of catholic stigmatised people is pretty long I guess, but I have never heard about a Bohemian Wilhelmina.
As WEHR says she appeared in Milano (Ger., Eng.) around/after 1260, formed a group of followers, and died there 1279 (according to wikipedia 1281). The group believed that the holy ghost was embodied in Wilhelmina, and that the new æra of the renovated ecclesia spiritualis (what would start according to Joachim von Fiore (Ger., Eng.) in the year 1260) would be dominated by the charismatic woman, she’d be the new pope.
The  body of source material is very thin, it seems to be only one report: The Carthusian monk Matteo VALERIANO (I could find nothing about him) went into a grocer’s store (Where? When?) “in the 16th century” and noticed that the goods were wrapped in sheets of written pergamentum. He bought the “wrapping paper”. It was the file on the process of the Wilhelminiten by the notarius Beltramus SALVAGNIUS (no further info), sadly not complete. There must have been another report, the second notarius was Manfredo da CERA (no further info), but it is seemingly lost.  The wikipedia-article mentions that “in 1788 the archive in Milano burnt down”, but I do not know what archive is meant, and could not verify this.
Wilhelmina** was the daughter of king Ottokar I. Premysl (Ger., Eng.) from Bohemia and his second wife Constance from Hungaria (Ger., Eng.). She was born 1210 and died on the 24th of August 1281 in Milano. She was first buried in the cemetery of San Pietro all’Orto, later her body was brought into the abbey of Chiaravalle (Ger., Eng.). Her successor was Mayfreda PIROVANO of the cloister in Biassono (Ger., Eng.).
The idea was that the renovatio of the church, the already mentioned start of the new æra, would be led and dominated by females and that the holy spirit was embodied in Wlhelmina. Her successor Mayfreda acted as pope to their adherents and they formed not only a loose group, but a real sect. Mayfreda  teached, preached, and administered the sacraments. Her followers called her in letters “dominus meus dominus vicarius”, a formula reserved for the pope, they also kissed her foot and hand. In 1284 the inquisition  took notice of the group, some members were interrogated; they renunciated their errors, received a symbolic punishment and that was that.
In 1296 pope Bonifacius VIII. (Ger., Eng.) signed the bulla S[a]epe Sanctam Ecclesiam (aka Nuper ad Audientiam***), where in the first part practices were described as heretic that the Guglielmites seemingly had accepted: Women preaching, solving and binding, hearing confession, giving absolution, wearing the tonsur (Ger., Eng.). The final blow came 1300. Mayfreda held the Easter liturgy on the 10th of April. She was called before the inquisition on the 19th; a new process started on the 20th of July, and in September Mayfreda, together with Jacoba BASSANI, Bellacara CARENTANO, Andreas SARAMITA, and the remains of Wilhelmina, was burnt to death. The rest of the group survived.
Sister Mayfreda belongs to the important Milanese VISCONTI family, cousin of a Matteo VISCONTI, and interestingly a Galeazzo VISCONTI is among the members of the heretic group. Whether there is a connection to “Aradia di Toscano” (Ger., Eng.) is imho at least doubtful.

* WEHR, Gerhard: Europäische Mystik zur Einführung, Hamburg 1995 (Zur Einführung 121)
** I follow the German wikipedia article.
*** I cite this bulla following the aformentioned wikipedia-article, but am unable to verify this: I have not found such a bulla. Maybe it is another papal instrumentum; if anyone can shed some light on this, I’d be very happy to complement this!

10 thoughts on “Interesting Women: Wilhelmina Bohemica

  1. I searched for Nuper ad Audientiam and found a couple of different things.

    This relates to the primacy of the Pope. And this mentions females acting in priestly roles.

    However, I don’t think this answers your question. Sorry.

  2. Thank you for the link LX: it gives a date for Nuper ad Audientiam (August 15, 1303).

    I just found it!
    On google books, should be page 81, left column, number IX


    Wonder whether this will work. I still am confused in googles digitized books.

  3. Yes, should work. It says that a new heretic sect came into being that deals with the sacraments. And in § 1 he explains their mistakes, especially that they believe that women can administer the sacraments, etc. – it is the correct source for the wikipedia article.
    Its given “in Anagni, on the calendes of August, in the second year of our pontificium”, first of August 1296. The Nuper ad Audientiam from 15th of August 1303 is not in this collection; but Saepe Sanctam is the correct source.
    Ah the excitement …

  4. I’m rather taken with the vision of a monk walking into a grocer store and buying up the wrapping paper. I do hope he didn’t forget his sausages in the excitement.

  5. I found that intriguing, Palimpsest! Some registrar must have decided that the file was of no more use and could leave. Old papers often were sold in bulk. After 1803, when the monastery-libraries were looted here, they repaired bad roads with books and papers, filling up the potholes.
    The fact that the Carthusian visited a store anyway makes it probable that he is no Chormönch, one of the patres, but a Brudermönch, a frater (conversus); they have to care for the mundane tasks, while the patres live in silence and solitude. Sausages are unlikely, I think, if I remember correctly the heavy-duty-orders like Carthusians and Zisterzienser prefer a vegetarian diet.
    Sadly I have absolutely no source for the story, it’s only in the German wiki-article.

  6. That’s a really interesting story, Mago. Who would think that there would be protofeminists already in the 13th century! I am ever amazed at how the Catholic church –actually, any church to my knowledge- has always eliminated women from its decision making. Vergonya!

    What a long way to Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir! Long live the third wave!

    *waves purple feminist flag*

  7. Interesting! And what a find for the Brudermönch. The only woman I know from that time .. well, a 150 years earlier or so, is ole Hildegard von Bingen. I don’t suppose her, what are now considered migraines perhaps in the scientific community, are stigmata.

  8. My Catalan is not good, Hipster YAYA! :)
    Exactly, protofeminist, a “feministische Häresie” (Luisa Muraro: Vilemina und Mayfreda. Die Geschichte einer feministischen Häresie, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1987). I think we simply do not know enough, the history of woman is for a big part not a written one. And yet, even in the “dark ages”, women had power, independence, Selbstbestimmung.
    I heard about “the third wave”. Whom would you see as “Erbin” of Friedan and de Beauvoir? Is there such a figure?

    Oh, Hildegard, an astonishing personality, dear Schaum. Mystic, musician, and whatnot. She’s one of the very few female doctores ecclesiae.

  9. Damned tipos!

    Sorry Young man, I meant “vergogna”, Italian for shame -my Italian is abismal, as you can see- not “vergonya”, Catalan for shame -my Catalan is even worse than my Italian-.

    Feminism has often been misundertood and misused. It’s not a “man-hating organization” but actually the belief in gender equality. But you know that and I’m not giving you a sermón.

    Who do I think is the Erbin of Friedan and Beauvoir? Not sure there’s any so charismatic as them. Besides, 30 years ago women fought for voting rights, for reproductive rights, for racial equality, for political parity, etc. Nowadays the situation is much better for women in the developped countries. Still a lot to do in the 3rd world.

    The enemy to fight right now are the so called glass ceiling barriers!

    Sorry for being late, see you in yoir next post! *winks*

Comments are closed.