Religious Studies and Theology, Vol 33, No 2 (2014)

Hungering for Maleness: Catherine of Siena and the Medieval Public Sphere

James White
Issued Date: 16 Dec 2014

Abstract


Catherine of Siena is famous as both a fasting female mystic and a key political figure in late medieval Italy. Scholarship on the saint, however, frequently separates the religious and political aspects of her life. This article argues that the two were inextricably intertwined. Through an examination of Catherine’s letters and her vita, written by her confessor, I argue that Catherine’s religious fasting enabled the creation of her public, political persona. Extreme ascetic malnutrition generally pushes the female body to cease menstruation, which we can speculate happened in Catherine’s case. Masculinized via her spiritual “use” of food and other discursive practices, Catherine assumed the (otherwise masculine) authority to intervene in political executions, exhort monarchs, and help end the Avignon papacy.

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DOI: 10.1558/rsth.v33i2.157

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