- Imprisonment in the Medieval Religious Imagination, c. 1150-1400 by Megan Cassidy-Welch
Megan Cassidy-Welch's study is an investigation of the idea of imprisonment in religious culture during the '"long" thirteenth century' (p. 126) in England, France, and Germany, rather than a book about prison history. The idea of imprisonment, extending to captivity, bondage, and enclosure, is explored in a number of contexts including monasticism, hagiography, heresy trials, and the crusades. Cassidy-Welch argues that imaginings of prison were linked to the attainment of spiritual freedoms, resulting in a positive valuation of imprisonment as a 'site of spiritual opportunity' (p. 124) in the medieval religious imagination.
Imprisonment served as a metaphor for monastic enclosure, and in regulatory texts, advice texts, and visitation registers, voluntary confinement in monasteries and anchoritic cells aimed to free the soul from the world, and to protect virginity. Monastic prisons punished malefactors but also offered opportunities for prayer, repentance, and penance. The 'gendered language of enclosure' (p. 12) is also examined in some detail.
Chapter 2 explores imprisonment in hagiography, focusing almost exclusively on the cult of St Leonard of Noblac at Inchenhofen, Germany. St Leonard liberated prisoners, and in accounts of Leonard's life and miracles, prison became a place of encounter with divine mercy. Freed by St Leonard's [End Page 321] intercession, wrongdoers were converted and the righteous rewarded for their persevering prayers. Bodily and spiritual freedom was confirmed in the corporeo-spiritual activity of pilgrimage to Leonard's shrine.
The third and fifth chapters examine the idea of imprisonment in the combat against enemies of the faith. Inquisitorial prisons in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century France functioned as sites of fear and memory to elicit truth and liberate souls from heresy, as well as serving penitential and, in the case of obdurate heretics, punitive purposes. Using chronicle and sermon accounts of the brief imprisonment of Louis IX, the author traces the way in which the idea of captivity in the context of the crusades was transformed from one of shame for the captive crusader to one of virtuous suffering, in order to promote the steadfast piety and sanctity of the imprisoned king. A further chapter covers captivity in didactic texts including exempla, sermons, hagiography, and crusade literature, revealing correlations between physical confinement and the promise of spiritual liberation. Much of the material, however, supports points made, or themes covered, in other chapters.
This engaging exploration of the spiritual value of imprisonment in the Middle Ages should be of interest to scholars interested in monasticism, hagiography, miracle accounts and exempla, inquisition, heresy, and the crusades.
The University of Sydney