Sanctification of family life has long been seen as one of the most im portant social results of the Protestant Reformation. Recently, however, several scholars have pointed out the roots of this in pre-Reformation writers. John Yost notes that civic and Christian humanists also thought that ‘God had established marriage and family life as the best means for providing spiritual and moral discip­ line in this world’.2 Margaret Miles comments that this idea goes all the way back to Clement of Alexandria, who thought marriage might actually be better than celibacy as it trains the soul in patience.3 Most medieval writers disagreed, and followed Jerom e in favouring virginity over marriage, but they differed in their definition of vir­ ginity. As Clarissa Atkinson points out, some writers defined virgin­ ity as a physical state which, once lost, could not be recovered, and others, including Augustine, as a moral state, a ‘purity of the mind which is not lost when the body is violated’.4 The physical definition prevailed in the early Middle Ages, but by the later Middle Ages virginity was increasingly defined by psychological and moral qual­ ities such as purity and holiness. This m eant that individuals could achieve a state of spiritual virginity through an ascetic lifestyle or

From spiritual virginity to family as calling mystical visions, even if they were m arried and had families. This change was particularly im portant for women, for whom virginity had always been the crucial factor in achieving a reputation for holiness. In contrast to the early Middle Ages, when almost all female saints were physically virgins, in the late Middle Ages there were a num ber of saints who were also wives and mothers.