Dismembered Virgins and Incarcerated Brides: Embodiment and Sanctity in the Katherine Group [electronic resource]
Abstract (Summary)One of the most peculiar developments of the wave of women's spirituality that swept across Europe during the thirteenth century was the popularity of the anchoritic lifestyle in England, a lifestyle that had a particular appeal for women. The anchorhold seems to epitomize the medieval (male) desire to enclose and control a woman's body to the maximum degree possible; it is an amazingly accurate metaphor for the tightly circumscribed lives of medieval religious women. Why, then, did so many women eagerly seek out and embrace such a confining lifestyle? Did women internalize the endless medieval rhetoric about bodily control and woman's lustful nature, to the point where they sought lifelong incarceration to avoid temptation and possible loss of control? Or is it possible that they had a higher motivation - that they sought a more intense experience of union with the divine, and believed that only in strict isolation could such a union be achieved?The popularity of anchoritic spirituality led to the creation of a specialized literary genre in Middle English: vernacular devotional prose for women. These mostly male-authored texts included guidebooks for enclosed life, meditations and prayers, lives of saints, and treatises on virginity. They describe and encourage a religious life for women that is both relational and mimetic: the bride of Christ is also encouraged to emulate Christ through her life of solitary penance and suffering. These two roles are analyzed through an examination of the texts of the Katherine Group, alongside the two themes that dominated medieval religious discourse as it applied to women: virginity and enclosure.Approaching the task from a broad interdisciplinary perspective, I employ a variety of theoretical tools, including cultural/historical, theological, linguistic, and feminist theories. My study analyzes medieval constructions of gender and virginity, and examines the anchoress as both a spiritual person and an embodied creature. In challenging traditional scholarship on and accepted views of medieval English women, I pose new questions about embodied spirituality from a medieval perspective, and offer a different perspective on a period of English history in which women recluses set the standard for holiness and sanctity.
School:The University of Arizona
School Location:USA - Arizona
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication: