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Women on the Edge of Glory:
Tarsiana, Oria, and Liminality

The extent to which the author of the thirteenth-century Castilian version of the Apollonius of Tyre legend, the Libro de Apolonio, infused his poem with Christian theological elements has been the focus or ancillary concern of much scholarship on the text over the past fifty years. While scholarly opinion varies in regard to the depth of the poem’s christianization, one area that scholars have plumbed for clues is the web of connections between the poem and contemporary medieval hagiography; articles that primarily examine these connections include those of Ronald E. Surtz, Marina Scordilis Brownlee, and Patricia Grieve. The majority of the scholarship that treats the subject of the poem’s Christian elements, whether influenced by hagiography or not, tends to focus on the male protagonist of the narrative instead of the two primary female characters, Apolonio’s wife Luciana and his daughter Tarsiana. In a previous article (“De pan y de tresoro”), I have proposed a sacramental reading of the poem in which both of these female characters play significant roles, but in which Tarsiana becomes quasi-priestly in nature. In the present article I similarly examine Tarsiana’s [End Page 229] expanded religious role, but through the lens of hagiography and models of medieval female sanctity. Such an undertaking could be voluminous in nature if one were to take into account all available models of female piety in their numerous incarnations in medieval hagiography. Here my goal is much more focused in that I examine points of comparison between the character of Tarsiana and one of the most well-known female characters of thirteenth-century Castilian literature: the explicitly saintly protagonist of Berceo’s contemporary hagiography, the Vida de Santa Oria. Narrowing the focus even further, I concentrate on two scenes that are either visionary or vision-like, are closely connected to the liminality of rites for the dead and purgatorial piety, and in which the dominant Christian symbol of the Eucharist plays an important role. Through this analysis I propose that the author of the Apolonio was informed by contemporary hagiographical models of female sanctity, as exemplified by Santa Oria, in his christianization of the character of Tarsiana.

The Apollonius of Tyre legend was one of the most well-known narratives of the European Middle Ages. All versions, whether in Latin or in one of the various medieval vernaculars, tell of the wanderings of the young king of Tyre and his family throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The Castilian version begins with the young protagonist being forced to flee his kingdom. Having lost everything through a series of misadventures, his fortune turns when he is welcomed into another royal court as the music teacher of the princess and promptly wins her heart. He marries the princess Luciana, and when she is several months pregnant, they decide to return to Apolonio’s homeland. Luciana goes into childbirth during the voyage and appears to die, at which time the bereaved king leaves his infant daughter in the care of foster parents in the city of Tarsus. Taking her name from the city, the infant Tarsiana grows into a beautiful and intelligent girl, which arouses jealousy in her foster mother who decides to have her killed. In a scene with an otherworldly ambiance, the assassin interrupts Tarsiana’s graveside rituals at the tomb of her recently deceased nursemaid at which time her story nearly comes to an end. Tarsiana escapes the assassin through prayer and the chance interruption of events by pirates, and it is precisely this scene [End Page 230] and its repercussions that will be examined for its similarities to the Santa Oria. After many years and various trials, Apolonio’s family is reunited, and the ending of the poem brings an overtly Christian message to bear on the pagan plot structure of the tale.

At first glance, Berceo’s Santa Oria tells a very different kind of story. The Christian nature of the text is explicit due to its hagiographical subject, but this late work by Berceo is not a typical saint’s life.1 Unlike Berceo’s hagiographies of San Millán and Santo Domingo de Silos, his poem about Oria tells little of the saint’s life, but rather concentrates on a series of three visions afforded to the young anchoress. In these visions, Oria first travels to heaven in the company of three virgin martyrs, then receives a visit in her cell from the Virgin Mary, and finally is transported to the Mount of Olives. Oria’s mother Amunna is the person who receives the last two visions of the poem. First Amunna is visited by the spirit of her deceased husband and is told that their daughter is on the verge of death. In the last vision of the text, which is precisely the scene that will be the focus of the current analysis, the recently deceased Oria returns from the dead to speak with her mother.2

There are many points of comparison to be made between the two poems. On a basic level, they were composed in the same period (the mid-thirteenth century), in the same language (Castilian), and using the same verse form (cuaderna vía).3 The similarities, however, go beyond the formal and [End Page 231] temporal, and reach into the areas of content and ethos. The Apolonio, with its heroic journeys, classifies as romance, and yet this characteristic can also be located in the Santa Oria. As John K. Walsh has observed, any journey to otherworldly realms, like those of Oria, could be considered within this generic fold: “[t]hese visions and voyages (celestial and chthonian) could be termed romance that brings adventure and episode with the voyage [sic], and fixes in its images all the moral promises of an age” (“Other World” 291).4 The visionary voyages of Oria share some of the generic qualities of the sea voyages of Apolonio’s family, but the much christianized Apolonio also can be seen as permeated with the religious “images” and “moral promises” of the period, specifically mid-thirteenth-century Castile, despite being set in a pre-Christian milieu. It is at the crossroads of the trope of the journey and the Christian ethos of the period, with its visual language and redemptive charge, where we find the most profound hagiographical commonalities between these two poems.

The fact that the two texts can be seen as occupying similar narrative and spiritual realities makes more specific comparisons fruitful for a better understanding of each one. In order to appreciate more fully the narrative and spiritual patterns that may have informed the Apolonio poet’s shaping of Tarsiana’s piety and actions, several of the more profound commonalities between the two poems will be examined. First, in the voyages of the two poems, visionary and otherwise, it is important to note the pervasive role that death, dying, and their associated rituals play. Within these portrayals, both authors insert their young female characters into liminal or “in between” spaces, including those that have purgatorial undertones. Issues of gender [End Page 232] are central in this examination because, as Barbara Newman has observed, “of all Catholic doctrines, none has been more deeply shaped by female piety than the notion of purgatory, which filled an overwhelming place in the visions, devotions, and works of charity undertaken by religious women” (109). Once Oria’s and Tarsiana’s activities have been placed into the context of contemporary purgatorial theology and female piety, a more theoretical understanding of liminality will be necessary in order to elucidate the role of eucharistic allusions in the scenes that are suspended between life and death. Such sacramental allusions in the two characters’ navigation of liminal spaces play a part in underlining the redemptive character of both Oria and Tarsiana in their respective narratives. Their activities not only have the function of saving themselves from dangers, physical and spiritual, but also in saving others (either within the narrative or external to the poem), and the final section of the paper will be devoted to these two holy women’s salvific roles in their respective communities.

In order to begin the analysis of the hagiographical commonalities between these poems, the significance of the role of death in both narratives must be examined. In the Santa Oria, self-deprivation and preparation for the afterlife are arguably present from the beginning, but death, dying, and crossing over to the next world become the absolute focus from the end of Oria’s second vision. At this point, the Virgin Mary tells Oria that she will soon die:

‘Esto ten tú por signo,  por çertera sennal: ante de pocos días,  enfermarás muy mal, serás fuert’ enbargada  d ‘fermedat mortal qual nunca la ovisti.  Terrásla bien por tal. Veráste en grant quexa,  de muert’ serás cortada; serás a pocos días  desti mundo passada’

(sts. 135–36ab)5

From this point onward, death becomes the central theme of the last seventy strophes of the poem, or more than a third of the entire text. During Oria’s [End Page 233] third vision, she is already near the point of death, and the stanzas that do not describe her visionary state tell of her deathbed sufferings. The following vision occurs not to Oria, but to her mother Amunna. In this vision the holy widow is told by the spirit of her deceased husband that their daughter will soon die. In effect, Oria takes her last breath shortly afterward, and Berceo relates the preparation of her body:

Fue esti sancto cuerpo  rica mente guardado, en sus pannos de orden  rica ment’ aguisado. Fue muchas de vegadas  el psalterio rezado, non se partieron delli  fasta fue soterrado.

(st. 179)

The final vision is an apparition of the deceased Oria to Amunna in which the young saint communicates to her mother the experience of her own death and of the place in which she now resides in heaven. This particular vision will be the focus of much of the subsequent analysis.

A similar focus on death and dying appears in the Apolonio. The most obvious evidence for this contention is that all three of the principal characters, Apolonio, Luciana, and Tarsiana, have near-death experiences. Apolonio nearly dies in the shipwreck that takes the lives of his entire crew just after their first departure from Tarsus, but a more detailed treatment of death occurs in the story of Apolonio’s wife Luciana. When the princess gives birth on the high seas, Apolonio and the ship’s crew believe that she dies in the delivery, but there is more, beyond this apparent death, to Luciana’s story:

Pero non era muerta, mas era amortida, era en muerte falsaçia con el parto caýda; non entendién en ella ningún signo de vida, todos eran creyentes que era transida.

(st. 271)6

Her coffin is prepared, and Apolonio inserts a detailed letter that describes the process that anyone who finds it should follow for the preparation and burial of Luciana’s body, along with the prayers that should be offered.7 [End Page 234]

Apolonio approaches mortality early in the poem, but Luciana hovers on the edge between life and death for an extended period.

The most extended treatment of death and dying appears in connection to Apolonio and Luciana’s daughter Tarsiana. When the young woman’s nursemaid Licórides dies, the audience is told that Tarsiana herself takes on the responsibility of tending to her grave:

Luego que fue Licórides deste mundo pasada, aguisó bien el cuerpo la su buena criada; mortajóla muy bien, diol’ sepultura honrrada, manteniél’ cutiano candela τ oblada.

(st. 364)

Tarsiana herself is nearly assassinated while tending to Licórides’s grave, and after pirates kidnap the young girl, her foster mother erects a false tombstone to cover her homicidal treachery. Although Tarsiana escapes her assassination at the cemetery at Tarsus, death continues to be part of her story. In Mytilene when Tarsiana rues her sad situation, part of her complaint is that she does not know where her presumably deceased parents are buried: “De padre nin de madre, por mìos graues pecados, / non sabré el çiminterio do fueron ssoterrados” (st. 538ab). A general preoccupation with death pervades the stories of all three main characters, but particularly that of Tarsiana.

The seemingly excessive lingering on the subject of dying and care for the deceased on the part of Berceo and the Apolonio poet, which includes people teetering on the verge of life and death, may be reflective of Christianity’s uneasiness with the concept of eternal damnation and the long and difficult process of developing a theology of post-mortem redemption. Although a fully developed theology of purgatory does not mature in western Christendom until the later Middle Ages, the early history of purgatory can be linked to pre-Christian beliefs and practices. The principle of intermediary states for souls after death was part of pre-Christian ideas (both pagan and Jewish), and these beliefs undoubtedly influenced Christianity’s desire for such a state. Several of the later Latin Patristic writers, primarily St. Ambrose [End Page 235] of Milan and St. Gregory the Great (but also St. Augustine), infer an intermediate space in which minor transgressions are purged.8 Perhaps the most influential historian on the subject, Jacques Le Goff, proposed in The Birth of Purgatory and subsequent writings that it was the period between the latter half of the twelfth century and the early fourteenth century in which the idea of purgatory began to pervade the broader culture. As far as the more specific theological development of purgatory, it was precisely the thirteenth century that played a pivotal role. The First Council of Lyons of 1245 (the thirteenth ecumenical council), over which Pope Innocent IV presided, began the formal doctrinal articulation of the concept. So the period in which both the Santa Oria and the Apolonio were written were crucial in both the development of purgatorial theology and the concept’s entry into broader Christian culture.

Throughout the development of the theology of purgatory, women had important roles as intercessors and advocates. Women had been tasked with caring for the dying and preparing the bodies of deceased loved ones in Judaism, paganism, and early Christianity, and this cultural norm continued to a great extent throughout the Middle Ages. As women had played an important role in the more concrete or physical realities of death and dying, it is no surprise that that they would also be central in the cultural development of purgatory. Newman calls attention to the many famous holy women of early Christianity and medieval history whose legends and writings have contributed to the development of purgatorial piety. She includes the intermediary spaces in the legends of St. Thecla, those of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, Hildegard of Bingen’s writings on purgatory, and Marie de France’s translation of the legend of St. Patrick’s Purgatory. Newman explains that women are central to texts of the period that deal with such issues, and their role is often “the holy woman as medium and mediatrix, the psychopomp whose compassion takes her through the portals of hell and heaven that she may lead souls out of purgatory” (108). This role, I will argue presently, is [End Page 236] one that shapes the mester de clerecía poets’ construction of both Oria and Tarsiana as holy women.

While the term purgatory does not appear in either the Apolonio or the Santa Oria, both Tarsiana and Oria are constructed as holy women who experience “white” or bloodless martyrdoms, and who are connected to liminal spaces that have purgatorial undertones. 9 The fact that Oria would be constructed as a saintly woman is a given due to the hagiographical nature of the poem, but the specific type of sanctity that she enacts is important to my argument. Berceo’s formulation of Oria’s holiness involves extreme tribulation, including abstinence and suffering, behavior that provides her with spiritual merit:

Desamparó el mundo  Oria, toca negrada; en un rencón angosto  entró emparedada. Suffrié grant astinençia,  vivié vida lazrada, por ond’ ganó en cabo  de dios rica soldada.

(st. 21)

There are many other references to Oria’s self-deprivations, and Berceo leaves us without a doubt that her anchoritic existence is one of suffering, penitence, and mortification of the flesh, and that this behavior earns her special grace in the world to come. Although Oria is not a martyr in the sense of dying for her faith (that sense is reserved primarily for Oria’s virgin martyr companions of her first visions), Berceo does employ the discourse of white martyrdom in reference to both Amunna and her daughter. Oria’s martyr-like behavior is specifically acknowledged between her first two visions; here we are told that the young saint: [End Page 237]

Martiriava las carnes  dándolis grant lazerio, cumplié días e noches  todo su ministerio, ieiunios e vigilias  e rezar el salterio: querié a todas guisas  seguir el evangelio.

(st. 112)

Berceo never permits the audience to question Oria’s saintliness and it is clear that she is worthy of the designation of martyr because of the bodily deprivations that she suffers during her short life.

Oria’s saintly life and white martyrdom lead her to a good death and provide her with a privileged place in the hereafter. This becomes clear, when, in the final vision, the recently deceased Oria appears to her mother and tells her of her experience of death and current situation. Amunna asks Oria if she was immediately admitted into heaven:

‘Mas, fija, una cosa  vos quiero demandar: si en el passamiento  resçibiestes pesar, o si vos dieron luego  en el cielo logar o vos fizieron ante  a la puerta musar’.

(st. 195)

From this question, it is clear that in Amunna’s mind (and that of the author) that there exists the possibility of an intermediary place of tribulation, such as purgatory, through which one could pass before entering heaven. Despite Oria’s white martyrdom, Oria tells of her period of waiting in such an intermediary space:

‘Madre,’ dixo la fija,  ‘en la noche primera non entré al palaçio,  non sé por ql manera. Otro día mannana  abrióme la portera: resçibiéronme, madre,  todos por compannera’.

(st. 196)

Oria is accompanied in her wait outside the gates by other virgins and the Virgin Mary, and then goes on to inhabit a place of honor among the Holy Innocents, which, as Farcasiu has noted, adds to the liminal quality of Oria’s station; her present company in heaven “is the allegorical fulfillment of the Holy Innocents’ own wait in limbo; the detail that the Virgin, comforter of souls in purgatory, accompanied Oria in her vigil confirms the [End Page 238] correspondence” (326).10 Berceo does not use the term “purgatory” in his development of this scene, but many scholars who have focused attention on this passage, including Farcasiu, Andrachuk, and Lappin, draw connections between Oria’s wait outside the gates of heaven described in this scene and medieval ideas about purgatory.11 The Vida de Santa Oria contains many enigmas, but it is clear that Berceo constructs his protagonist as a holy woman who undergoes a white martyrdom, and then goes on to inhabit liminal spaces, both within her visions and in her own experience of death and heavenly residence.

Tarsiana’s sanctity and her liminal relationship to death are communicated in more subtle ways in the Apolonio than we find in the Santa Oria. Tarsiana does not actually die in the dramatic scene of the cemetery at Tarsus, but the scene is both highly charged with the specter of death and is created as a liminal space in several respects. First, the cemetery is set physically outside of the city, which makes it an ideal place for Dionisa, Tarsiana’s foster mother, to stage the assassination with the help of the henchman Teófilo. Beyond this particular cemetery’s earthly location, cemeteries in general can be considered spiritually liminal as they are places where the living and the dead meet, a quality shared with otherworldly visionary spaces. While Oria meets her mother in a visionary space shortly after the girl’s death and then tells of being transported to another world, Tarsiana goes to the ethereal space of the cemetery to meet with her deceased nursemaid and then is transported to another realm, albeit an earthly one, the city of Mytilene. Finally, the way that the Apolonio poet describes Tarsiana’s arrival at the [End Page 239] cemetery in a procession adds to the cemetery scene an ambulatory aspect whose liminality echoes that of pilgrimages, and at the same time recalls the many visionary processions of Oria in her vita.

Like Oria, Tarsiana is also described as a devout girl, and she carries out pious activities connected to the scene at the cemetery of Tarsus. Tarsiana’s first and primary pious act is her care for her deceased nursemaid, Licórides, and comparisons between this scene in the Apolonio and the corresponding one in the Latin source text are illuminating. As the assassin approaches the cemetery in the Latin Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri (which is thought to be the source text for the Castilian Apolonio), Tarsiana is summoning the shades of her parents (Archibald 146–47). The Castilian poet, on the other hand, describes Tarsiana as “rezando los salmos del salterio” (st. 375d), and when the assassin comes upon her, the poet again emphasizes that she “leyé su matinada” (st. 377a). These same verbal formulations are used in Berceo’s construction of Oria’s piety throughout that hagiography. As a sign of pious devotion, Oria and/or her community are continually described as praying or singing matins or praying the psalter; such descriptions occur at least seven times in the poem (sts. 23c, 26a, 107d, 112c, 137c, 179c, 189a). Examining the commonalities between the constructions of piety in these two poems adds another level to the hagiographical modeling that may be at play within the Apolonio poet’s careful shaping of the character of Tarsiana and her story.

The Apolonio poet goes a step further with the construction of Tarsiana’s piety in that he not only depicts her as devout, but also uses the character’s own words to describe her impending death as a martyrdom.12 In the time that Teófilo, the hired henchman, allows Tarsiana before he is to kill her, she prays to God: [End Page 240]

Só en tierras agenas, sin parientes criada, la madre perdida, del padre non sé nada, yo, mal non meresciendo, he a ser martiriada; Senyor, cuando lo tú sufres só por ello pagada.

(st. 382)

The Apolonio poet has Tarsiana describe her own looming death as a martyrdom, whereas the Latin poet of the Historia neither includes the content of Tarsiana’s prayer nor uses any terminology related to martyrdom (Archibald 146–47). The same stanza in the Castilian version also indicates the liminality of Tarsiana’s position in that she is without the familial markers of her identity (“sin parientes criada”). In the otherworldly space of the cemetery, and at a moment suspended between life and impending death, Tarsiana’s body does not physically perish, but she certainly does die to her old life as a princess in Tarsus and is subsequently resurrected into a new life as a redemptress in the city of Mytilene.

Moments of transition and “in-betweenness,” like the ones that both Tarsiana and Oria experience in their respective poems, are at the heart of theoretical formulations of liminality. Until this point, I have used the term liminality rather loosely, but the concept has had a long tradition in scholarship. The examination of liminal phenomena began in the early decades of the twentieth century with the work of Charles-Arnold Kurr van Gennep. In the book Les Rites de Passage this folklorist and anthropologist began to develop ideas around liminality in relation to ritual initiation or transition in tribal contexts. He formulated the phenomenon into a tripartite process composed of three stages: separation, limen or margin, and reintegration. Victor Turner went on to apply these divisions to what he called “social dramas” in a variety of religious systems, and subsequently he and Edith Turner adapted these ideas to spiritual travel.13 Turner and Turner contend that participants undergo a process of separation from their social structures when they depart; they pass through a status of limen or marginality during their pilgrimages; and finally, they are reintegrated into [End Page 241] their social structures upon their return. It is the liminal or “betwixt and between” phase of pilgrimage, as well as of other ritual processes and social dramas, in which participants are freed from the usual societal hierarchies and are able to achieve tasks impossible within the regular constraints of their communities. Although theoretical explanations of liminality are complex, and many scholars have engaged with the concept, the previously explained ideas are at the core of the matter.

But what are the implications of these ideas for the liminality that Tarsiana and Oria experience in these narratives? We have already noted that both Oria and Tarsiana can be seen as undertaking holy voyages, and therefore their experiences have much in common with that typical form of medieval travel, pilgrimage. But their pilgrimages are of a very particular kind; they are journeys between the worlds of the living and the dead. Turner himself explains the symbolic connection between liminality and the afterworld in that “[t]he liminal state has frequently been likened to death” (249). Although all liminal experiences can be seen as metaphorically similar to the grave, the liminality of Tarsiana and Oria’s activities crosses this ultimate threshold. As I will continue to argue, their transitional states between worlds, as well as their piety, provide them with special redemptive abilities, making them like the typical female mediatrices or psychopomps previously described by Newman. All of this can best be understood within the historical context of medieval female purgatorial piety and the theoretical framework of liminality.

