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Blessed Bodies: The Vitae of Anglo-Saxon Female Saints

From: Parergon
Volume 16, Number 2, January 1999
pp. 1-42 | 10.1353/pgn.1999.0008

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Blessed Bodies:
The Vitae of Anglo-Saxon Female Saints
Phillip Pulsiano
Department of English
Villanova University


1. See Hippolyte Delehaye, Les Légendes hagiographiques (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1905; 3e éd. 1927), translated as The Legends of the Saints (New York: Fordham University Press, 1962).

2. See, for example, Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), and her Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books, 1992). Other pertinent studies include Barbara Newman, From Virile Woman to Woman Christ: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995); Brigitte Cazelles, The Lady as Saint: A Collection of French Hagiographic Romances of the Thirteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991); Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, Body & Soul: Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

3. See Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell, Saints & Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000-1700 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982)

4. I do not fully subscribe here to the view put forth by Thomas J. Heffernan (Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in the Middle Ages [New York: Oxford University Press, 1988]) that such documents are 'reflective of a collective mentality' (p. 59) or necessarily 'serve as guides to behavior which exist within the popular imagination as cultural paradigms' (p. 87). Support for such a position depends greatly upon an understanding of both authorial intention and audience reception and must take into account the notion that textual meaning is continually negotiated. One cannot speak with authority about the cultural paradigms of even the twentieth century much less the Middle Ages: the categories are too broad, the circumstances of intention, production, dissemination, and reception too vague, and our own perceptions too much the product of our own age to allow sweeping generalizations to stand. This does not mean, of course, that the lives cannot be read as literary-cultural productions through which can be charted the development of hagiographical tradition.

5. Barbara Yorke, ed., Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1988); Gerald Bonner, David Rollason, and Clare Stancliffe, eds., St Cuthbert, His Cult and His Community to AD 1200 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1989); Nigel Ramsay, Margaret Sparks, and Tim Tatton-Brown, eds., St Dunstan: His Life, Times and Cult (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1992); Clare Stancliffe and Eric Cambridge, eds., Oswald: Northumbrian King to European Saint (Stamford: P. Watkins, 1995); Nicolas Brooks and Catherine Cubitt, eds., St Oswald of Worcester: Life and Influence (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1996).

6. Saints and Relics in Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989); The Mildrith Legend: A Study in Early Medieval Hagiography in England (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1982).

7. The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England: A Study of West Saxon and East Anglian Cults (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)

8. For example, Ruth Waterhouse, 'Ælfric's Use of Discourse in Some Saints' Lives,' Anglo-Saxon England 5 (1976), 83-103, esp. pp. 87-91; S. J. Ridyard, ' Condiga Veneratio: Post-Conquest Attitudes to the Saints of the Anglo-Saxons,' Anglo-Norman Studies 9 (1986), 179-206, and The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England, esp. pp. 176-210; Gwen Griffiths: 'Reading Ælfric's Saint Æthelthryth as a Woman,' Parergon 10 (1992), 34-49; Christine E. Fell, ' Saint Æfel1ryf: A Historical-Hagiographical Dichotomy Revisited,' Nottingham Medieval Studies 38 (1994), 18-34; Ruth Waterhouse, 'Discourse and Hypersignification in Two of Ælfric's Saints' Lives,' Holy Men and Holy Women: Old English Prose Saints' Lives and Their Contexts, ed. Paul E. Szarmach (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), pp. 333-52; Pauline A. Thompson, 'St Æthelthryth: The Making of History from Hagiography,' Studies in English Language and Literature. 'Doubt Wisely': Papers in Honour of E. G. Stanley, ed. M. J. Toswell and E. M. Tyler (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 475-92; see also Robert Deshman, The Benedictional of Æthelwold, Studies in Manuscript Illumination, 9 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), passim. Of related interest are Peter Draper, 'Bishop Northwold and the Cult of Saint Etheldreda...