Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 6790
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Price , Merrall Llewelyn.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Purifying Violence: Sanctity and the Somatic
  • Source: Gender and Conflict in the Middle Ages. Gender and Medieval Studies Conference, York, January 5-7 2001.. 2001.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Martyrs Mary, Virgin, Saint Punishment Violence
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Related Resources:
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  • Abstract: As a number of historians have discussed, the maintenance of late medieval cultural order required the countenancing of a degree of punitive and prophylactic violence perpetrated by legitimate authority as both right and rite. In fact, English law prescribed only public and corporal punishment for felonies, whether capital offenses or more minor transgressions meriting only flogging or branding; justice, then, as Foucault suggests, was inscribed somatically and spectacularly on the body of the convicted felon. During a time when the assembling of highly charged and potentially disruptive crowds was largely discouraged, the scaffold spectacles drew enormous numbers of responsive spectators, with the apparent blessing of the authorities. Given this context for the ritual and violent infliction of late medieval authority, it is particularly interesting to examine the contemporary production and re-production of texts which glorified the brutal martyrdom of the early saints. The appearance of the sexualized, suffering, and sanctified body of the martyr in popular texts like the "Legenda Aurea" and the "South English Legendary" both recalls and subverts the function of the spectacle of the textualized and criminalized body of the felon, so that, instead of inscribing the truth of a secret crime, somatic punishment may in fact have imbued the condemned with a sense of the sacred, leading to the suffering criminal body beginning to function as a site of contestation between the conflicting needs of secular and religious authorities. Further complicating the matter, however, is the concurrent development of an unlikely figure as a physical enforcer of both secular and religious law: the Virgin Mary. Many of her appearances in fourteenth-century English sermons, homilies, and miracle collections in particular represent the Virgin Mary as a disciplinarian given to authoritarian punishments almost inevitably effected upon the flesh of the unfortunate offender. In this paper, I examine some of these manifestations in relation to the martyr materials, arguing that Mary’s association with violent physical punishment aligns her with secular rather than clerical authority, reinforcing divine justification for state-sanctioned violence. [Reproduced by permission of Gender and Medieval Studies Conference organizers].
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Alabama
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2001.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available
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