Chastity is one of the seven virtues in Christian tradition, listed by Pope Gregory I at the end of the 6th century. In 1 Corinthians, Saint Paul suggests a special role for virgins or unmarried women (ἡ γυνὴ καὶ ἡ παρθένος ἡ ἄγαμος) as more suitable for "the things of the Lord" (μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κυρίου). In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul alludes to the metaphor of the Church as Bride of Christ by addressing the congregation "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ".
In the theology of the Church Fathers, the prototype of the sacred virgin is Mary, the mother of Jesus, consecrated by the Holy Spirit at Annunciation. Although not stated in the gospels, the perpetual virginity of Mary was widely upheld as a dogma by the Church Fathers from the 4th century.
In the hagiography of Christian martyrs of the late 1st to early 4th centuries, virgin martyrs (Latin virgo et martyr, Greek παρθένος-μάρτυρας, Russian дева-мученица) are Christian virgins, often persecuted for their refusal to enter a worldly marriage after having vowed to keep their virginity. The historicity of these early saints cannot be established, the dates given are from hagiographical tradition.
- Felicula and Petronilla of Rome (d. c. 90)
- Cecilia of Rome (2nd c.)
- Saints Faith, Hope and Charity (2nd c.)
- Pudentiana (2nd c.)
- Saint Venera (d. 143)
- Glyceria (d. 177)
- Gundenis of Carthage (early 3rd c.)
- Martina of Rome (d. 228)
- Tatiana of Rome (d. 226 or 235)
- Euthalia of Sicily (3rd c.)
- Regina of Autun (3rd c.)
- Barbara of Nicomedia (3rd c.)
- Denise of Lampsacus (3rd c.)
- Christina of Bolsena (3rd c.)
- Vibiana (3rd c.)
- Apollonia of Alexandria (d. 249)
- Pelagia of Antioch (late 3rd c.)
- Margaret of Antioch (d. 289)
- Theodosia of Tyre (d. 290)
- Diocletian Persecution (302–311) Saint Demiana and the 40 Virgins Menodora, Metrodora, and Nymphodora Pelagia of Tarsus Theodora of Alexandria Engratia of Zaragoza (d. 303) Euphemia of Chalcedon (d. 303) Devota of Corsica (d. 303) Agnes of Rome (d. 304) Charitina of Amisus (d. 304) Febronia of Nisibis (d. 304) Justina of Padua (d. 304) Lucia of Syracuse (d. 304) Philomena of Rome (d. 304) Catherine of Alexandria (d. 305) Dorothea of Caesarea (d. 311)
Post-Nicean Virgin martyrs:
- Bibiana (Viviana) of Rome (d. 361/3)
- Saint Ursula and Saint Leticia (d. 384; various other traditional dates)
- Quiteria (5th century)
- Julia of Corsica (d. 439)
- Olivia of Palermo (d. 448)
- Juthwara (6th century)
- Nympha of Palermo (6th century)
- Saint Winifred (d. c. 660)
- Saint Belina (d. 1153), canonized in 1203.
- Markella of Chios (14th century)
- Joan of Arc (d. 1431), canonized in 1920.
- Maria Goretti (1890–1902), canonized in 1950.
- Nina Kuznetsova (Нина Кузнецова) new martyr of Vologda (1938)
Other virgin saints
The first known formal consecration is that of Saint Marcellina, dated AD 353, mentioned in De Virginibus by her brother, Saint Ambrose. Another early consecrated virgin is Saint Genevieve (c. 422 – c. 512).
Saint Margaret of Hungary (1242–1270) is noted as a nun and virgin, as she received a separate consecration as a virgin in spite of already having taken monastic vows; this was done in order to dissuade her father, king Béla IV of Hungary, from trying to have her vows rescinded by the pope for the purposes of a political marriage.
According to Raymond of Capua, Catherine of Siena (c. 1347–1380) at the age of twenty-one (c. 1368) experienced what she described in her letters as a "Mystical Marriage" with Jesus, later a popular subject in art as the Mystic marriage of Saint Catherine.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897), canonized in 1925.
The tradition of the rite of consecration dates back to the 4th century. The rite for virgins living in the world has been reintroduced under Pope Paul VI in 1970. The reintroduction of the rite of consecration of virgins for women living in the world was notably campaigned for by Anne Leflaive (1899–1987), who had been consecrated as a virgin in 1924, and who campaigned for the formal recognition of the rite of consecration during the 1920s to 1960s.
The number of consecrated virgins ranges in the thousands. While the Holy See does not keep official statistics, estimates derived from diocesane records range at around 5,000 consecrated virgins worldwide as of 2018.