Phenomenal pain: Embodying the Passion in the Life of Elizabeth of Spalbeek

  • Sarah Macmillan
Open Topic Essay

DOI: 10.1057/pmed.2014.5

Cite this article as:
Macmillan, S. Postmedieval (2017) 8: 102. doi:10.1057/pmed.2014.5


Structured around a daily routine of Passion imitation, the Life of Elizabeth of Spalbeek presents self-mortification as a means of recognizing the fundamental significance of embodiment to understanding the world and one’s place in it. It encourages the reader to reflect on the relationship between embodiment, imitation and human experience. Employing a phenomenology of embodied existence, the function of Elizabeth’s exceptional pain rituals are here examined as processes of situating oneself in the world. It is argued that Elizabeth’s imitatio and its textual representation are a negotiation of the simultaneous formation and effacement of individual identity in late-medieval devotional culture. The essay addresses Elizabeth’s portrayal of numerous individuals, predominantly Christ, but also his torturers, the Virgin Mary and the disciple John, specifically examining her dual role as both tormentor and tormented in order to suggest that imitation is central to asceticism.

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Macmillan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of English, Liverpool Hope UniversityLiverpoolUK

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