ond aspect of the dominant narrative that I would like to discuss. When thequestion of response has been raised, the dominant narrative holds that a sig-nificant number of religious laywomen gained prestige and empowermentthrough their ecstacies and austerities, and ultimately became the focus of cultsof veneration.
Viewed as vessels of the Holy Spirit, as the intimates of God,women mystics like Ida were held in awe and veneration by their contempo-raries. André Vauchez’s statistics regarding female lay saints have been wide-ly cited as proof of this fact, particularly the figure of 55.5 percent of womenamong the laity canonized during the Middle Ages, and an even more startling71.4 percent percent of women among lay saints after the year 1305.
Certainly the picture of a broad movement of mystical béguines and asceticrecluses gaining veneration is an appealing one. However, Vauchez’s statisticsregarding the growth of lay feminine sanctity, and the rising degree of venera-tion for these women, lose some of their lustre when we examine the absolutenumbers upon which they are based.
In fact, only four laywomen were can-onized in the period between 1198, when the processes studied by Vauchez werebegun, and 1500.
Of these four, only two were also mystics who fit the ascetic-visionary profile outlined above: hardly a figure that suggests an institutional-ization of feminine mystical piety.
Though it is customary, in the dominantnarrative, to designate any woman who was the subject of a hagiography by thetitle “saint,” this practice conceals the fact that very few actually attained thisstatus canonically.
But even if we move away from strictly formal definitionsof sainthood, it also seems that very few local communities instituted
cults of veneration for their local recluses, béguines, or tertiaries. Some women,like the Dominican Catherine of Siena, were promoted by the elite among theirreligious orders, but only a few seem to have had deeply-rooted cults withintheir communities, as I will demonstrate in further detail below.
As in the caseof Ida of Louvain, the evidence suggests that women claiming divine gifts wereas likely to be outcasts as to attract widespread devotion.The main group of individuals that can definitively be identified as offeringveneration to women mystics is their hagiographers. It is undeniably true thatwe have an increased number of women’s vitaefrom the later Middle Ages, apoint that
testify to the growing willingness of some high status males—such as Thomas of Cantimpré, Jacques de Vitry, Raymond of Capua, and a num-ber of others—to offer veneration to female figures. In addition, the growingnumber of such texts
testify to a growth in the number of women aspiringto the saintly life: while not entirely self-evident, this is a reasonable interpre-tation. But the existence of a hagiography does
in and of itself, testify tothe existence of a cult of veneration. The key word here is, of course, “cult.”The term, as deployed within medievalist historiographical literature, fits loose-ly within the conceptual field opened up by Weber’s characterization of the phe-nomenon as “a continuing association of men, a community for which [thesaint] has special significance.”
My point in offering this definition is that