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

  • Sarah Macmillan
Open Topic Essay
  • 102 Downloads

Abstract

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.

References

  1. Baldwin, T. 2007. Speaking and Spoken Speech. In Reading Merleau-Ponty: On Phenomenology of Perception, ed. T. Baldwin, 87–103. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Bazire, J. and E. Colledge eds. 1957. The Chastising of God’s Children and the Treatise of Perfection of the Sons of God. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. Brantley, J. 2007. Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, J. ed. 2008. Three Women of Liège: The Lives of Elizabeth of Spalbeek, Christina Mirabilis and Marie d’Oignies. Turnhout, the Netherlands: Brepols.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Butler, Judith 1997. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Bynum, C.W. 1991. Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  7. Caciola, N. 2003. Discerning Spirits: Divine and Demonic Possession in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Carman, T. 1999. The Body in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Philosophical Topics 27(2): 205–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cohen, E. 2003. The Expression of Pain in the Later Middle Ages: Deliverance, Acceptance and Infamy. In Bodily Extremities: Preoccupations with the Human Body in Early Modern European Culture, eds. F. Egmond and R. Zwijhenberg, 195–219. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, E. 2010. The Modulated Scream: Pain in Late Medieval Culture. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Constable, G. 1982. Attitudes Towards Self-Inflicted Suffering in the Middle Ages. Brookline, MA: Hellenic College Press.Google Scholar
  12. Flood, G. 2004. The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Foucault, M. 1991. Discipline and Punish, trans. A. Sheridan. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  14. Gillespie, V. 1987. Strange Images of Death: The Passion in Later Medieval English Devotional and Mystical Writing. In Zeit, Tod und Ewigkeit in der Renaissance Literatur, Analecta Cartusiana 117:3, ed. J. Hogg, 110–159. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik.Google Scholar
  15. Glasscoe, M., ed. 1986. Julian of Norwich: A Revelation of Love. Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Gregg, R.C., ed. and trans. 1980. Athanasius: The Life of St Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus. New York: Paulist Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hamburger, J.F. 1998. The Visual and the Visionary. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  18. Harpham, G.G. 1987. The Ascetic Imperative in Culture and Criticism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hollywood, A. 1995. The Soul as Virgin Wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
  20. Jager, E. 1996. The Book of the Heart: Reading and Writing the Medieval Subject. Speculum 71(1): 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kane, H., ed. 1983. The Prickynge of Love. Salzburg Studies in English Literature 92:10. 2 vols. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik.Google Scholar
  22. Martin, D.D., ed. and trans. 1997. Carthusian Spirituality: The Writings of Hugh of Balma and Guigo de Ponte. New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press.Google Scholar
  23. McLane, J. 1996. The Voice on the Skin: Self-Mutilation and Merleau-Ponty’s Theory of Language. Hypatia 11(4): 107–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Merleau-Ponty, M. 1968. The Visible and the Invisible, trans. A. Lingis. Evanston, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  25. Merleau-Ponty, M. 2002. Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Mills, R. 2006. Violence, Community and the Materialisation of Belief. In A Companion to Middle English Hagiography, ed. S. Salih, 87–103. Cambridge, UK: Brewer.Google Scholar
  27. Njus, J. 2008. The Politics of Mysticism: Elisabeth of Spalbeek in Context. Church History 77(2): 285–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Njus, J. 2011. What did it mean to act in the Middle Ages?: Elisabeth of Spalbeek and Imitatio Christi. Theatre Journal 63(1): 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Philip of Clairvaux. 1886. Vita Elizabeth sanctimonialis in Erkenrode. In Catalogus codicum hagiographicorum Bibliothecae regiae Bruxellensis, Subsidia hagiographica 1, Vol. 1, part 1: 346–347 and 362–378.Google Scholar
  30. Rogers, S. and J.E. Ziegler 1999. Elisabeth of Spalbeek’s Trance Dance of Faith. In Performance and Transformation: New Approaches to Late Medieval Spirituality, eds. M.A. Suydam and J.E. Ziegler, 299–355. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  31. Ross, E. 1993. ‘She Wept and Cried Right Loud for Sorrow and for Pain’: Suffering, the Spiritual Journey, and Women’s Experience in Late Medieval Mysticism. In Maps of Flesh and Light, ed. U. Wiethaus, 45–59. New York: Syracuse University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Ross, E.M. 1997. The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Sargent, M.G. ed. 2004. Nicholas Love: The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Reading Text. Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Scarry, E. 1985. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Silen, K. 2007. Elisabeth of Spalbeek: Dancing the Passion. In Women’s Work: Making Dance in Europe before 1800, ed. L. Matluck Brooks, 207–227. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  36. Simons, W. 1994. Reading a Saint’s Body: Rapture and Bodily Movement in the Vitae of Thirteenth-Century Beguines. In Framing Medieval Bodies, eds. S. Kay and M. Rubin, 10–23. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Simons, W. and J.E. Ziegler. 1990. Phenomenal Religion in the Thirteenth Century and Its Image: Elisabeth of Spalbeek and the Passion Cult. In Women in the Church. Studies in Church History 27, eds. W.J. Sheils and D. Wood, 117–126. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  38. Visconti, E. 1997. She Represents the Person of Our Lord: The Performance of Mysticism in the Vita of Elisabeth of Spalbeek and The Book of Margery Kempe. Comitatus 28(1): 76–89.Google Scholar
  39. Wieck, R.S. 1988. Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York: George Braziller.Google Scholar
  40. Wilkins, D. ed. 1737. Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae. 4 vols. London: Gosling.Google Scholar
  41. Ziegler, J. 2004. On the Artistic Nature of Elisabeth of Spalbeek’s Ecstasy: The Southern Low Countries Do Matter. In The Texture of Society: Medieval Women in the Southern Low Countries, eds. E.E. Kittell and M.A. Suydam, 181–202. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations