Siria's Reviews > Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women

Holy Feast and Holy Fast by Caroline Walker Bynum
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's review
Mar 17, 08

bookshelves: history, nonfiction, womens-history, religious-history
Read in March, 2008

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 nervosa as we understand it has dated badly in the twenty years since the book was first published. Overall, though, I thought her point about viewing asceticism not as a flight out of the body, but further into it, was well made, particularly with regards to how we as moderns view medieval expressions/denial of sexuality. Scholarship in the field has built a lot on this since it was first written, but it is still worth the read to see what its origins are—though perhaps not if you have an aversion to tales of saints drinking pus or eating lice.
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