Emily Candela, "Disaggregating the Experiences of Medieval Female Fasting Saints"


experiencing discomfort. It was not food itself which contributed to an aversion to eating. It was the pleasure that comes from food which medieval saints wished to evade. For example, in order to diminish the sensual pleasures of eating, many saints would try to ruin the taste of their food. Clare Gombacorta of Pisa mixed ashes with her scraps of food so that eating became an unpleasant experience.26

Women also fasted in order to compensate for those who did not follow Jesus' advice to lead an ascetic lifestyle. By their fasting alone, female saints believed that they were redeeming those people who did not deliberately deprive themselves of food.27 I mentioned earlier the desire to give away food as pertaining to the element of anorexia nervosa which involves food preparation. However, this activity can also be seen in such a way that minimizes the role of food preparation and emphasizes the influence of religious ideas regarding caring for the poor. Many starving saints gave up the food which they did not eat. When Colette of Corbie was a very young girl she began to engage in fasting and "giving away her dinner to other school children."28 The motif of feeding others is widespread in Christianity and is best exemplified in Christ's offering of his own body and blood to be consumed by his followers. Many holy woman performed feeding miracles, many of which involved lactation. For example, Lidwina of Schiedam nursed a grown woman from her breasts. The woman was so satisfied that she did not eat for days after the occurrence.29 As opposed to the behavior of the starving saints, anorexia nervosa is not characterized by a concern for the salvation or well-being of others, and does not involve religious influences.

The act of fasting may not have been the manifestation of a compulsion towards not eating, as it is for modern anorectics, so much as it was a positive move towards consuming and assimilating only God into the body, or suffering for the salvation of others. And in the sense that fasting was directed against eating, it was for a purely religious reason. This portrays the inextricable role religion played in the impetus for women of the High Middle Ages to starve themselves.

26. ibid., 142.
27. ibid., 120.
28. ibid., 138.
29. ibid., 126.
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