Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: The woman with the blood flow
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This artwork numbers among the surviving mosaics in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, constructed in Ravenna, Italy in the early sixth century to be the palatine church of Theodoric, an Ostrogoth who conquered Italy. The church and its decorations exhibit a fusion of western and eastern, Italian and Byzantine stylistic influences, the mosaics being Byzantine in character. The church’s mosaics line either side of its nave in three bands: the upper band dates from Theodoric’s reign and shows in thirteen panels the miracles of Christ (left wall) and the Passion (right wall). The Haemorrhoissa, or woman with the issue of blood features among the mosaics in the upper left band. Jesus, in typical Arian style, is shown in the Haemorrhoissa mosaic as beardless and youthful.

    The story of the Haemorrhoissa is told in Mark 5:24-34, Luke 8:42-48, and Matthew 9:19-22. While a large crowd is pressing in on Jesus, a woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years approached him from behind and touched the hem of his cloak, for she had heard of Jesus and understood that if she touched even his clothes, she would be made well. Jesus, “immediately aware that power had gone forth from him,” then turns about in the crowd and asks who had touched his clothes, but his disciples reply that the crowd is pressing in on him, so how could he ask who had touched him. The woman, in fear, falls down before Jesus and reveals herself, and He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

    This mosaic depicts the woman’s approach, her touch, Jesus’ realization, the woman in fear, the confusion of the crowd, and Jesus’ address to the woman, compressed into a single moment: the woman is in motion, crawling toward Jesus and reaching out her hand, while her eyes are cast down, her hands covered, signifying the “untouchability” of Christ (as well as the Eucharist). One member of the crowd, a disciple of Jesus, lifts his hand up, as though to express his bewilderment with a gesture, but Jesus has already seen the woman at his feet, and no longer begs information from the crowd. His hand is outstretched as he addresses the woman, telling her to “go in peace and be healed,” yet the woman remains on the ground. Thus, this image compresses the New Testament story into a single, economical motif.

    The woman’s malady is widely considered to be a vaginal or uterine disease, and the story of the Haemorrhoissa can be seen to challenge the uncleanliness or pollution associated with menstruation. In early Christianity, the woman with the issue of blood was considered impure, as argued in “An Issue of Blood,” “and this was understood in the context of the early Christian concern with the presence of menstruating women in sacred space, another bloody realm due to the presence of Eucharistic blood.” But although sources such as Dionysius of Alexandria saw the woman as merely touching Jesus’ hem, reinforcing early Christianity’s uneasiness surrounding menstruation, a contemporary source from Syria argues, following the Haemorrhoissa’s example, that a menstruating woman could touch holy things. This latter source’s positive--or, at least, neutral--reading of the Haemorrhoissa contradicts many ancient perceptions of menstruation, both Christian and pagan. For instance, Pliny, the Roman encyclopedist, warns that contact with menstrual blood “turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seeds in gardens are dried up,” and brings about many other terrifying events. The narrative of the woman with a flow of blood, scholars Mary D’Angelo and Shaye Cohen agree, does not, however, indicate that the woman is somehow polluted, suffering social isolation on account of her malady.

    In fact, the healing of the woman with a blood flow seems to emphasize just that--healing--both in the physical and spiritual sense, rather than issues of purity. In the written account of the Haemorrhoissa, the woman’s spiritual healing is brought into conjunction with her physical healing when Jesus tells her, “Your faith has made you well.” Here, the woman’s physical touching of Jesus’ hem is deepened by her faith, and, together, these heal the woman. Liesbet Kusters likewise believes the woman’s story transcends negative connotations associated with menstrual blood or as she emphasizes, with the back of a person: that the woman approaches Jesus from behind could signify her need for a particularly intense sort of healing. Kusters notes that, pictorially, the woman is seldom shown approaching Jesus from behind, a direction with very negative connotations in the ancient Mediterranean. Rather, her touch is “visually linked to the moment that He turns around,” that is, to the “positive side” of Jesus’ body.