One problem in applying Turner’s work on liminality to medieval female spiritual practices is that these ideas were not developed to address this particular period, and obstacles arise in their application to women religious in general. Carolyn Walker Bynum addresses these issues as she observes that in Turner’s writings he “sees women (both as symbol and as fact) as liminal to men,” arguing that “[i]n this he is quite correct, of course, and the insight is a powerful one” (33). Turner argues and Bynum agrees that men (particularly aristocratic or similarly powerful men) may become “womanly” during liminal phases of social dramas or pilgrimages, and this represents a release from the burdens of the social station of such men. Bynum disagrees [End Page 242] with Turner in that he assumes that the inverse is also true, that men are liminal to women, and that women’s liminality implies a similar inversion of status. Bynum does not deny that liminality is available to women, but rather that women in a medieval religious context do not experience the rupture of liminality in the way that men do. Women’s stories, according to Bynum, are less about “climax, conversion, reintegration and triumph, the liminality of reversal or elevation, than continuity” (32). Because of this, Bynum argues, medieval religious women rarely experience an elevation of status, or an incorporation of elements of masculinity during their experiences of liminal phenomena.

Another area in which Bynum engages with Turner is in regard to his ideas about dominant symbols, and this engagement has important implications for a particularly visual element of both the Santa Oria and the Apolonio.14 Bynum contends that one of the dominant symbols in late-medieval religious contexts is the Eucharist, which, as we shall see shortly, plays an important role in both Tarsiana and Oria’s navigation of liminal spaces surrounding death. While Turner’s formulation of dominant symbols is complex, and spans various publications, it can be best understood within the current discussion in relation to the specific dominant symbol that Bynum addresses. To begin with, a dominant symbol within a religious or cultural system is one that appears in many different ritual contexts, “sometimes presiding over the whole procedure, sometimes over particular phases” (Turner and Turner 245). This is clear in Christianity as eucharistic symbolism appears in many contexts, particularly during the Mass, but also in other ritualistic settings including processions and Extreme Unction or the Last Rites. Another quality of a dominant symbol is that its significance “is highly constant and consistent throughout the entire symbolic system” (245), and this is clear in that in a Christian context the Eucharist’s meaning [End Page 243] is considered eternal (although the actual meaning assigned to it by its practitioners may change over time). Although the meaning of a dominant symbol is constant, it is also polysemic. The consecrated host, for example, is not only bread, but also represents the body of Christ, as well as redemption. A dominant symbol unifies disparate signata in that each of the meanings of the symbol conjures inferences of the others; Christ’s body, for example, automatically summons ideas about suffering and redemption. What is intriguing about Bynum’s discussion of the Eucharist in Turnerian terms is her observation that this dominant symbol of Christianity also embodies some aspects of liminality itself in that “the imagery of this liminal moment [of Communion] is obviously imagery of reversal: omnipotent God becomes dying man; the receiving Christian gains eternal life by eating and becoming the moment of death” (32). The inversion of status, as well as the fusion of life and death within the same signifier, which are implicit in the Eucharist, adds another level of meaning to Oria and Tarsiana’s navigation of liminal spaces of death when this dominant symbol appears in both of the scenes under consideration.

If we accept that the Eucharist is at least one of the dominant symbols in medieval Christianity (as others such as the Crucifix and the Lamb of God certainly share in at least some of the elements of Turner’s description of dominant symbols), then we would expect it to play a role in thirteenth-century hagiographies. It is almost surprising that a reference to the Eucharist should come so late in the Santa Oria, but the only occurrence of this dominant symbol serves to heighten the importance of the scene in which it occurs. Near the end of the poem, when the deceased Oria appears to her mother in the last vision of the narrative, the spectral saint asks her mother to help her participate in the Eucharist on this particular day of Pentecost (Pascua del Espíritu Santo):

‘Madre,’ dixo la fija,  ‘fiesta es general como ^ Resurrectión  o como la Natal; oy prenden los cristianos  el çevo spirital, el cuerpo de don Cristo,  mi sennor natural; pascua es en que deven  christianos comulgar, reçebir corpus dómini   sagrado en ^ altar. [End Page 244]

Yo essi quiero, madre,  resçibir e tomar e tener mi carrera,  allá•m quiero andar. Madre, si bien me quieres  e pro•m quieres buscar, manda llamar los clérigos:  vénganme comulgar, que luego me querría  de mi grado tornar e nin poco nin mucho  non querría tardar’.

(sts. 191–93)

Although, as Bynum points out, the Eucharist is saturated with signification, which includes seeming contradictions, it is rather enigmatic that a soul that is already in heaven would have the need (or ability) to partake in earthly Communion, when this same soul would be able to commune directly with the heavenly Christ. Farcasiu calls this moment “[p]erhaps the strangest ‘textual quirk’ of the poem” (327). Even though the scene of Oria’s posthumous petition for the Eucharist creates a theological conundrum for which critics have not been able to account, it provides an example of Bynum’s contention that medieval women’s experience of liminality is more about continuity than rupture. In this sense, Oria, even in her liminal experience of death, continues in the role of an anchoritic holy woman who depends upon the intervention of others: during her life she was dependent on both her mother and her spiritual advisor and priest, Munno; now in her death, she is dependent on her mother to call priests so that she may partake in a dominant symbol of her devotion. I would argue that the continuity of Oria’s eucharistic experience serves as a reminder of the continued connection between the deceased saint and the community that she leaves behind.

While Oria’s interactions with the Eucharist during liminal experiences around her death demonstrate a continuity of status, the experiences of Tarsiana with the same dominant symbol represent more of a rupture. Oria’s experience represents Bynum’s overarching contention in her modulation of Turner’s ideas that women do not generally experience the climax, conversion, and elevation of status in their liminal processes or social dramas. However, Bynum does concede that “[w]omen occasionally – although only very occasionally– feel empowered to act in a priestly capacity by their reception of the eucharist, or see themselves (or other women) in vision as priests” (45). I contend that Tarsiana’s experience of the Eucharist is precisely this kind of exception. [End Page 245]

Tarsiana’s interaction with the Eucharist in her liminal experience with death is subtler than that of Oria, and it is equally enigmatic. The eucharistic allusion begins with Tarsiana’s prayerful procession to the cemetery at Tarsus:

La duenya gran manyana, como era su costumbre, fue par al çiminterio con su pan τ con su lumbre; aguisó su ençienso τ encendió su lumbre, començó de rezar con toda mansedumbre.

(st. 376)

The element of bread would be significant in any Christian context given its highly charged symbolic nature, but this is even more so the case in this scene in which the bread appears in the company of other ritual elements, such as incense, candles, and prayer.

