Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women

Front Cover
University of California Press, 1987 - History - 444 pages
3 Reviews
In the period between 1200 and 1500 in western Europe, a number of religious women gained widespread veneration and even canonization as saints for their extraordinary devotion to the Christian eucharist, supernatural multiplications of food and drink, and miracles of bodily manipulation, including stigmata and inedia (living without eating). The occurrence of such phenomena sheds much light on the nature of medieval society and medieval religion. It also forms a chapter in the history of women.

Previous scholars have occasionally noted the various phenomena in isolation from each other and have sometimes applied modern medical or psychological theories to them. Using materials based on saints' lives and the religious and mystical writings of medieval women and men, Caroline Walker Bynum uncovers the pattern lying behind these aspects of women's religiosity and behind the fascination men and women felt for such miracles and devotional practices. She argues that food lies at the heart of much of women's piety. Women renounced ordinary food through fasting in order to prepare for receiving extraordinary food in the eucharist. They also offered themselves as food in miracles of feeding and bodily manipulation.

Providing both functionalist and phenomenological explanations, Bynum explores the ways in which food practices enabled women to exert control within the family and to define their religious vocations. She also describes what women meant by seeing their own bodies and God's body as food and what men meant when they too associated women with food and flesh. The author's interpretation of women's piety offers a new view of the nature of medieval asceticism and, drawing upon both anthropology and feminist theory, she illuminates the distinctive features of women's use of symbols. Rejecting presentist interpretations of women as exploited or masochistic, she shows the power and creativity of women's writing and women's lives.
 

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User Review  - SeraSolig - LibraryThing

Great reference book on Medieval Church and Food. Read full review

Review: Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women

User Review  - Karen Whittingham - Goodreads

This is an unusual book, an historically scholarly yet highly readable study of the medieval phenomenon of those 'saints' who lived on nothing but the eucharist (the consecrated host of the roman ... Read full review

Contents

Religious Women In The Later Middle Ages
13
New Opportunities
14
Diversities and Unity
23
Fast And Feast The Historical Background
31
Fasting in Antiquity and the High Middle Ages
33
From Bread of Heaven to the Body Broken
48
The Evidence
71
Food As A Female Concern The Complexity Of The Evidence
73
Food As Control Of Circumstance
219
Food and Family
220
Food Practices and Religious Roles
227
Food Practices as Rejection of Moderation
237
THE MEANING OF FOOD FOOD AS PHYSICALITY
245
Food and Flesh as Pleasure and Pain
246
The Late Medieval Concern with Physicality
251
Woman As Body And As Food
260

Quantitative and Fragmentary Evidence for Womens Concern with Food
76
A Comparison
94
Food In The Lives Of Women Saints
113
The Low Countries
115
France and Germany
129
Italy
140
Food In The Writings Of Women Mystics
150
Hadewijch and Beatrice of Nazareth
153
Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Genoa
165
THE EXPLANATION
187
Food As Control Of Self
189
Was Womens Fasting Anorexia Nervosa?
194
The Ascetic Context and the Question of Dualism
208
Woman as Symbol of Humanity
261
Womans Body as Food
269
Womens Symbols
277
The Meaning of Symbolic Reversal
279
Mens Use of Female Symbols
282
Womens Symbols as Continuity
288
Conclusion
294
EPILOGUE
297
ABBREVIATIONS
303
NOTES
307
GENERAL INDEX
421
INDEX OF SECONDARY AUTHORS
435
Copyright

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About the author (1987)

Caroline Walker Bynum is Western Medieval History Professor Emerita
School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study.

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