Conference Agenda

5E: Female Bodies Across Time
Thursday, 09/Sept/2021:
9:00am - 10:15am

Session Chair: Prof. Anne Kveim Lie, U of Oslo, Norway


Female Bodies as Living Relics: Healing Powers, Gender and Faith in three Brabant Vitae*

Kulagina, Pavlina

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

The vitae of three holy women of Brabant, Christina the Astonishing (c. 1150 – 1224), Marie of Oignies (1177 – 1213) and Lutgard of Aywieres (1182 – 1246) depict rather different paths to perfection: those of a penitent castaway, a Beguine saint and a Benedictine nun. At the same time, several common features in the attitude to holiness run through the vitae. Notably, it’s clear how their veneration is influenced by the burgeoning relic cult of the High Middle Ages. While the fascinating and often shockingly graphic miracles performed by their saintly remains are regularly cited, a crucial aspect tends to be overlooked. Preceding and prefiguring the post-mortem veneration of remains of the holy women, their own living bodies are already treated as miraculous and desired relics in their lifetime by their communities and even by themselves. The aim of my analysis is to investigate this process in detail. Christina, Marie and Lutgard themselves are fully aware of how their communities intend to use their remains, so the ascetic practices and physically intense mystical experiences of these holy women can be seen as preparation of the body for a miraculous earthly afterlife. Moreover, their bodies start performing healing miracles during life, mainly through bodily fluids such as tears, saliva and breast milk. The presentation will thus focus on how the division between living body and dead relic fades, and “new kinds of animated materiality” (Caroline Bynum) emerge.

Comparative and interdisciplinary research on the issue of female fasting through the ages*

Vilhem, Steve

Université de Lausanne, Switzerland

Historically, in the West, female fasting was not considered a disease by medicine until the 19th century, although the practice has been reported far before in the past. During medieval times, some women with extreme forms of fasting, far from being medicalized, were revered. This is reported by the many hagiographic sources of the medieval period - such as the famous example of Catherine of Siena. The transition that occurred in the 19th century in the West in the representation of anorexia nervosa was that of the image of the saint (anorexia mirabilis) to that of the sick (anorexia nervosa), this transition being the culmination of a double process of secularization and medicalization of society. The aim of our paper is to propose a comparative study, using an interdisciplinary approach, between two forms of female fasting: mystical and religious in medieval times on the one hand; secularized in our contemporary world on the other. This combination of history and psychoanalysis will enable us to deepen our analysis, insofar as the proposed interpretations are constantly placed in the light of the concrete socio-historical conditions of each milieu in each era. Based on this comparison between two forms of female fasting, we will propose in conclusion an epistemological reflection questioning the very nature and the contemporary psychiatric definition of anorexia nervosa.