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


of Nazareth and Columba of Rieti show that they might not have been able to control their fasting practices in their expression of fear that their asceticism was "inspired by the devil."45 This also reveals that fasting was a temptation for some.

A prime example of an uncontrolled form of self-starvation is shown in Catherine of Siena's own disclosure that she believed "her inability to eat was an infirmity, not an ascetic practice at all."46 Lidwina of Schiedam also denied that her starvation was an ascetic practice, claiming that it was "natural" for her.47 She seems to refute the idea that her fasting was rooted in religious passion, proclaiming that, "it is no sin to eat and therefore no glory to be incapable of eating."48 In these cases, religious asceticism must be questioned as a reason for fasting because the women did not seem to have a choice in the matter.

It is important that elements of the public of the time were skeptical of the saints' fasting practices. Many people did not believe that the women were endowed with supernatural powers which allowed them to fast for such lengths of time. Some suspected Lidwina of Schiedam of being "possessed by a devil."49 Some people simply suspected that the women were ill. The clergy especially expressed suspicion and probably felt threatened by the popularity of these holy women. Hence the saints were often subjected to tests to determine whether or not they were actually divinely endowed with abnormal abilities to starve themselves or survive solely on the eucharist. A proven inability to eat often showed that a woman was insane rather than pious.50 For this reason, the fasting saints would often eat publicly in order to dispel suspicion that they were incapable of breaking their fast.51 Public suspicion and the admission by several women that they were in fact ill shows that people of the Middle Ages were not oblivious to the possibility of some form of what modern society regards as an eating disorder. The existence of suspicions at the time adds weight to the possibility that an affliction similar to anorexia nervosa was to blame, especially in light of the similarities in behavior between medieval fasting saints and modern anorectics.

45. ibid., 86.
46. ibid., 86.
47. ibid., 125.
48. ibid., 125.
49. ibid., 125.
50. ibid., 196.
51. ibid., 87.
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