In my article on sacrament in the Apolonio “De pan y de tresoro,” I analyze in detail the eucharistic connotations of this scene, which I will merely summarize here. I argue that the symbolism of bread here becomes even more significant when the ritual elements are compared to those included in the source text. In the Latin Historia, Tarsiana is specifically carrying out pagan rituals at Licórides’s tomb, and the elements involved are different. There, she brings wine (apparently for pouring libations) as well as wreathes to hang at the grave before she summons the shades of her parents (Archibald 146–47). While one could argue (against my contention that there are eucharistic overtones to this scene) that Tarsiana was simply carrying out an offertory meal at Licórides’s tomb, there is historical evidence why this would be implausible. Although the pagan custom of carrying out offertory meals to the dead at gravesites continued into the early Christian era, efforts were made to censure the custom. G. J. C. Snoek relates an instance of this from Augustine’s Confessions: “St. Monica (†387) followed the custom she was used to in Africa when she carried gruel, bread and unmixed wine into the cathedral in Milan in order to place it at the graves of the martyrs. The doorkeeper stopped her, saying that the bishop, Ambrose, had forbidden the practice” (103). In the graveyard scene of the Apolonio, given the change in elements from the Latin original, the early Christian prohibition of offertory meals to the dead, the resonance of the dominant Christian symbol of the [End Page 246] Eucharist, the ritual setting in which the bread appears, combined with the salvific role that Tarsiana will play in subsequent scenes, it seems at least plausible, following my previous contention, that the bread that Tarsiana carries in her procession to the cemetery have eucharistic significance.

It may seem to walk on the edge of heresy or be at odds with medieval Christian doctrine to claim that Tarsiana, a young women, may be portrayed as engaging in sacramental rites in this scene, but this kind of feminine sacramental activity had occurred within recent memory of the poem’s composition. Gary Macy and other historians of religion have documented a more expanded role for women religious in the early Middle Ages than once was imagined and are challenging our traditional ideas of women’s roles in the medieval Church. He presents documentary evidence from a variety of sources to show that deaconesses and later abbesses were ordained and participated in many activities now reserved for priests, including preaching, hearing confessions, performing baptisms, and serving at the altar. Although the Church authorities began to eliminate this behavior and erase or explain away its record, the activities continued to some extent in Spain into the thirteenth century. Macy quotes Pope Innocent III as chastising such behavior still in 1210:

News of certain things recently have reached our ears, about which we are not little amazed, that abbesses, namely those constituted in the diocese of Burgos and Palencia, bless their own nuns, and hear the confessions of sins of these same, and reading the Gospel presume to preach publicly.

(102)

As unpopular as it began to be with the institutional Church, this behavior continued into the period and localities associated with the composition of the texts under consideration. The proposition that Tarsiana’s activities in the cemetery of Tarsus have eucharistic overtones seems less preposterous when considered in the light of the historical record.

While both Oria and Tarsiana’s eucharistic activities seem to cause theological conundrums, there is record of other medieval women involved in eucharistic rituals, some actively and others passively, at liminal moments between life and death, between this world and the next. One such example comes from the vita of the seventh-century Flemish abbess St. Aldegundis. [End Page 247]

This medieval holy woman died without having communed and, like Oria, requested the Eucharist post mortem:

After the nocturnes and matins one sister from that monastery, she had fallen asleep, God showed her a mystical vision as if the holy Aldegunda of blessed memory had stood before the altar in the place of the priest, and broke the mass offerings with her hands into the chalice. And turning to the aforementioned sister, she said, “Go and tell the priest that over this chalice he should say the solemnities of the Mass, because yesterday a serious illness in my body prevented me from communicating, today with the help of the Lord, I desire to participate in the body and blood of the Lord.

(Vita Sanctae Aldegundis, cited in Macy 84).

This saintly abbess is like Oria in that she calls for priests to administer her the Eucharist, but she is also like Tarsiana in that she touches the elements in a ritual context with her own hands, albeit in a vision.

Another example of the dominant symbol of the Eucharist tied to a holy woman’s experience with death comes in the vita of another abbess. The eighth-century saint Odilia died while her fellow nuns were in prayer, and as she had not communed, the community prayed fervently that she would be revived. The abbess was annoyed with her revivification, but when the eucharistic elements were brought to her, she took them with her own hands, communed, and promptly died again (Macy 84). Odilia has in common with Oria, in the context of her third vision, that she is annoyed at being brought back into the world of the living after having enjoyed a more desirable place. What is perhaps more remarkable about Odilia’s case is that the abbess takes the elements in her own hands in order to partake of them, something that has often been assumed to have been prohibited at the time. Each of these cases regarding abbesses is remarkable in its own way, but both examples serve to underscore that although Tarsiana and Oria’s eucharistic activities seem unorthodox, they are not unique cases of theological conundrums involving medieval holy women, liminality, death, and the Eucharist.

But what narrative function could the Eucharist have in these poems, especially at the strange moments in which the sacrament is invoked? The answer may lie in its more generalized function or symbolic meaning. The [End Page 248] fact that the Eucharist as a dominant symbol is polysemic means that its appearance in these narratives not only functions to signify bread, Christ’s body, sacrifice, and sacrament, but also salvation. The Eucharist has a salvific function for whoever partakes of it (or at least for those who are without mortal sin), and its redeeming qualities are particularly poignant at the moment of death in its use as the viaticum. Although the sacrament does not appear in this specific use in either Oria’s or Tarsiana’s stories, the narrative presence of the Eucharist at particularly liminal moments serves to underline the salvific function that these two holy women play in scenes that occur in close proximity to their eucharistic activities.

Both Tarsiana and Oria have salvific functions in their respective narratives that are connected to their roles as mediators between life and death and that immediately precede or follow their narrative interactions with the Eucharist. In the relatively short scene of the cemetery of Tarsus in the Apolonio, the seemingly odd combination of care for the dead, eucharistic allusions, and the idea of Tarsiana as a martyr transforms into a more coherent presentation of Tarsiana in a redemptive role in the following scenes. Tarsiana’s departure from Tarsus, her sea voyage, and her arrival in Mytilene transform her into a character whose primary role is not only to protect her own virginity, but also to save those around her from spiritual or moral maladies. During this entire time, she even expresses concern for the moral wellbeing of her persecutors. Even before she is abducted by pirates, a serendipitous event that saves her from the assassin Teófilo, she appeals to the hired henchman’s sense of morality by warning him of his impending sin: “otro precio non puedes en la mi muerte ganar, / fueras atanto que puedes mortalmientre pecar” (st. 378cd). This concern for the sins of her persecutors continues in Mytilene when, after being sold to a brothel keeper, she escapes from her first client Antinágora’s plan of deflowering her, and her defense is couched in terms of the avoidance of sin: “Que tú quieras agora mis carnes quebrantar, / podemos aquí amos mortalmientre pecar” (st. 408ab), and in the next stanza she reiterates that in taking her virginity, “cayerás por mal cuerpo, tú, en mortal pecado” (st. 409b). Antinágora learns the intended lesson, and his response focuses on the brevity of life and on [End Page 249] otherworldly retribution for sin:

Todos somos carnales τ auemos a morir, todos esta ventura auemos a seguir; demás, ell omne deue comedir que qual aquí fiziere tal aurá de padir.

