Marina: patron saint for men falsely accused of rape

While false accusations of rape have been trivialized in recent years, throughout most of recorded history both rape and false accusations of rape have been matters of serious concern. Accusations against men have tended to conflate impregnating a woman, seducing a woman, and raping a woman. In its various versions from the sixth century to the fifteenth century, the Life of Saint Marina the Monk presents false sexual accusation, along with cuckoldry, as essential problems of men’s sexuality. God ultimately vindicated Saint Marina beyond humans’ bodily sense. Saint Marina thus stands as a poignant, patron saint for men falsely accused of rape.

The Life of Marina was probably first written in Syriac sometime from the fifth to the seventh centuries. It subsequently became known in a wide range of languages spanning western Eurasia and northern Africa.[1] The Life of Marina was included in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend (Legenda aurea), compiled in Latin about 1260. By the late-thirteenth century, a version of Marina’s life existed in French verse. By the early-fourteenth century, at least two versions existed in English verse.[2] While all the versions of the Life of Marina represent the victimization of innocent men, men’s virtues and men’s victimization are particularly well-represented in the early-fourteenth-century English verse version in the Harley manuscript.

Saint Marina and father entering monastery

The Harley Life of Marina highlights a father’s love for his children. Marina’s father was a man “who lived in purity, piety, and in the fear of God.” Marina’s mother, who was married to her father, was “honorable and devout.”[3] When Marina’s mother died, her father, rather than remarrying, sought to live a life of holiness by joining a monastery.  In the early Syriac and Greek texts, Marina begged her father to be allowed to join him in entering a monastery. Marina proposed to cut off her hair, put on men’s clothes, and enter the monastery with her father. In the Harley version, Marina comes into the story only after her father spiritually married himself to the Virgin Mary and became a monk. The father living as a monk longed to see his absent, flesh-and-blood daughter. Expressing his longing to his abbot, he falsely stated that his child was a boy. The virtuous father lied in love for his daughter.

Lies about men’s sexual behavior, in contrast, are vicious and evil. Marina joined her father’s monastery disguised as a boy named Marin. With her father’s loving guidance, Marina / Marin became an exemplary monk. One day, Marin was sent on a household business trip outside the monastery. Marin stopped at a house where the householder’s daughter had secretly become pregnant as a result of an illicit sexual affair with a soldier. The daughter falsely accused Marin of causing her pregnancy. That false accusation devastated Marin’s life.

The specific circumstances in which an alleged man allegedly caused a pregnancy matters little in practice. Formal legal trial of the crime of rape must examine in detail the facts of how sexual intercourse occurred. In the case of Marin, whether the daughter accused him of getting her pregnant or raping her depends on the specific version of the Life of Marin and difficult questions of philology.[4] Literary scholars have generally ignored those literary subtleties and declared that the woman accused Marin of rape.[5] Across the versions of the Life of Marina, the punishment of Marin seems to have followed only from the fact of the woman’s pregnancy and her blaming Marin. Marin was expelled from the monastery and lived for years outside its gates as a hungry, homeless person.

Like men today facing state-institutionalized cuckoldry, Marina / Marin was obliged to support a child who was not her own. The women who falsely accused Marin of rape (or of just getting her pregnant) gave birth to a son. She abandoned her son with Marin. Marin, as a starving, homeless person, did his best to support the child who was not biologically his. Marina in the person of Marin thus took on an additional injustice that men distinctively suffer in gynocentric society.

Saint Marina with child she was falsely accused of begetting

Exoneration from the false accusation came only with the realization that Marin was not biologically a man. After enduring years of harsh treatment resulting from the false accusation, Marin died. When the monks prepared to wash Marin’s body, they discovered that he didn’t have male genitals. Marin’s culpability had essentially rested only on the accusation and belief that he had a penis. With the recognition that Marin lacked a penis, the monks realized that they had gravely wronged Marin / Marina.[6] They resolved to “honor her in every way.” Marina was honored as a saint who could mediate God’s blessings. God posthumously gave her miraculous power. Her tomb became the site of a miraculous healing of the woman who had falsely accused Marin.

Saint Marina took upon herself suffering wrongfully imposed upon men. In the Greek version, after the abbot informed Marina / Marin of the woman’s accusation against her, Marina confessed, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned as a man.”[7] Christians confess to having sinned. Being a man is no sin. To confess to having “sinned as a man” seems to refer ironically to Marina not being capable of sinning through action biologically distinctive to men.

Saint Marina is venerated for her patience and humility in the face of outrageous injustice. Under gynocentrism that permeates even monasteries, men are criminally suspect because of their penises.[8] Saint Marina’s life points beyond that criminal essentialism. Through the Life of Saint Marina, men falsely accused of rape can understand that the suffering wrongfully imposed on them can ultimately end in honor and power.

