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Anthropology of CatholicismA Reader$
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Kristin Norget, Valentina Napolitano, and Maya Mayblin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780520288423

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520288423.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 30 May 2020

Excerpt from “Women Mystics and Eucharistic Devotion in the Thirteenth Century”

Excerpt from “Women Mystics and Eucharistic Devotion in the Thirteenth Century”

(p.96) 8 Excerpt from “Women Mystics and Eucharistic Devotion in the Thirteenth Century”
Anthropology of Catholicism

Caroline Walker Bynum

University of California Press

In this chapter the renowned medievalist scholar Caroline Walker Bynum brings our attention to a striking historical occurrence: in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe the concern with and attachment to Eucharistic devotion was overwhelmingly female. Why this gender bias, and at that time? Christian women were predominantly “inspired, compelled, comforted and troubled by the Eucharist” and in many different forms—from miraculous apparitions, to experiences of ecstasy connected to the attendance and ingestion of the Eucharist, to the showing of sensorial excesses in its presence. Bynum shows how material and physical receptions of the body of Christ were expressed not only as forms of ecstasy but also as gendered modes of living the Imitatio Christi. This thirteenth-century corporeal, female experience of the Eucharist is connected to a particular moment in the life of Christ—the transition between life and death. Positioned as “brides” and hence as the erotic counterparts of Christ, women and female mystics exploited the full potential of Christ’s own corporeality rather than his otherworldly nature. Bynum’s work constitutes a formative reference point for scholars of Catholicism across a range of disciplines for the obvious reason that it deals so elegantly with themes of substance, gender, bodies, and devotional forms of Catholic practice. Her work continues to be an original source of inspiration for anthropologists because of its remarkable sensitivity to religion as an embodied, practice-generative engagement with the world. Bynum should also be considered as important for the “new” anthropology of Catholicism for her pioneering work on the gymnasticity of gender and for the attention it draws to the sublimated erotic tension that exists between institutional doxa and mystical aesthetics.2 In Bynum’s work, gender is not presented as merely one among a number of potential analytical foci for elaboration of Catholicism; rather, it is the very ontological architecture of the religious, and hence an essential topic for scholars seeking to understand Catholicism as a translocal force.

Keywords:   Eucharist, Walker-Bynum-Caroline, Gender, Female-mystic, Catholicism, 13th Century, Materiality-the body, Ascetic, Women and Catholic Church

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