    The bleeding woman, then, despite the menstrual nature of her disease, is an overwhelmingly positive figure, both before and after her healing. There could even be, as Laura Tack suggests, similarities between the body of Christ and that of the woman, as their sufferings are comparable: the woman’s bleeding can be compared to Christ’s bloody crucifixion, whereas her healing provides an apt model for His resurrection.

  • Source: Mode of Life, a website about the Orthodox Church
  • Rights: Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
  • Subject (See Also): Healers and Healing Jesus Christ Medicine Miracles Woman with an Issue of Blood (Biblical Figure)
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 6
  • Date: 520- 526
  • Related Work: Mosaics on the left side of the nave. The mosaic of the woman with an issue of blood is the fourth mosaic from the left.
    Mosaic of the Samaritan woman and Jesus. Located immediately to the viewer’s left of the woman with an issue of blood in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
    The healing of a bleeding woman. Rome, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter. 4th c. CE.
    Healing of the woman with an issue of blood and the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus. Ottheinrich Bible, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 8010, ca. 1425-1430.
  • Current Location: Ravenna, Italy, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, north wall, upper register
  • Original Location: Ravenna, Italy, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, north wall, upper register
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Mosaics
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Colored stone; Glass; Gold
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 100/135/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Baert, Barbara. “General Introduction. Touching the Hem.” In The Woman with the Blood Flow (Mark 5:24-34): Narrative, Iconic, and Anthropological Spaces. Edited by Barbara Baert, Peeters, 2014. Pages 1-2;
    Baert, Barbara, Liesbet Kusters, and Emma Sidgwick. “An Issue of Blood. The Healing of the Woman with the Haemorrhage (Mark 5.24b-34; Luke 8.42b-48; Matthew 9.19-22) in Early Medieval Visual Culture.” In Blood, Sweat and Tears--The Changing Concepts of Physiology from Antiquity into Early Modern Europe, eds. Manfred Horstmanshoff, Helen King, and Claus Zittel. Brill, 2012. Pages 307-338;
    Baert, Barbara. “‘Who touched me and my clothes?’” The Healing of the Woman with the Haemorrhage (Mark 5:24b-34parr) in Early Mediaeval Visual Culture.” Annual of the Royal Antwerp Museum (2009 (published in 2011)): 9-51;
    Bekker, Henk. "See the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna."European Traveler. Web;
    Clark, Gillian. “Health.” In Women in Late Antiquity: Pagan and Christian Life-styles. Clarendon, 1993. Page 79;
    D’Angelo, Mary R. “Power, Knowledge and the Bodies of Women in Mark 5:21-43.” In The Woman with the Blood Flow (Mark 5:24-34): Narrative, Iconic, and Anthropological Spaces, ed. Barbara Baert. Peeters, 2014. Pages 83, 89;
    "Guarigione dell'emorroissa". Banca dati mosaico. Database record with description;
    Kusters, Liesbet. “Touching and Not Touching Jesus. The Haemorrhaging Woman in the Narrative and Visual culture of the Early Middle Ages (fourth-eleventh Century).” In The Woman with the Blood Flow (Mark 5:24-34): Narrative, Iconic, and Anthropological Spaces, ed. Barbara Baert. Peeters, 2014. Pages 259, 268-269;
    Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers. “The Healing of the Haemorrhaging Woman on Fourth-Century Sarcophagi from Rome.” In The Woman with the Blood Flow (Mark 5:24-34): Narrative, Iconic, and Anthropological Spaces, ed. Barbara Baert. Peeters, 2014. Page 110;
    Tack, Laura. “Cleansed in the wine of the Passion. On the Role of Jesus’ Garment in the Story of the Haemorrhaging Woman.” In The Woman with the Blood Flow (Mark 5:24-34): Narrative, Iconic, and Anthropological Spaces, ed. Barbara Baert. Peeters, 2014. Pages 79-80.