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Mary of Oignies (1177–1213)

Mary of Oignies (1177–1213)

Belgian holy woman . Name variations: Marie d'Oignies; Blessed Mary d'Oignies. Born in 1177 in Nivelles (Brabant), Belgium; died in 1213 in Belgium; married.

The Belgian holy woman Mary of Oignies' early life is obscure, but it is clear that she was an exceptionally pious child. Though married at age 14, she felt so strongly that she had a religious vocation that she persuaded her husband they should abstain from sexual intimacy. Her husband agreed, and the two began to devote their time to working with patients at a leper colony. Mary then began to live as a Beguine, part of an informal order of women who dedicated themselves to public service.

Mary of Oignies' faith led her to mystical visions, which she revealed and interpreted to people while traveling and preaching on the streets of Belgian cities. Her faith included an emphasis on Christ's humanity which was a growing trend in northern Europe at the time. In her sermons, Mary, who attracted a considerable number of followers, emphasized what she felt were the most important characteristics of Christ: chastity, poverty, converting heretics, and educating others. Mary's piety and activism earned her the attention of the famous reformer and preacher Jacques de Vitry. Mary of Oignies traveled with him for some time and helped him write his sermons.

Around 1207, she separated permanently from her husband and joined the St. Nicholas convent at Oignies. There, her reputation as a holy woman increased, and miracles were attributed to her. She remained at Oignies for six years and was revered after her death as a popular saint, though she was never canonized. Her feast day is June 23.


Anderson, Bonnie S., and Judith P. Zinsser. A History of Their Own. Vol. I. NY: Harper & Row, 1988.

LaBarge, Margaret. A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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