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«Item type text; Electronic Dissertation Authors Waggoner, Marsha Frakes Publisher The University of Arizona. Rights Copyright © is held by the ...»

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Dismembered Virgins and Incarcerated Brides: Embodiment and

Sanctity in the Katherine Group

Item type text; Electronic Dissertation

Authors Waggoner, Marsha Frakes

Publisher The University of Arizona.

Rights Copyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this

material is made possible by the University Libraries,

University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction

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Downloaded 13-May-2016 02:53:18 Link to item http://hdl.handle.net/10150/195073



by Marsha Frakes Waggoner _____________________

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the


In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of


In the Graduate College




As members of the Dissertation Committee, we certify that we have read the dissertation

prepared by Marsha Frakes Waggoner entitled “Dismembered Virgins and Incarcerated Brides:

Embodiment and Sanctity in the Katherine Group” and recommend and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Date: 3-21-05 _______________________________________________________________________

Linda Waugh, Director Date: 3-21-05 ______________________________________________________________________

_ Julia Balen Date: 3-21-05 _________________________________ ____________________________________

_ _ Alan Bernstein Date: 3-21-05 ______________________________________________________________________

_ Albrecht Classen Date: 3-21-05 ______________________________________________________________________

–  –  –

Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the candidate’s submission of the final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate College.

I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my direction and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement.

________________________________________________ Date: 3-21-05 Dissertation Director: Linda Waugh

–  –  –

This dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for an advanced degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library to be made available to borrowers under rules of the Library.

Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without special permission, provided that accurate acknowledgement of source is made. Requests for permission for extended quotation from or reproduction of this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by the head of the major department or the Dean of the Graduate College when in his or her judgment the proposed use of the material is in the interests of scholarship. In all other instances, however, permission must be obtained from the author.

SIGNED: Marsha Frakes Waggoner

–  –  –

A dissertation is always a collaborative effort; it cannot be completed in isolation. Several people helped bring this work to fruition, and I can truthfully say that without their support, I could not have finished. Thanks are due first of all to my committee: Adele Barker, Alan Bernstein, Albrecht Classen, Beatriz Urrea, Julia Balen, and finally my director, Linda Waugh. I am deeply indebted to all of them, each in a different way.

I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Teri McClaren and Elaine Wise, for setting me on this path over a decade ago, and pushing me along it.

My friends have cheerfully listened to me wrestle with thorny problems of medieval textual analysis and have provided input that has been at times more useful than any scholarly treatise. I owe particular thanks to Wanda Strange, whose loving encouragement literally dragged me to the finish line.

Finally, I want to recognize especially my boys, Brian and David Waggoner. The phenomenal accomplishments of my sons in the face of a series of personal tragedies have inspired me to keep pushing forward, long past the time when I wanted to abandon this project. We have grieved together, and we have celebrated together, and we have consistently supported each other. It’s a strange experience, being involved in graduate study at midlife, and I’m not sure I’d do it again. My sons know, better than anyone, how long I waited for this, and how high the personal cost has been. These two young men are my pride, my joy, and my hope for the future.

–  –  –


1. Anglo-Saxon Women and Christianity...... 56

2. Women Solitaries...............64

3. English Women and the Norman Conquest.....68

–  –  –



1. Devotional Prose for Anchoresses: Dates, Provenance, Authorship............99

2. Sources, Content, and Feminist Analyses...102

–  –  –

One of the most peculiar developments of the wave of women’s spirituality that swept across Europe during the thirteenth century was the popularity of the anchoritic lifestyle in England, a lifestyle that had a particular appeal for women. The anchorhold seems to epitomize the medieval (male) desire to enclose and control a woman’s body to the maximum degree possible; it is an amazingly accurate metaphor for the tightly circumscribed lives of medieval religious women. Why, then, did so many women eagerly seek out and embrace such a confining lifestyle?

Did women internalize the endless medieval rhetoric about bodily control and woman’s lustful nature, to the point where they sought lifelong incarceration to avoid temptation and possible loss of control? Or is it possible that they had a higher motivation – that they sought a more intense experience of union with the divine, and believed that only in strict isolation could such a union be achieved?

The popularity of anchoritic spirituality led to the creation of a specialized literary genre in Middle English: vernacular devotional prose for women. These mostly male-authored texts included guidebooks for enclosed life, meditations and prayers, lives of saints, and treatises on virginity. They describe and encourage a religious life for women that is both relational and mimetic: the bride of Christ is also encouraged to emulate Christ through her life of solitary penance and suffering. These two roles are analyzed through an examination of the texts of the Katherine Group, alongside the two themes that dominated medieval religious discourse as it applied to women: virginity and enclosure.

Approaching the task from a broad interdisciplinary perspective, I employ a variety of theoretical tools, including cultural/historical, theological, linguistic, and feminist theories. My study analyzes medieval constructions of gender and virginity, and examines the anchoress as both a spiritual person and an embodied creature. In challenging traditional scholarship on and accepted views of medieval English women, I pose new questions about embodied spirituality from a medieval perspective, and offer a different perspective on a period of English history in which women recluses set the standard for holiness and sanctity.

