I've seen several different versions of this quotation, but the one constant is:

Woman is a temple built over a sewer.

Other versions expand on this. Adding items such as

Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil’s doorway. You should always go in mourning and in rags.


Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil’s doorway. You led astray one whom the devil would not dare attack directly. It was your fault that the Son of God had to die; you should always go in mourning and rags.

But what is the original source? Putting the first quote in to Google reveals so many different versions that I'm beginning to doubt the existence of a primary source.

  • The English in question cold be a very loose translation of the original Latin.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 15:12
  • Attribution to Tertullian, but never attributed to any source. I believe it is bogus.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Feb 23, 2020 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


What is the source for Tertullian's “woman is a temple built over a sewer” quote?

The English translations seem to embellish the Latin translation somewhat. It can be found in Tertulliani de Cultu Feminarum: Liber I The quote is from the second paragraph.

In doloribus et anxietatibus paris, mulier, et ad uirum tuum conuersio tua et ille dominatur tui: et Euam te esse nescis? Viuit sententia Dei super sexum istum in hoc saeculo: uiuat et reatus necesse est. Tu es diaboli ianua; tu es arboris illius resignatrix; tu es diuinae legis prima desertrix; tu es quae eum suasisti, quem diabolus aggredi non ualuit; tu imaginem Dei, hominem, tam facile elisisti; propter tuum meritum, id est mortem, etiam filius Dei mori habuit: et adornari tibi in mente est super pelliceas tuas tunicas?

Obviously, Tertullian places the blame for man’s fall on Eve!

One English translation is as follows:

You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins? - On the Apparel of Women. Book I

Resignatrix is the phrase: “a fountain sealed” in Cant. iv. 12.

Diaboli ianua is clearly the gateway to the Devil.

I believe that the translation into English is taken from the above source.

The phrase, woman is a temple built over a sewer is a rather loose interpretation of the Latin tu es arboris illius resignatrix. No websites and I mean none give a source for this quote in their footnote whatsoever as to where to find this quote and as such one can be sceptical that such a phrase was actually written by Tertullian.

One site even claims it came from St. Augustine and once again does not give notes on where to locate it.

Robert Manning of Brunne also alliterated this sentiment by stating that if a man lay with his wife during times of penance they sin greatly. This attitude goes far to explain the unhealthy view of women. If making love to your wife, purely because you love her, is seen as wrong and dirty therefore are women seen as wrong and dirty also? The answer unfortunately is yes. St Augustine proclaimed that ‘women is a temple built over the sewer’. Thus claiming that although women may seem beautiful and pure, underneath they are as unclean and as filthy as a sewer. - Christ and the Church

Since no one can give proof that it was indeed Tertullian that is the source of the exact quote I deem it spurious.

I am not saying where it is because it can not be found. However it could possibly be found in the spurious works attributed to Tertullian. As such no one would like admitting that the source was in fact linked to a dubious source. In this case it would not be Tertullian who is at the origins of the quote.

Spurious works

There have been many works attributed to Tertullian in the past which have since been determined to be almost definitely written by others. Nonetheless, since their actual authors remain uncertain, they continue to be published together in collections of Tertullian's works.

  1. Adversus Omnes Haereses (Against all Heresies) – poss. Victorinus of Pettau

  2. De execrandis gentium diis (On the Execrable Gods of the Heathens)

  3. Carmen adversus Marcionem (Poem against Marcion)

  4. Carmen de Iona Propheta (Poem about the Prophet Jonas) – poss. Cyprianus Gallus

  5. Carmen de Sodoma (Poem about Sodom) – poss. Cyprianus Gallus

  6. Carmen de Genesi (Poem about Genesis)

  7. Carmen de Judicio Domini (Poem about the Judgment of the Lord)

The popular Passio SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis (Martyrdom of SS. Perpetua and Felicitas), much of it the personal diary of St. Perpetua, was once assumed to have been edited by Tertullian. That view is no longer held, and it is usually published separately from Tertullian's works. - Tertullian (Wikipedia)

In conclusion, it may be quite possible that Tertullian did not write what has now been translated into English as: ”Woman is a temple built over a sewer” The only alternative is a gross mistranslation as what one can see at beginning of this answer.

  • Woman is a temple built over a sewer seems radically different from anything quoted here. Is it simply an extreme mistranslation?
    – J. Mini
    Commented Feb 22, 2020 at 16:09
  • Nice analysis of the Latin. 👍
    – Geremia
    Commented Mar 19 at 4:03
  • You should've shown your translation of that Latin phrase
    – Michael16
    Commented Mar 19 at 5:46

I have found a source (not of the highest quality) claiming that the quote is taken from a work of Tertullian called "De Cultu Feminarum". Unfortunately, the citations I've seen indicate that the quote is from the first volume of this two-volume work. My usual source for the Latin Church Fathers, Migné's Patrologia Latina, contains only the second volume. I haven't found an online copy of the first volume to verify with, but it does look like the quote may be at least properly ascribed.


Others already have given good answers, but in regards to the "Woman is a temple built over a sewer" quote, I want to note an alternate source (a third source, actually, as one of the other responses noted they saw someone attribute to to Augustine). Specifically, I have seen some people ascribe this not to Tertullian, but to Boethius. However, the quote attributed to Boethius differs slightly, instead being "Woman is a temple built upon a sewer" ("over" is swapped for "upon"). That said, at least the work tends to be cited also; supposedly it comes from his work "The Consolation of Philosophy", though I have seen no one say where in the work it is found.

An English translation of Consolation of Philosophy is available for free at https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/14328/pg14328-images.html, but I have been unable to find anything resembling the quote there. Searching for "woman", "women", "temple", and "sewer" turn up nothing relevant. While of course the phrase would not be the same as the quote due to differences of translation, I would think at least one of those would still show up.

I suspect the attribution to Boethius is as apocryphal as the attribution to Tertullian appears to be. Nevertheless, I felt it would be good to mention this alternate citation, in case someone can find it somewhere in Consolation of Philosophy.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .