What do I do if the ‘RefHERmation Day’ title has already been taken?

In March of 2019 somebody vandalised the Reformation Wall monument.  ‘Where are the women?’ the spray-paint scrawl demanded.   My first reaction was a shake of the head.   But as I thought more about it, I realised that this scribbler wouldn’t be the only one asking the question.  Where were the women of the reformation?  As it turns out, they were all over the place!  There were many names and stories I found, but for the sake of brevity (also due to my laziness) I’ve only listed five.  Note that the most important thing about these women is not their gender, but how—and WHO—they served. Their testimony is an inspiration even to this day.

Marie Dentière- The Theologian 

There is one woman’s name engraved on the Reformation monument.  Of all the women of the Reformation, Marie Dentière seems to have been most comfortable with the role of theologian.  Her background as an abbess likely gave her the skills in authority and religious studies, skills she employed for the cause of the Reformation.  Marie was a sort of spiritual mentor to fellow lady reformer, Marguerite De Navarre, sending her letters of advice and a religious treaty she called ‘Very Useful Letter’.  Marie is also known for going toe-to-toe with John Calvin, although they seem to have respected one another enough that she wrote the preface to his sermon on modesty. 

Anna Adlischweiler- Zurich Mother

Affectionately called ‘the Zurich Mother’, Anna Adlischweiler gave so much to so many that it’s stunning even as it’s touching.  Even while all other nuns left the convent, young Anna remained to care for her sick mother.  After marrying Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, she went on to care for not just their own eleven children, but Zwingli’s children and widow as well.  On top of all that, the Bullingers also hosted many scholars, and reformer refugees from all over Europe.  Anna’s motherly kindness was well remembered, so that it is said that even Queen Elisabeth heard about it and thanked her.  Anna died serving.  Heinrich caught the plague in 1564, and Anna brought him back to health at the expense of her own. 

Jean D’Albret- The ‘Little Princess’

I can’t help but think that Jean’s life would make a good—if sometimes tragic—biopic.  As royalty, she had to deal with the tangles of politics, some of which led certain family members to flip flop across the Tiber like invertebrates.  But Jean made her Réformé loyalties public, and did her best to live it out for the rest of her short life.  Her tiny domain was a safe haven for Huguenots, if only for a little while.  There was a Protestant College, and a Protestant synod from which came the Rochelle Confession of Faith.  As she replied to the threatening king of Spain: “Although I am just a little Princess, God has given me the government of this country so I may rule it according to the Gospel and teach it God’s laws.”

Argula von Grumbach- Writer and activist

Although largely forgotten today, Argula made a stir in her own time when she dared write a sternly worded letter to the University of Ingolstadt.  A Lutheran scholar had been forced to recant, and Argula had been so touched by the boy’s plight that she decided to stand up for him.  This letter was circulated, and people read with interest how Argula—unlearned in Latin, and a woman no less—challenged the scholars.  Argula wrote not only to the University, but also to the leaders of the land—arguing for the Lutheran cause.  She was also in contact with the early Reformers.  She even gave the Luthers some advice as they started their family. 

Margarethe Blaurer- ‘Angel of Mercy’

She didn’t rule any cities, she didn’t write any serious works, and—save for one adopted girl—she left no children to carry her legacy.  Yet Margarethe is close to my heart.  It somehow does me good to hear of single women serving God outside of convents.  Though she never married, Margarethe seems to have taken nearly everyone in as family.   She knew many of the leading reformers, but also had friends among the Anabaptists—who were generally outcasts.  Her brother once referred to her as an ‘arch deaconess’.  A fitting description, as Margarethe’s ministry ranged from serving widows and orphans to starting the first Protestant women’s society.  But, as with Anna, she died serving.  When the plague swept across the city, Margarethe was constantly busy helping the sick and bereaved, until she died of the pestilence herself. 

But perhaps the vandal knew about these women.  Perhaps the question was why weren’t they given the same full honours as Farel, Calvin, Beza, and Knox?  Frankly, it doesn’t matter.  I’ve noticed that heroes of the faith generally want glory given to God, more than their own accolades.  Sola Deo Gloria! 

Marie Dentière, or d’Ennetières (c. 1495-1561) – Musée protestant (museeprotestant.org)

Reformation Women: Anna Adlischweiler | Tabletalk (tabletalkmagazine.com)

Jeanne d’Albret, queen of Navarre – Renaissance and Reformation – Oxford Bibliographies

Argula von Grumbach (Jina) – Reformation Europe (duke.edu)

Reformation Women: Margarethe Blaurer | Tabletalk (tabletalkmagazine.com)

4 thoughts on “What do I do if the ‘RefHERmation Day’ title has already been taken?

  1. Sola Deo Gloria, indeed! Thank you, dear Shennachie, for researching and composing on this topic – very interesting.

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  2. Oh, thank you for writing this! I’d never heard of any of these women, and they’re all so worth knowing about. Anna Adlischweiler sounds like someone Anne Shirley would love to daydream about, suitably noble and romantic. And I think I have my own soft spot for the Little Princess – I love that she provided a safe haven for the Huguenots; I’ve always found their story a little bit sad.

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    1. I never thought about it that way before… but you’re right! Anna really did live out the sort of things Anne imagined.
      Yes, the Huguenot story is full of bravery but also sadness. It’s good to hear that they had some friends.

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