Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity

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Overview

Late antique and early medieval hagiographic texts present holy women as simultaneously pious and corrupt, hideous and beautiful, exemplars of depravity and models of sanctity. In Sacred Fictions Lynda Coon unpacks these paradoxical representations to reveal the construction and circumscription of women's roles in the early Christian centuries.

Coon discerns three distinct paradigms for female sanctity in saints' lives and patristic and monastic writings. Women are recurrently figured as repentant desert hermits, wealthy widows, or cloistered ascetic nuns, and biblical discourse informs the narrative content, rhetorical strategies, and symbolic meanings of these texts in complex and multivalent ways. If hagiographers made their women saints walk on water, resurrect the dead, or consecrate the Eucharist, they also curbed the power of women by teaching that the daughters of Eve must make their bodies impenetrable through militant chastity or spiritual exile and must eradicate self-indulgence through ascetic attire or philanthropy.

The windows the sacred fiction of holy women open on the past are far from transparent; driven by both literary invention and moral imperative, the stories they tell helped shape Western gender constructs that have survived into modern times.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
The emphasis of this study is not on the historical lives of the subject saints, but on the theological and didactic agendas of their authors. Coon (history, U. of Arkansas) demonstrates how women's hagiography teaches that the daughters of Eve must make their bodies impenetrable through militant chastity, self-entombment, spiritual exile, or institutionalized claustration; they must eradicate feminine self-indulgence through ascetic attire and philanthropy; and they must manifest their spiritual powers in useful ways<-->cleaning altars and miraculously performing domestic chores. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
From the Publisher
"I would recommend this volume to those interested in the study of female sacred biography. It is a solid study of broad and heterogeneous textual traditions; it proposes interesting readings of female vitae, and illustrates the richness of these documents."—Catholic Historical Review

"One of the best works on hagiography to apear in the last decade."—Church History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812233711
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/1997
  • Series: The Middle Ages Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1 Hagiography and Sacred Models 1
2 Gender, Hagiography, and the Bible 28
3 The Rhetorical Uses of Clothing in the Lives of Sacred Males 52
4 God's Holy Harlots: The Redemptive Lives of Pelagia of Antioch and Mary of Egypt 71
5 "Through the Eye of a Needle": Wealth and Poverty in the Lives of Helena, Paula, and Melania the Younger 95
6 Civilizing Merovingian Gaul: The Lives of Monegund, Radegund, and Balthild 120
Conclusion: Sacred Fictions 143
Notes 153
Bibliography 203
Index 221
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