Secretive Bodies and Passionate Souls: Transgressive Sexuality Among the Carolingians

  • William SchipperEmail author
Part of the Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind book series (SHPM, volume 15)


About the year 800 Alcuin of York wrote a letter to one of his former students, Arn, Bishop of Salzburg, in which he expresses how much he misses him and expresses his desire to be with him in very passionate, and some would say explicit, terms: “ O if I could be spirited to you like Habbakuk! How I would fling my arms around your neck and hug you, sweet son! A whole summer day would not be too long for me to press breast to breast and lips to lips till I kissed each limb of your body in tender greeting.”

This is by no means the only expression of such feelings—love expressed in explicit sexual terms among Carolingian writers. Most of their expressions on the subject are couched in mystical and allegorical terms (in the commentaries on the Canticum Canticorum), or in explicit words of condemnation (e.g. in the penitential handbooks). Most often when we find a surprising suggestiveness (e.g. in Hrabanus’s allusion to Christ’s loin cloth covers (“Veste quidem parua hic tegitur qui continet astra”), in the prose explanation of the image of Christ (carmen B1) In Honorem Sanctae Crucis) we are reminded that although Carolingian writers generally had their mind firmly on spiritual matters, they were human as well, and were generally not above a sharp awareness of the physical side of human sexuality.

My paper explores some aspects of how Carolingians viewed human sexuality, and some of the ways they developed of dealing with it.


Hrabanus Maurus In honour of the Cross Sex in the penitentials Sexual conduct in the Carolingian period (eighth–ninth centuries) Christ’s sexuality 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Memorial UniversitySt. JohnsCanada

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