(st. 413)

The preoccupation with sin is absent from the equivalent scenes in the Latin Historia (Archibald 150–51), but on these and other occasions in the Castilian Apolonio, Tarsiana expresses concern for the moral wellbeing of others, and occasionally her advice is heeded.

In Mytilene, Tarsiana struggles to maintain her virginity, a common trope in the lives of young female saints (as Grieve has noted), but her personal avoidance of sin is described in such a way that her actions are also of benefit to those around her. When she is allowed to sing and tell stories in the town square instead of prostituting herself, her speech is described as a sermon from which others benefit (422a, 425a). Her sermons can be seen as leading to the conversion of Antinágora as he transforms from one who was about to violate the young holy woman into one of her devotees in that “el día que su boz o su canto non oyé, / conducho que comiese mala pro le tenié” (st. 431cd). The particular case of Antinágora is generalized out to her broader “congregation” at Mytilene, and Julian Weiss has noted that, in this part of the poem, Tarsiana “translates economic exchange into a moral and spiritual practice, as her customers end up buying not her body but her life story, and with it their own moral redemption” (206). This activity, put in terms of purchasing moral redemption, and in close proximity both to the threat of the martyrdom of Tarsiana’s body and to her ritual activities with bread, candles, incense, and prayer, brings together many of the disparate signata of the dominant symbol of the Eucharist. As the narrative continues, Tarsiana’s position as a character who is caught up in the salvation of others comes into sharper focus.

Perhaps the most important salvation in which Tarsiana participates is that of her father, Apolonio. The wandering king is in a depressive state when he and his crew arrive in Mytilene and are greeted by Antinágora. In order to cheer the visiting monarch, Antinágora calls on Tarsiana in order that she [End Page 250] “le saca del coraçón la queja” (st. 483c). Through Tarsiana’s intervention, Apolonio is saved from his melancholy and we are told that “[c]on gozo de la fija perdió la enfermedat” (st. 573a).

Tarsiana’s story of salvation does not end here, but rather continues when she shows concern and mercy for her prostitute companions. The Apolonio poet emphasizes that Tarsiana does not forget about them once she herself has come out of danger, but rather finds a way for them to escape sin and be redeemed:

Tarssiana a las duenyas que él [el procurador] tenié conpradas, dioles buenos maridos, ayudas muy granadas, sallieron de pecado, visquieron muy onrradas, ca sseyén las catiuas fieramientre adobadas.

(st. 569)

The Castilian version puts the emphasis on Tarsiana helping her prostitute companions to leave behind their sin and to find honor through marriage, whereas the emphasis in the Latin Historia is solely on Tarsiana’s purchasing their freedom from slavery (Archibald 170–71). Tarsiana’s salvific intervention is amply spread among the characters of this part of the narrative, ranging from those who would harm her, like Teófilo and Antinágora, to the people of Mytilene at large, to her own unrecognized father, and even to the nameless prostitutes, who are nearly exclusively mentioned as recipients of Tarsiana’s grace.

The grace that Oria, a more literally saintly women, bestows on others is communicated in a more subtle way, but it is also done in close proximity to her eucharistic activities. Directly prior to the final vision of the Santa Oria, Berceo provides detailed information about the location of Oria’s tomb at the Monastery of San Millán de Suso:

Çerca de la eglesia  es la su sepultura, a pocas de passadas  en una angustura, dentro de una cueba,  so una piedra dura, como merescié ella,  non de tal apostura.

(st. 181)

Berceo is clear that both Amunna and Oria are interred in this same place, but also that these two holy women have a salvific function for those who [End Page 251] remain on earth:

Cuerpos son derecheros  que sean adorados ca suffrieron por Christo  lazerios muy granados: ellas fagan a dios  ruegos multiplicados que nos salve las almas,  perdone los peccados.

(st. 183)

The last lines of this stanza underline the intercessory role of these two holy women for saving souls and pardoning sins.

Berceo can be seen as fomenting a relic cult here, and the connections between eucharistic devotion and the cult of relics has been amply studied by Snoek who argues for the similarity of the ancillary uses of the Eucharist (particularly the element of the Host) and the uses of relics throughout the late antique and medieval periods. The Eucharist, as we have seen, has a primary salvific role in medieval devotion; Oria, through her memory, and now we learn through her relics, continues to play an intercessory role in the community of the Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla and those who visit it. This is confirmed textually from the beginning of the poem when the audience is told that Oria continues to be spoken of [“[e]ssa virgen preciosa de quien fablar solemos” (st. 4a)], and that she is not only on the community’s tongues, but also in their memories: “[d]e suso la nonbramos, acordarvos podedes” (st. 6a). Through the memory of Oria’s visions and the presence of her relics, the anchoritic holy woman plays a role in the salvation of the community, which is not the same as, but rather subtly connected to, the salvific function of the Eucharist.

The intercessory and salvific functions of these two holy women are similar in their respective narratives (their intercession on behalf of others, their connections to the Eucharist, and their navigating of liminal spaces of death), but there are also differences in their roles. Oria may be seen as more passive in her intercession, and the liminality of her experience between life and death is more one of continuity, but she is effective for those who pray to her and do reverence to her relics. Tarsiana is more active in her intercession for others, and her experience of liminality is one of rupture and status change. One could argue that her transformation from a noble girl into a young woman who nearly falls into prostitution is far from a status elevation; but [End Page 252] examined in terms of spiritual status, the conversion of a girl who quietly and solitarily prays for the dead in the cemetery at Tarsus into one who intervenes actively for a number of people in Mytilene can be seen as an elevation of spiritual status.15 The narrative elements of these two women’s intercession are similar, but there are differences in the ways that they bring these elements together. Regardless, I argue that the texts’ audiences would have recognized both characters’ piety and behavior as those pertaining to medieval holy women.

The similarities in the intercessory functions of Tarsiana and Oria, as well as their differences, point back to the flexibility of purgatorial piety discussed earlier in this article. There was not one exclusive means by which the medieval soul could be freed from purgatorial tribulation. As Newman has observed:

The Christ of purgatorial piety did not care who paid each sinner’s debt: it might be God’s mother or his saints, his special friends or the friends of the deceased —or he himself might pay by applying his own sacrifice to their account. Nor did he care about the venue: souls might atone in the “purgatory of mercy” (sickness and tribulation in life), the “purgatory of grace” (expiation as ghosts), or the “purgatory of righteousness” (otherworldly fire)— unless or until someone bought them out.

(119)

With these ways of paying purgatorial debt in mind, we can see Oria and Tarsiana participating in this activity. Whether we consider them saints or simply Christ’s “special friends,” they navigate liminal spaces between life and death and work as purgatorial mediators. They make a sacrifice of themselves through sickness (in the case of Oria) and tribulation (in the case of Tarsiana). They pay the debt for themselves, but also for their friends, family members, or devotees. And finally, they do this in life, as in Tarsiana’s salvation of her clients, her prostitute companions, and her own father; or they do so in death, as in Oria’s intervention for those whose prayers are [End Page 253] multiplied at her tomb.

