When thinking about female saints, we might assume that they’re all quiet, submissive, and nuns. We don’t often picture women in positions of power, and we probably find women like St. Joan of Arc to be more of the exception than the rule. To bust that myth, here are five female saints who were political rulers and influencers in their day, working for good in the world.
St. Pulcheria, Roman Empress in Constantinople
The daughter of Emperor Arcadius, Pulcheria (399 – 453 AD) was named regent for her brother Theodore in 414 AD. St. Pulcheria ruled from a place of prayer and confidence in the Holy Spirit. She was well-respected in the affairs of the state as well as of the Church. So great was her wisdom that Pope St. Leo the Great asked her to speak before the Council of Chalcedon, hoping that her speech would enlighten the understanding of the bishops present. She built several churches and hospitals in Constantinople and became known for her care of the poor, so much so that she left all of her possessions to them.
St. Helen, Roman Empress
St. Helen (248 – 328 AD) is best known as Emperor Constantine’s mother and the finder of the cross on which Jesus died. Before her conversion, Helen had been divorced by her husband, who remarried a woman of more noble rank, leaving Helen to suffer alone and in exile. She was named Empress by her son and brought back into society, after which she used her wealth and influence to spread Christianity, build churches, and give money to the poor.
At 80 years old, Helen embarked on her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land, bringing back the True Cross. She also ordered that the many places connected with Jesus and Mary in the Holy Land become pilgrimage sites and had churches built over them, providing the many sites that Christians continue to visit today.
St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen of Portugal
Known as a peacemaker, St. Elizabeth of Portugal (1271 – 1336) often worked for reconciliation and helped her kingdom avoid war. The great niece of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, she was the daughter of King Pedro III of Aragon and married to King Diniz of Portugal. While her husband often gave into various vices – including infidelity – and led the nobility in similar directions, Elizabeth remained a strong, faith-filled woman.
She cared for the poor and expected the women in her service to do so, as well. On two occasions, Elizabeth helped prevent civil war in her kingdom: first between her husband and her son and second between Portugal and Castile. Eventually, she also made peace with her husband, who renounced his infidelity and sinful life, and turned back to the faith.
St Bathildis, Queen of France
Sold into slavery as a young girl to the wife of the mayor of Neustria, St. Bathildis (626 – 680 AD) eventually rose to the rank of queen through her marriage to King Clovis II. Seven years into their marriage, Clovis died and their son became king, with Bathildis serving as regent. As queen, she was able to initiate many reforms, including the abolition of Christian slaves, elimination of simony among the clergy, and the foundation of hospitals and monasteries. After renouncing her royalty, she eventually became the first abbess of the Abbey of Chelles, leading in religious life, as well.
St Margaret of Scotland, Queen of Scotland
St. Margaret (1045 – 1093) was born to a princess of Hungary and the heir to the English throne, eventually becoming married to Malcolm, the king of Scotland. Margaret’s model of faith had a significant influence on her husband, calming his infamous temper and leading to his becoming known as a virtuous king. They eventually became known for being rooted in prayer and living by example in their care for the poor, providing an example for the whole kingdom.
Margaret had a great influence on Scotland as a whole. In the political realm, King Malcolm often turned to his wife for advice on state matters. Margaret also worked to improve education and the arts in Scotland, led religious reform in the local church, and worked toward justice for those in poverty.