Keeping Body and Spirit Together: The Volatile Life of St Christina the Marvellous

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Date
2001
Authors
Lee, Brian S.
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Publisher
The Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (SASMARS)
Abstract
Thomas of Cantimpré’s biography of Christina, written eight years after her death in 1224, contains such incredible stories that but for the authority of the celebrated Jacques de Vitry he would not have dared repeat them; they are so lurid that it is easy for us to overlook the less fanciful anecdotes supplied by eye-witnesses like her fellow recluse Ivetta. As a result of such divergent sources, Thomas portrays Christina both as a wild eccentric capable of the most irrational or miraculous behaviour, and as a sober, pious supporter of many persons who respected her and depended upon her for spiritual advice and enlightenment. This essay seeks to examine not so much what she thought of herself (it argues, indeed, that in common with most of her contemporaries she was little given to introspection) but what those who witnessed to her life had in mind when they did so. It was the physical manifestation of her inward spirituality that seems to have caught their attention. How should we read a biography like Thomas’s?
Thomas of Cantimpré’s biography of Christina, written eight years after her death in 1224, contains such incredible stories that but for the authority of the celebrated Jacques de Vitry he would not have dared repeat them; they are so lurid that it is easy for us to overlook the less fanciful anecdotes supplied by eye-witnesses like her fellow recluse Ivetta. As a result of such divergent sources, Thomas portrays Christina both as a wild eccentric capable of the most irrational or miraculous behaviour, and as a sober, pious supporter of many persons who respected her and depended upon her for spiritual advice and enlightenment. This essay seeks to examine not so much what she thought of herself (it argues, indeed, that in common with most of her contemporaries she was little given to introspection) but what those who witnessed to her life had in mind when they did so. It was the physical manifestation of her inward spirituality that seems to have caught their attention. How should we read a biography like Thomas’s?
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Keywords
Middle Ages -- Periodicals. , Renaissance -- Periodicals. , Middle Ages. , Renaissance.
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