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Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
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Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  378 ratings  ·  30 reviews
In the period between 1200 and 1500 in western Europe, a number of religious women gained widespread veneration and even canonization as saints for their extraordinary devotion to the Christian eucharist, supernatural multiplications of food and drink, and miracles of bodily manipulation, including stigmata and inedia (living without eating). The occurrence of such phenome ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published January 7th 1988 by University of California Press (first published 1987)
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An extremely interesting and absorbing look at female religiosity and food in medieval western Europe from three angles: the religious meaning of food for women; the forms of medieval asceticism for them; and the significance of gender roles within religious experience. I agree with a lot of her conclusions, though not perhaps how she reaches them. I don't quite buy her final conclusion on male vs female use of symbolism, which seems too universalising for me, and her discussion of anorexia nerv ...more
Bynum's close re-reading of her texts, including several I'd read and more I'd never heard of, finds a previously overlooked common theme: Medieval women mystics can feed others; they can become food themselves; and they can eat, provided the food is also God. From there, she builds a multi-part, theoretically and theologically informed interpretation. If the masculine is culture/spirit and the feminine is nature/body, then Christ, in the Incarnation, is ipso facto fully feminine as well as masc ...more
You don't have to be interested in history or in the history of the Catholic Church. Just the interest of the history of western mysticism or if you are just looking for something offbeat and interesting: This is an interesting book!

A famous modern interpretation of the behavior of religious medieval women is that all the female saints in that period presented the first known cases of anorexia nervosa; and psychologists have more theories like visions of Jesus or Virgin Mary are results of sever
I love books where scholars take seriously the words and experiences of women. So of course I was going to swoon over this. Walker Bynum manages to corral a vast amount of fragmentary documentation into something resembling a coherent shape, while making a damn persuasive case that modern understanding of female religious experience and symbols ignores the social and cultural context of those experiences and symbols. I think she understates the extent, depth, and breadth of medieval misogyny, bu ...more
Lynn Evans
If I had to credit one experience for moving me toward research into medieval history, it would be that of reading this book. Bynum did not, in researching and writing this book, cover new sources. Much of what she worked with is available in edited and published accounts, and those who have even a little background in medieval women's spirituality will recognize the figures who appear in her text. What is extraordinary, though, is the way she progressively wove these disparate vita into one ove ...more
this was fascinating. i kept reading bits aloud to my roommates, or tweeting them (why won't you let me copy/paste, kindle cloud reader? i mean, i know why, but still), and i'm definitely going to come back to it again and again. i especially liked how, in the conclusion, she didn't shy away from drawing connections to the modern world or from saying that nobody should want to go back in time. (people ask me that all the time. maybe i'd time travel to the middle ages to visit, but definitely not ...more
Quyen Hoang
This hugely influential book made a critical breakthrough in the scholarship on medieval piety and brought the focus to women's religious life and the role of food and gender in medieval Christianity. Interesting topic, and the author clearly did a lot of research. However, her discursive and inconclusive analytical method is rather resistant, and I personally view it as a habit of her field rather than a beneficial factor in the book.
An utterly stunning work of scholarship -- and not only that, but it is lucidly written and suitable for the interested layperson. Bynum does a tremendous job of elucidating women's religiosity in the medieval world and the ways in which they claimed religion and piety for themselves.
Mar 22, 2013 Wendy added it
It's been a while since I read an academic (as opposed to popular) history book, so this took some work to get into. While most of my familiarity with the subject is a few decades old, this was published when I was in college.

I would have liked a bit more background on some of the persons and phenomena, but again I assumed that this was aimed at those more familiar with the field.

But even so I was able to follow most of what was discussed - the variety of ways that women (and by extension the me
This book will make you remember that the Middle Ages was a very different time and place. It's full of things that make you squirm - the common conceptualization of Jesus as food to religious women, and depictions of them nursing on his wounds, etc. But it's REALLY interesting, and was a completely new way to understand medieval women when it came out. It refutes Holy Anorexia, by Rudolph Bell, which sees medieval holy women as a bunch of anorexics, and completely passive to their fate as women ...more
Karen Whittingham
This is an unusual book, an historically scholarly yet highly readable study of the medieval phenomenon of those 'saints' who lived on nothing but the eucharist (the consecrated host of the roman catholic mass). Some really amazing stories that have not seen the light of day for centuries, and some interesting reflection on the subject from a modern perspective. I read this probably about 25 years ago.
"Compared to the range of meanings in medieval poetry and piety, our use of body and food as symbols is narrow and negative…we may, more than we realize, need positive symbols for generativity and suffering. If [medieval women's] images and values cannot become our answers, they can nonetheless teach us that we need richer images and values."
Asli Eris
I read this for class, but thoroughly enjoyed it. I would read it for entertainment value. I learned much about the Catholic Eucharist from this text and the value of fasting to female saints. There were some gross information though... like drinking pus of the sick people by female saints... interesting stuff...
Brent Lambell
This was perhaps the most difficult book I have ever read. By the time I was done I felt I had covered an enormous amount of material and even remembered a bit of it, but I was also overloaded. I recommend it for those already familiar with or interested in religious studies. NOT a casual read.
This book was fascinating and well-written until the conclusion, when the author begins making statements about modern day anorexics and women's lib. It seemed jarring and out of place in an otherwise well-supported argument.
Nov 15, 2007 Topsy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Any medievalist
Shelves: history
This book was fascinating on so many levels: on a historical level, on a feminist level, and on a theological level. A must read if you're into the history of women in the middle ages or the history of eucharistic devotions.
I can't imagine approaching the Middle Ages or any research on church history concerning expressions of piety or religious practice without consulting this wonderful work. Extremely well written and fascinating.
This book is awesome. It is very much a school textbook, but it doesn't read like one. Bynum explains how women used food as a way to exert power and control, since they had very little in other realms.
An absolute brick of a book. I could have clubbed a man to death with my copy. Interesting, yes, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is not actually a scholar of medieval women.
The parts I read were excellent and included two of my favorite subjects: historical women and food. Hopefully someday I will be able to read the rest of this one.
I find this thesis preposterous (Medieval nuns were all anorexics, really??), but I did manage to learn quite a bit from the book when it stuck to facts.
Extremely detailed book in a scholarly level of writing that focuses on the topic of the usage of food and fasting in Christianity, etc.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Rather dry. As the author notes, it was written to be accessible to lay readers, but it is very much a scholarly book.
Dan Yingst
Really excellent piece of scholarship, Bynum exemplifies what I aspire to be in my own work.
Extremely informative. Very helpful in understanding the writings of the mystics.
a fantastic, fascinating, and exhaustively researched read.
Dec 18, 2008 Theodora marked it as to-read
Shelves: catholic, women, unveiling
Another incredible book from Caroline Walker Bynum.
Read for HISTAM 340: Medieval Women
Comps reading!
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Caroline Walker Bynum is a professor of Western European Middle Ages at the Institute for Advanced Study.
More about Caroline Walker Bynum...
Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion Jesus As Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA) Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 Metamorphosis and Identity Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe

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