The variety of ways that purgatorial debt could be paid, as well as the variety of ways that these two characters are constructed as participating in such piety, points to the richness of this area of inquiry, which is far from exhausted. In a series of articles from the seventies and eighties, John K. Walsh researched some of the possible influences on Berceo’s shaping of the Santa Oria. Such possibilities are numerous, as Walsh himself noted, due to the particular intertextual quality of hagiography:

We know that saints’ lives borrow one from another, and that legends collect motifs and episodes (especially miracles) from other legends, so that categories and coordinates of saints are generated as a regular part of the process. At one level a scribe or hagiographer composing a written legend will draw into his narrative shreds from stories of saints with affinitive virtue or social position.

Walsh was successful at showing the categories to which Oria’s story belongs, and I believe that similar work could be carried out with the less specifically hagiographical story of Tarsiana in order to trace the vectors of sanctity and gender that intersect at the coordinates of the Apolonio poet’s construction of this important female character. Many other models of sanctity exist, and examining influences and commonalities could yield many insights into the Apolonio. One such possibility would be a comparison with a model found in another text included in the same manuscript as the Apolonio (Manuscript K–III–4 of the Library of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial): the converted harlot of the Vida de Santa María Egipciaca. Andrew M. Beresford has begun to examine the chiasmic structure of female sanctity in the characters of Tarsiana and Mary of Egypt, but the broader implications of this structure for the Apolonio have not been fully plumbed. Other female characters of the Apolonio could also benefit from examinations of their commonalities with contemporary patterns of piety. Holy motherhood could be the focus of examinations of Luciana and Licórides (but also the negative example of Tarsiana’s foster mother Dionisa). The examination of the appearance of this hagiographical type could benefit particularly from [End Page 254] comparisons to examinations such as those by Emily C. Francomano.16 And the list of models and influences could go on. In this article, I chose to focus on Tarsiana and Oria as they are two characters well known to those who study thirteenth-century Castilian literature, but I look forward to the further directions that this line of inquiry could take.

These two famous female characters of mester de clerecía poetry at first glance merely share the similar traits of youth and virginity; after all, one is the protagonist of a hagiography and the other is a princess from the romance tradition. In this discussion, however, we have gone below the surface level differences to find that Tarsiana and Oria seem to be woven from the same pious fibers. Both characters are portrayed as virtuous young girls who engage in devotional activities, and who frequently move in liminal spaces connected to death, either to be transported to the hereafter in the explicitly visionary experiences of Oria and her mother, or to be transported to a new redemptive life in a separate realm through Tarsiana’s dream-like experience at the cemetery of Tarsus. These intermediary spaces and experiences seem to be tied to contemporary constructions of purgatorial piety, and both characters engage in eucharistic activities in these same spaces, which heightens the salvific nature of their subsequent actions. It seems that the authors of these two texts were not only working from similar linguistic, educational, poetic, and theological traditions, but were also drawing from a common matrix of models of female piety and inserted common tropes into their construction of these female characters. The purpose of this project has not been so much to analyze the Santa Oria, but rather to show how what we know about Oria’s piety, otherworldly experiences, and interactions with the Eucharist help us understand the Apolonio poet’s shaping of Tarsiana. And I would argue that such an understanding of the influences on the construction of Tarsiana’s character could help us achieve a better understanding of the entire poem.

The importance of this argument to the entirety of the Apolonio should not be underestimated. Tarsiana’s story occupies more than a third of the entire [End Page 255] 656-stanza poem, and the section of the poem that spans from Tarsiana’s vision-like procession to the cemetery to her redemption of her prostitute companions, excluding the digressions about Apolonio’s wanderings, comprises more than a fifth of the entire narrative. Beyond all of the other allusions to death, dying, and the afterlife throughout the rest of the poem, the significance of this theme is underscored in the last five stanzas of the Apolonio, which leave behind the story of the wandering king and his family to concentrate on a broader moral of living a good life to achieve an appropriate recompense in the world to come.17 Here the intercessory role of loved ones in the process is also made explicit:

Lo que por nuestras almas dar non enduramos, bien lo querrán alçar los que biuos dexamos; nos por los que sson muertos raciones damos, non darán más por nos desque muertos seyamos.

(st. 653)18

The closing sentiment expressed in the poem’s epilogue makes clear the importance of those left behind in raising up the souls of their loved ones. The person who most closely fits into this intercessory role in the poem is Tarsiana, and we have seen that the anonymous poet shapes this character on models of sanctity that also inform contemporary hagiographies, like that of Berceo’s Santa Oria. [End Page 256]

Matthew V. Desing
University of Texas at El Paso

Works Cited

Andrachuk, Gregory Peter. “‘Extra Qual Nullus Omnino Salvatur’: The Epilogue of the Vida de Santa Oria.” La corónica 19.2 (1991): 43–56.
Archibald, Elizabeth. Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations; Including the Text of the “Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri” with an English Translation. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1991.
Berceo, Gonzalo. Berceo’s “Vida de Santa Oria”: Text, Translation, and Commentary. Ed. and trans. Anthony Lappin. Oxford: Legenda, 2000.
Beresford, Andrew M. “The Vida de Santa María Egipciaca and the Question of Manuscript Unity.” Text & Manuscript in Medieval Spain: Papers from the King’s College Colloquium. Ed. David Hook. London: King’s College, 2000. 79–102.
Brown, Peter. “On the Borders of Middle English Dream Visions.” Reading Dreams: The Interpretation of Dreams from Chaucer to Shakespeare. Ed. Peter Brown. Oxford: UP, 1999. 22–50.
Brownlee, Marina Scordilis. “Writing and Scripture in the Libro de Apolonio: The Conflation of Hagiography and Romance.” Hispanic Review 51.2 (Spring 1983): 159–74.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. “Women’s Stories, Women’s Symbols: A Critique of Victor Turner’s Theory of Liminality.” Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion. New York: Zone Books, 1991. 27–52.
Clark, Katherine. “Purgatory, Punishment, and the Discourse of Holy Widowhood in the High and Later Middle Ages.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 16.2 (2007): 169–203.
Cuesta Torre, María Luzdivina. “La muerte aparente: un episodio del Libro de Apolonio.” Livius 13 (1999): 9–21.
Desing, Matthew V. “‘De pan y de tresoro’: Sacrament in the Libro de Apolonio.” La corónica 40.2 (Spring 2012): 93–120.
———. “Luciana’s Story: Text, Travel, and Interpretation in the Libro de Apolonio.” Hispanic Review 79.1 (Winter 2011): 1–15.
Farcasiu, Simina M. “The Exegesis and Iconography of Vision in Gonzalo de Berceo’s Vida de Santa Oria.” Speculum 61 (1986): 305–29.
Francomano, Emily C. “Biological and Spiritual Mothering in Berceo’s Poema de Santa Oria.” The Inner Life of Women in Medieval Romance Literature: Grief, Guilt and Hypocrisy. Ed. Jeff Rider. New York: Palgrave Macmilan, 2011. [End Page 257] 159–77.
Grieve, Patricia E. “Building Christian Narrative: The Rhetoric of Knowledge, Revelation, and Interpretation in Libro de Apolonio.” The Book and the Magic of Reading in the Middle Ages. Ed. Albrecht Classen. New York, NY: Garland, 1998. 149–69.
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Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.
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Macy, Gary. The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West. Oxford: UP, 2008.
Marden, C. Carroll, ed. “Libro de Apolonio”: An Old Spanish Poem. New York: Krause Reprint, 1965.
Newman, Barbara. From Virile Woman to Womanchrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1995.
Rush, Alfred C. “Spiritual Martyrdom in St. Gregory the Great.” Theological Studies 23.4 (1962): 569–89.
Starkloff, Carl F. “Church as Structure and Communitas: Victor Turner and Ecclesiology.” Theological Studies 58.4 (December 1997): 643–68.
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———. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1967.
———, and Edith L. B. Turner. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Columbia UP, 1978.
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———. “The Other World in Berceo’s Vida de Santa Oria.” Hispanic Studies in Honor of Alan D. Deyermond: A North American Tribute. Ed. John S. Miletich. Madison, WI: Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies, 1986. 291–307.
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Footnotes