–  –  –

The thirteenth-century guide for anchoresses, Ancrene Wisse, first captured my attention during my undergraduate years. Fascinated by the text and the lifestyle it described, I promised myself that someday I would have time to examine it in detail and learn more about these women and their lives of solitary asceticism. The present work has grown from that fascination.

I eventually expanded my focus to include other medieval texts dealing with anchoritic spirituality, and I discovered that the timing of my project was fortuitous;

recent years have seen a veritable explosion of scholarship on medieval women, mysticism, spirituality, virginity, and the varieties of medieval women’s religious Works like Ancrene Wisse, Hali Meiðhad, and experience.

The Wooing of Our Lord are receiving considerable scholarly attention, not only as fine examples of Middle English vernacular literature, but also for what they reveal (and conceal, suggest, imply, and allude to) about the lives of medieval women. These premodern texts are being analyzed within the framework of postmodern questions about power, sexuality, subjectivity, embodiment, and the sociocultural construction of gender, with interesting and occasionally startling results.

I am intrigued by these questions, but I also have other questions that are equally compelling. These include questions about the history of anchoritism in England, about how and why the movement became popular among medieval English women, and also about medieval women’s spiritualities and their embodied relationships with the divine ‘Other,’ and how these relationships might have been shaped by the discourse of anchoritism. The texts of the Katherine Group, written specifically for enclosed English women,1 constitute a substantial portion of this discourse, and it is these texts that are the central focus of this work.

The Katherine Group texts, along with Ancrene Wisse, provide a framework for a spirituality that is both relational (sponsa Christi) and mimetic (imitatio Christi). Interwoven throughout the texts are the twin themes of virginity and enclosure, gendered themes which appear in all medieval religious prose and which have their origins in the earliest patristic theology of Christianity. But the anchoritic texts incorporate these themes in ways that make virginity and enclosure the prerequisites for enacting both roles: the sexual purity of the Bride of Christ is of paramount importance and must therefore be rigorously safeguarded, and the anchoress Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson, eds., Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1991), Introduction, 7-8.

imitates Christ both by remaining virginal and by suffering a symbolic death through lifelong enclosure. It is the gendered nature of these theological constructions that I find particularly fascinating.

It should be noted at the outset that these texts were, with one or two possible exceptions, written by men for women. It would therefore be foolhardy to make too many generalizations about the lives of anchoresses based on the texts themselves; all we may reasonably deduce from them are male ideas about women, and male directives about how women religious ought to conduct themselves. Unlike their continental sisters, medieval English women left very little in the way of religious treatises or autobiography, and so we have to imaginatively reconstruct the anchoritic lifestyle based on the available—and sharply limited—textual evidence.2 These male-authored texts do, however, provide a wealth of information about constructions of marriage and family, virginity and its perceived value, gender and its ambiguous and occasionally interchangeable The works of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe are the notable exceptions, and they lived and wrote in the fifteenth century – at least two centuries later than the period herein examined.

interpretations, and medieval notions of what it meant to be an embodied creature.

The opening chapters examine the development of eremitism in Western Europe, how the anchoritic movement evolved in England, and why women might have been

–  –  –

Wisse and several of the Katherine Group texts, in the following order: Hali Meiðhad presents the advantages of the virginal sponsa Christi lifestyle, offering as a supporting argument a grimly realistic description of earthly marriage. Hali Meiðhad affirms the virgin in her chosen lifestyle and explains why it is a superior choice.

Ancrene Wisse provides the enclosed virgin with a method for structuring her life within the anchorhold; it is essentially a set of guidelines for achieving that exalted state described and promoted in Hali Meiðhad. Finally, the saints’ lives—Katherine, Margaret, and Juliana—offer examples of the terrible heroics of virginity, as the virgin martyrs demonstrate the performance of sponsa Christi and imitatio Christi through their holy lives and brutal deaths.

Moving from virginity (Hali Meiðhad) to embodiment and enclosure (Ancrene Wisse) and finally to theory-based performance (saints’ lives) with some necessary intermingling of the three, my analysis will center on two primary ideas. First, there is a two-fold paradox at the heart of the sponsa Christi construction. Although spiritual desire, that is, the desire of the soul for connectedness to divinity, seems to occur outside the confines of binary gender identity, the anchoress was never permitted to forget her “essential” femaleness and its relationship to Christ’s maleness. Thus a relationship between God and the soul that was not, at its core, gender-inflected, was continually and intentionally gendered in myriad ways by the anchoritic devotional texts. At the same time, the spiritualities and sexualities of medieval virgins and their hagiographic role models positioned them outside of the standard heterosexual construction of marriage and family, and the anchoritic texts support a peculiar fluidity of gender roles, not only for the (female) reader but also for the (male) heavenly Bridegroom. It is thus possible to examine texts that describe what at first glance seems to be an ‘ordinary’ spousal relationship between a woman and a man, and view them through a queering lens that suggests something rather different—something that is, at the very least, ambiguously gendered.

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