‘The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us’
: The Interrelation Between the Gendered Body and Holiness in Late Medieval Hagiography

  • Jade C Godsall

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


With hagiography as a site of fantasy and didacticism, disruptive bodies could not only ‘hide in plain sight’ but explore and push the boundaries on how holiness could be defined and reconstructed. This thesis argues that the saint’s body acts as a mirror, performing as both a model of imitation and a reflection of social structures and constraints. The wide dissemination and popularity of saints’ lives throughout medieval Europe reflects the importance of the saint in the clerical and lay communities. By studying vernacular saints’ lives from the Gilte Legende (c. 1438) and popular English hagiographers, such as John Lydgate and Osbern Bokenham, my research provides a nuanced and historical-sensitive reading of Luce Irigaray’s argument that dominant discourse is male-gendered due to the appropriation of the divine in man’s image. I have examined a range of hagiographies, from male kings to virgin martyrs, mother saints to trans* saints, alongside key trends in devotional practices, such as the feminisation of Christ’s body and the meditation of Mary as a model of sacrifice. I have addressed the gendered frameworks of the period. In particular, the construction of the male body as default and the female body as secondary and humoral theory, which determined the female body as a porous, opened space in need of protection against internal and external sin. I also engage with key scholarship in the field from Caroline Walker Bynum, Amy Hollywood, and Karma Lochrie. My research concludes that the saint’s body is envisioned as a site of identification for the shared flesh of Mary and Christ. This flesh can be read as a ‘genre’ – an embodied text that dramatizes and disrupts gendered structures, disconnected from gendered binarism it emulates the one-sex body model of the middle ages.
Date of Award11 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorCarolyn Muessig (Supervisor) & Eddie Jones (Supervisor)

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