1. Berceo states in the second stanza that he is writing the poem in his old age. Although we do not have exact birth or death dates for the author, it is generally accepted that the poet’s elderly years would have been in the middle of the thirteenth century.

2. There appears to be corruption in the ordering of the stanzas in the only extant manuscript of the Santa Oria, and editors have dealt with this in a variety of manners. Gregory Peter Andrachuk summarizes the current scholarly consensus on the integrity of the epilogue stating that, “T. Anthony Perry, Isabel Uría Maqua, and Brian Dutton [three of the most influential critics on the subject] are unanimous in considering this episode to be an integral part of the original plan of the poem despite its placement in the manuscript” (43). Andrachuk goes on to argue that Berceo added this epilogue at a point subsequent to the composition of the rest of the text, and other critics, including Anthony Lappin, have followed Andrachuk’s lead. I agree that the epilogue appears to be authentic to Berceo, but conjecturing about a timeline for its composition would add little to the specific arguments of this article.

3. The common metrical form of the two poems was not a deciding factor in my selection for their comparison. Equally fruitful examinations are possible between poems of different metrical forms; the choice of poems for this project was based primarily on content and context, while form was of secondary concern.

4. Walsh researched some of the possible influences on Berceo’s shaping of the Santa Oria in a series of articles from the seventies and eighties (the previously mentioned “Other World,” as well as “A Possible Source” and “Sanctity and Gender”). Such possible influences are numerous, as Walsh himself notes. He is not alone in locating commonalities between journeys or quests (such as those found in romance) and literary representations of visions. Peter Brown, for example, has explored such connections in the context of England, while approaching the commonalities through liminality theory and the work of Victor and Edith Turner.

5. This and all subsequent quotations from the Santa Oria are taken from Anthony Lappin’s edition and are referenced by stanza number. I have reproduced the diacritics and italics used in this edition.

6. This and all subsequent quotations from the Apolonio come from Dolores Corbella’s edition and are given by stanza number. I have reproduced the diacritics and italics used in this edition.

7. Many articles treat this scene tangentially, but more extended examinations appear in Cuesta Torre, and in Desing’s “Luciana’s Story”.

8. Simina Farcasiu has pointed to the importance of the writings of Gregory the Great to the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla with which Berceo was connected in an official capacity (309).

9. The development of the concept of “white martyrdom” occurred over centuries of Christian history. Alfred C. Rush explains that although Christianity had always emphasized the importance of providing witness to Christ’s sacrifice through one’s own suffering within the broader concept of martyrdom, this emphasis came to overshadow the act of dying for the faith in the period subsequent to that of the Christian persecutions. In the Late Antique period and the early Middle Ages, there developed the concept of a “second type of martyrdom, which was called spiritual martyrdom, white martyrdom, lifelong martyrdom, martyrdom by desire, or martyrdom in intention” (Rush 570). This kind of martyrdom was seen “as embodied perfectly in monasticism and consecrated virginity” (574). Rush provides an excellent overview of the evolution of this second type of martyrdom from the writings of Sts. Cyprian, Jerome, and Augustine, among others, on his way to a more extensive discussion of the concept in the writings of Pope Gregory I.

10. Limbo and purgatory are certainly related concepts as they both hypothesize an intermediary space between heaven and hell in a postmortem geography. Traditionally, limbo has been seen as a place for the unbaptized (either those who died before Christ’s Resurrection or those who have died in infancy), whereas purgatory is a place for the purging of sins acquired through volition subsequent to Christ’s Resurrection. It should be noted that purgatory is a doctrinal concept in Roman Catholicism that developed over the course of centuries, while limbo is not dogma and exists only as a hypothesis within Catholic tradition.

11. Each of these scholars handles the enigmatic scene differently, but all three connect Oria’s liminal location, at least in the first night after her death, to medieval conceptions of purgatorial piety. Farcasiu’s views have already been noted; Andrachuk devotes an entire article to the subject; Lappin’s treatment is the most recent (see especially 209–23).

12. Grieve makes passing reference to Tarsiana as a virgin-martyr, but there she focuses on Tarsiana’s defense of her virginity in the beginning scenes at Mytilene. She states that, “Tarsiana represents the virgin-martyr of Christianity, who most commonly is threatened with rape by pagan emperors and infidel ruffians, from which they are usually spared even if they do in fact undergo martyrdom. Tarsiana fits the profile of the learned young Christian virgin, whose verbal eloquence in defense of her virginity and her beliefs manage to astonish even the most learned pagan opponent” (162).

13. Victor Turner’s research is extensive on the subject of liminality, but his early foundational work on the subject includes: The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual; The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure; and Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society.

14. The reason that the visual aspect of the Eucharist is particularly important here is because of changes occurring at the time of the composition of the two poems. Bynum explains that “we understand that when, in the thirteenth century, elevation of the host came to replace either consecration or reception of the elements as the climax of the ritual, the entire meaning was changed. God came to be taken in most fully through the eyes rather than the mouth; he was thus taken in most fully where ecstatic, out-of-body experiences added a deeper level of ‘seeing’ to bodily seeing” (45).

15. This dichotomy of secular insignificance and spiritual authority is actually very congruent with Turner’s formulations. As Carl F. Starkloff notes in his use of Turner, liminality “is a condition of ‘secular powerlessness’ joined to ‘sacred power’: that is, the liminal person or group as such has no social or political clout, but is endowed with an awesome sacred power” (650).

16. Katherine Clark enters into a discussion on liminality in the role of holy widows, which could inform examinations of Amunna’s piety in these terms.

17. Mary Jane Kelley rightly calls our attention to the tension between the remaining pagan elements in the Apolonio and the christianization in which the author engages. There are indeed scattered pagan elements remaining, but the extent to which they undermine the christianization of the work is debatable. I disagree with Kelley’s contention that the epilogue of the Apolonio has little to do with the rest of the poem when she states that “[d]eath and the afterlife has not been a theme of the work and no such lesson is hinted at before this last six strophes” (2).

18. Although some, particularly Marden in his critical edition, have hypothesized without definitive evidence that the final strophes of the poem are a later addition. I contend that the final strophes of the poem are completely congruent with the broader message of a narrative in which death, dying, and rites for the dead play an important role throughout.