How could you endure
The pain that was imposed on you
Wrongly and without good cause?
Yours will be the final reward, and the failure, mine. [9]

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[1] The Life of Saint Marina the Monk has survived in Syriac, Coptic, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, French, High German, and English texts from the fifteenth century or earlier.  Hourani (2013) p. 19. Marina’s life may have originated, along with roughly ten other lives of women transvestite saints, among monks of the Scetis desert near Alexandria in the middle of the fifth to the start of the sixth centuries. Anson (1974) p. 12. Authorities variously date Marina’s life from the fifth to the seventh century. Among surviving early manuscripts are a Syriac manuscript dated to 778 GC and three Greek manuscripts from the Mount Athelon monastery. Hourani (2013) p. 21. The earliest of the Greek manuscripts dates to the tenth century. For an English translation of the Syriac life, Lewis (1900) pp. 36-45 (pdf pages 468-77). For an English translation of the Greek life, Constas (1996).

Marina is a Latin name that corresponds to the Greek name Pelagia. Saint Pelagia, however, has a different life from Saint Marina. In western Europe, Saint Marina’s life has in some texts become confused with Saint Margaret’s life.

[2] The Latin Life of Marina is available in Patrologia Latina 73: 692-6. The version from the Golden Legend is available in English translation in Ryan & Duffy (2012) Ch. 84. Large excepts of the late-thirteenth century French version are available in English translation in Cazelles (1991) pp. 238-57. English versions are in the Harley 2253 Manuscript, Article 32, in Fein (2014); and the Northern Homily Cycle, Homily 15, ll. 137-356, in Thompson (2008).

[3] From Greek version, trans. Constas (1996) p. 7. The Harley version describes Marina’s father as a man:

Who greatly loved God’s command,
And exerted himself by all his strength
To serve God both day and night.
He was a man of good works,
And deeply he loved his soul’s comfort.

Trans. Fein (2014).

[4] In the Greek version of the Life of Marina, an innkeeper’s daughter falsely accused Marin of “causing a pregnancy”:

The young monk from the monastery, the attractive one called Marinos, he made me pregnant.

Trans. Constas (1996) p. 9. The Syriac version is similar in making causing the pregnancy the wrong:

The monk whom ye praise for being holy did this {pregnancy} to me, and by him I am with child.

Trans. Lewis (1900) p. 40. In the French version, Marin is accused of deceptive seduction:

It is he who made me pregnant
No other man has ever touched me.
He has deceived me
And is the cause of my distress.
I thought he was a religious man
And was eager to converse with him.
But he is so malicious
That he induced me to sin,
Causing me to fall into shame.
I mistook his intentions.

French Life of Saint Marina, ll. 424-433, trans. Cazelles (1991) p. 247. In the Harley version, a dairyman’s daughter falsely accused Marin of acting “unlawfully”:

In the barn, there we were
And he took me forth, unlawfully —
All in truth, so it was!

Trans. Fein (2014) ll. 98-100. Accusation of unlawful sex in medieval Europe encompassed consensual sex outside of marriage (a consensual roll in the hay, perhaps in a barn), as well as rape. The English for “unlawfully” in the Harley version is more literally translated as “against the peace.” That more directly suggests an accusation of violence. The Northern Homily Cycle makes the false accusation of rape explicit:

And she told them that the monk Marin
Had forced her, and they were angry

Homily 15, ll. 204-5, my English modernization. The Latin Life of Marina uses the accusation ipse me oppressit, which could mean he pressed down on me (in the physical act of sex), he surprised me (deceptive seduction), or he raped me. See Patrologia Latina 73: 692.

[5] With respect to the Greek version, Constas (1996) intro., p. 3 (“rape”). With respect to the Harley version, Fein (2014) intro. (“rape”). Misleading use of the word rape is now exploited in major newspapers to criminalize a large share of men worldwide.

[6] Directing attention to the vagina, an eminent medievalist imagined the monks relishing the sight of a dead woman’s vagina:

These ignorant holy men are also, however, at the climax of the text they could not read, richly rewarded with an ample viewing. Male desire is deflected, refocused, and then abundantly fulfilled. One can hardly avoid {sic!} the supposition that the compiler chose this tale precisely for titillation of that continuing interest in what women have “under gore,” this time the curiosity being the spur of the story rather than the conventional ending of the love poem. And even though Marina escaped the male gaze in life, the suddenly crowded viewing of her in death — by the monks and the “other men mo” (where did they come from?) — seems rather to compensate the men for their lost opportunity. Miraculous moment is indelibly marked with prurient response.

Fein (2000) p. 364. That interpretation goes beyond constructing men as dogs to assuming them to be necrophiliacs. The implications for women, as always, are dire even after their deaths:

Women may not be free of men. Instead they must choose from an array of ways in which they will meet their defining fate: to be constructed accord to male desire and actualized in acceding to it.

