HSWS 380: Saints, Sinners and Harlots: Medieval Women in Central Italy

Instructor: Adrian Hoch, Ph.D.
Credits: 4
Course/Lab Fee: 130€ for museum fees and travel (course reader fee announced by the Print Shop)
Prerequisite: None
Cross-Listing: Art History, Gender Studies, History, Italian Studies-Interdisciplinary, Religion & Philosophy

Course Description
This course explores the rich textual, hagiographic and visual records that celebrate an extraordinary group of medieval women active in Central Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries. It was an era of heroic female sanctity which produced Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Angela of Foligno, Humility of Faenza and Umiliana dei Cerchi besides being when a fervent devotion to the Virgin and Mary Magdalene 

arose. These unique women will be studied with a particular emphasis focusing on food, fasting, bloody flagellation and miraculous experiences found in ecstatic writing, 

Saints Lives and contemporary texts read in English translation. This happens together with viewing significant artistic monuments pictorially commemorating such unusual women, while they glorified local civic pride pivotal to Italian medieval society.



Course Objectives

  • Study outstanding Holy Women in order to consider the interconnection of popular religious display, individual exemplary lives, and the art and architecture created by a culture to exalt its spiritual heroines 
  • Understand medieval texts, images and objects in the historical period responsible for these remarkable characters.  
  • Acquaint students with the literary, religious and artistic methods used to shape and define a female saint
  • Develop students’ critical reasoning, formal historical, literary and visual analysis and comprehension of this vivid aspect of Italian medieval experience 

Course Materials

Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, 1987. [ISBN 978-0520063297]
Elizabeth Alvida Petroff, Body and Soul Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism, 1994. [ISBN 978-0195084559]
Mandatory course reader


Field Trips

  • Students will take a day trip to Assisi where they will visit the cathedrals of San Damiano, Santa Chiara, San Rufino, and San Francesco.
  • In Siena, students will spend a day exploring the Duomo di Siena, its crypt, and the Cathedral Museum before visiting the Palazzo Pubblico, San Domenico, and Casa di Santa Caterina.