Miraculous Bodies: Gender, Power, and Tropes of Embodiment in Early Medieval Hagiographies from Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, and Francia Open Access

Neville, Robyn Michelle (Summer 2020)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/6395w820n?locale=en


This dissertation identifies five tropes, or narratological motifs, in the hagiographic literature from Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, and Francia from the early-medieval period that treat of saints, their bodies, and their embodied miracles. These tropes include the motif of holy fire, the motif of disability, the motif of enclosure, the motif of pregnancy, especially pregnant religious bodies, and the motif of shapeshifting. After providing an account of the development of sanctity in early-medieval Christianity, the project analyzes the way these tropes present gender, with a particular focus on the miraculous activities of female saints. Focusing on how the warrants for female spiritual authority are depicted within narrative, this study explores the ways in which the bodies of women and men become fields for the exercise of saintly power, and the ways in which gender performances are worked out in and on bodies in the text. After tracing the versions of these tropes in the extant hagiographic literature from the period, the project compares these themes across the three different early-medieval Christian cultures under discussion in order to contextualize these motifs in history. Next, I argue for an ascetical-theological reading of the narratives, in order to situate the narratological presentation of these themes within the discourse of the early-medieval valorization of the Christian monastic ideal. Finally, I conclude this study with a pastoral-theological reflection on the possibilities that each trope holds for reflecting on the lived experience of Christians in the present.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter One: The State of the Question 13

Chapter Two: Towards a Historiography of Early Medieval Irish Sanctity 33

Chapter Three: The Trope of Fire —The Body Incandescent, Transfigured, and Other 61

Chapter Four: Disability in Early Irish Saints’ Lives — The Body Diminished and Redeemed 82

Chapter Five: The Trope of Pregnancy — The Body Transgressive and Productive 109

Chapter Six: The Trope of Enclosure — The Body Encompassed and Exposed 143

Chapter Seven: The Narrative Trope of Shape-Shifting — The Aging Body, Transformed 165

Conclusion 199

Bibliography 207

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