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Sijtske Hofstee

PhD candidate

S. Hofstee
+31 71 527 2171

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PhD research

Spiritual virgins and their contribution to the forbidden Catholic Church in the Province of Friesland during Early Modern time.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. Mirjam de Baar

My PhD research on early modern spiritual virgins, usually known in Dutch as ‘klopzusters or kloppen', focuses on their contribution to the survival of the Catholic community during the ban on the Catholic Church after the Reformation in the Dutch Republic. Subject of my study are virgins in the Frisian region of the ‘Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden’.
The period of research is based on the start of the Reformation and the period of the existence of the Republic. The Reformation took place in the Republic at various times between 1570 and about 1600. The States of the Province of Friesland went over to the Protestant Church in 1580. Around 1800, the Republic came to an end with the arrival of a temporary French governance. This timeframe (1580-1800) also corresponds to the discovery of names of Frisian virgins. Until now, the total number of virgins in Friesland adds up to at least 500. Sources for these numbers are mostly found in church records. For about 300 virgins, also other documents or scarce information have been found. Seen in a wider context, the number of Frisian virgins is about 10% of the total number for the entire Republic calculated by Marit Monteiro.

Methodologically I work with four case studies of four Frisian Catholic women. With the choice of these women, I include diversity in time, place, Catholic signature, spiritual and marital state, and social origin. The studied women came from towns as well as rural villages and include two spiritual virgins (a Jesuitess and a Dominican tertiaris) and two lay widows who were members of a secular mission station. Their social backgrounds range from nobility and patrician to farm-owners. Their financial position differs considerably, but their marital status is the same, namely that of an unmarried woman, since legally the widow state is equally to the civil unmarried state. The four women were active in the domains of ‘virgins-assembly’, ‘mission station’, and ‘poor relief’. The activities of the two devout lay women, who ‘operated’, so to speak, in the periphery of the spiritual virgin-definition, have also been of great importance for the survival of the Catholic Church and are therefore included in my research.

Although it is well known that spiritual virgins have highly contributed to the survival of the Catholic Church, their part has still been given a rather limited position in historiography. To analyze and value their contribution, I use the concept 'capitals' of Pierre Bourdieu's field theory. With ‘cultural, social and economic’ capitals I try to gain insight into the contents and the value of both material and immaterial support by the virgins. Furthermore, the notion of female religious leadership is used to analyze the position and influence of semi-religious women in the so called ‘hidden’ Catholic Church.


2008-2010: Master Cross culturele Theologie│Protestants  Theologische Universiteit Kampen. Geslaagd met predicaat ‘met genoegen’.
Masterscriptie: ‘Een exploratief onderzoek naar de leesbeleving van moslims bij het koranlezen’.

2003-2007: Bachelor Theologie Klassiek│Protestants  Theologische Universiteit Kampen.

1987-1991: Godsdienst Pastoraal Werk│Noordelijke Hogeschool Leeuwarden.



2020    ‘Van een Leeuwarder kloppenkoor en een orgel rond 1700’, Toonkunstkoor Eigenwijs Amersfoort.

2018    ‘Founding Mothers: Geestelijke maagden als transformers, kwartiermakers en strategen’, Leids Gezelschap Christendom & Cultuur S.S.S.

2018    ‘Inleiding Friese Geestelijke Maagden, Leids Gezelschap Christendom & Cultuur S.S.S.

2018    ‘Overzicht onderzoeksresultaten Geestelijke Maagden in Vroegmodern Friesland’, Netwerk Onderlinge Promotie Promoten (O.P.P., now: REGENN (Religion and Gender Networks in The Netherlands), at the Liobaklooster Egmond-Binnen. 

2015     ‘Vorderingen Promotieonderzoeksvoorstel’, Netwerk Onderlinge Promotie Promoten, at the Priorij Maarssen. 

2015    ‘Roman Catholic Church in Early Modern Friesland not without Spiritual Virgins’, Introduction days PhD-candidates of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

2014: ‘Geestelijke Maagden in Friesland’, Interuniversitaire Werkgroep Feminisme en Theologie in Maarssenbroek.

2014: ‘De wereld van kloppen’, Dag van de Basisbeweging Amersfoort in Stoutenburg.


PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • LUCSoR
  • No relevant ancillary activities
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