Id. 361. Such scholarship subtly gestures toward the emancipatory potential of masturbation.

[7] From Greek trans. Constas (1996) p. 9.

[8] Study of the Life of Marina has highlighted scholarly fantasies. For example, a scholar fantasized that women are the cause of lust, but women don’t experience lust. Anson (1974) p. 17. Moreover, this scholar perceived the Life of Marina to represent the “wish-fulfillment dream of the domestication of the demonic seductress.” Id. False accusations of rape and wrongfully imposing paternity on men are serious public issues. Those issues are more directly relevant to thinking seriously about the Life of Marina than are abstract psychological speculations.

[9] Words of the abbot in the French version of the Life of Marina, ll. 1058-61, trans. Cazelles (1991) p. 256. Cazelles’s explication of the Life of Marina points to Christine de Pizan and current academic boilerplate:

Christine de Pizan sought to destabilize the hagiographic canon by unmasking its ideological implications.

Id. p. 84. Scholarship can be more interesting than that. The Life of Marina unmasks trivializing false accusations of rape and devaluing men’s paternity interests.

The Life of Marina may have been written by a woman and probably had many women readers / listeners. Scholars have tended to dismiss the possibility of women as readers and writers of early transvestite saints’ lives:

they are with the exception of Thecla products of a monastic culture written by monks for monks

Anson (1974) p. 5. Scholars now generally believe that a woman or community of women wrote the Acts of Paul and Thecla. A woman probably also authored Joseph and Aseneth. Women probably comprised a significant share of readers / listeners to these saints’ lives as well as lives of other saints. Marina’s life addresses issues that men are generally afraid to discuss. Most medieval women loved men and would have cared about issues of vital concern to men. A woman may have wrote the Life of Marina for women who cared deeply about men.

Other lives of transvestite women saints also present false accusations of rape and false attributions of paternity. In the Life of Eugenia, Eugenia dressed as Brother Eugene is falsely accused of raping Melancia. The lives of Saint Margaret (Pelagius) and Saint Theodora present transvestite women saints falsely attributed paternity. These lives can be found in the Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend. The Life of Eugenia also survives in an early Syriac text. Lewis (1900) pp. 1-35.

The significance of these saints’ lives have been obscured in ideological posing. Consider how Cazelles interprets these stories of women being falsely accused of rape or paternity while they were dressed as men:

the profound significance of their stories is that, whether dressed, undressed, or cross-dressed, they {the women} are similarly and inexorably defenseless in the face of masculine desire.

Cazelles (1991) pp. 66-7. Men do not desire to be falsely accused of rape. Men do not desire to be victims of paternity fraud. Such claims reflect the social process of criminalizing men in gynocentric society.

[images] (1) Marina and her father entering monastery. Illumination in f. 139v, Jacques de Voragine.  Légende dorée. Manuscript dated 1348, written in French. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 241. (2) Saint Marina in Benedictine dress. She, with her face dirty in poverty, lovingly holds the child she was falsely accused of begetting. Illumination in f. 74r, Guillelmus a Mederio, Calendarium sive Commemorationes sanctorum monachorum, Missa et officium sanctarum reliquiarum, Officia sancti Georgii et sanctae Marinae. Manuscript dated 1400-1425, written in Latin. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 5264. Images thanks to Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France.


Anson, John. 1974. “The female transvestite in early monasticism: the origin and development of a motif.” Viator. Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. 5: 1-32.

Cazelles, Brigitte. 1991. The Lady as saint: a collection of French hagiographic romances of the thirteenth century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Constas, Nicholas, trans. 1996. “Life of St. Mary / Marinos.” Ch. 1 (pp. 1-12) in Talbot, Alice-Mary. 1996. Holy women of Byzantium: ten saints’ lives in English translation. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Fein, Susanna. 2000. “A saint ‘Geynest under Gore’: Marina and the love lyrics of the seventh quire.” Pp. 351-76 in Fein, Susanna, ed. 2000. Studies in the Harley manuscript: the scribes, contents, and social contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253. Kalamazoo, Mich: TEAMS (The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester. Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Hourani, Guita. 2013. “The Vita of Saint Marina in the Maronite Tradition.” Notre Dame University, Lebanon. 17-39.

Lewis, Agnes Smith. 1900. Select Narratives of Holy Women from the Syro-Antiochene or Sinai Palimpsest as written above the old Syriac gospels by John the Stylite, of Beth-Mari-Qanun in a.d. 778. Syriac text and English translation. Studia Sinaitica No. IX. London: C.J. Clay and Sons.

Ryan, William Granger and Eamon Duffy trans. and ed. 2012. Jacobus de Voragine. The golden legend: readings on the saints. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Thompson, Anne B. 2008. The Northern homily cycle. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.

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