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


Ultimately, in a hagiography of a religious figure a Christian writer would find it preferable to portray his or her religion as legitimately rooted in an inimitable figure such as Christ. The saints are so inspired by this figure that it seems only natural that they should be shown as endowed with incredible powers as a result of their closeness to Him. Upon receiving the eucharist many women experienced an "ecstatic union with Christ."33 Because of their intimate association with the religious symbol of Christ, it is in the interest of the authors of saints' biographies to emphasize their miracles and superhuman experiences, such as surviving for extended periods of time without ordinary food.

For this reason, many accounts depict the life-sustaining power of the eucharist. For example, Lidwina of Schiedam is believed to have survived on it alone in the final years of her life.34 Eucharistic devotion was portrayed as stronger and more common among pious women than men. Many holy women felt an insatiable hunger for the eucharist and sometimes hurried to visit numerous churches in one day in order to observe the eucharist several times.35 There are numerous stories of intense eucharistic devotion in women, and in many of them, the female subject receives some type of resistance from church authorities who advise against frequent communion.36 However, the persistence of their eucharistic piety in the face of opposition serves to strengthen their image as devout and spiritual and thus encourages piety in others. Sometimes when "religious superiors denied the cup or the host to women [...] Christ often fed them directly in visions."37 There are instances of such visions which involved women nursing from a lactating Christ.38 These events are quite common in the biographies of female saints. It is probable that the emphasis on supernatural or miraculous occurrences in the hagiographies contributed to the widespread adoption of the saint's lifestyle pattern.

33. ibid., 117.
34. ibid., 127.
35. ibid., 77.
36. ibid., 118.
37. ibid., 118.
38. ibid., 118.
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