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  • Discipline(s): Religion
  • Available: Fall Semester 2022 Spring Semester 2023
  • Course Type: Standard Courses
  • Taught in: English
  • Course Fee: $90.00
  • Credits: 3
  • Course Travel: Field Trip to Assisi

REL 380 - Saints and Sinners: Medieval Women in Central Italy

Important Note: This course was formerly HSWS 380.

Course Description

This course focuses on a few female saints from Central Italy that were active in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, a period rife with social changes and innovations. New powerful orders were founded and accepted by the Church. The papacy migrated to Avignon, in France, creating the setting for the future schism that divided Christianity. New images, artistic formats, and strategies of communication developed in order to satisfy the spiritual and/or political aims of the patrons.

In this context, flourished intriguing female figures of diverse backgrounds such as Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Angela of Foligno and Margherita of Cortona, who were sainted or at least considered saints in the following centuries. Their lives were not always characterized by constant “virtuousness”. One of them, Margherita of Cortona, had been a mistress for years, she had a son out of wedlock, however, when she died she was already being considered something else by her citizens. These saints (sometimes presumed) conformity to specific models for female spirituality and behavior hides strength of will and firmness in defending their beliefs. Each of these women will be first presented from a historical and hagiographical point of view, detailing how their saintly persona was constructed. We will then consider how their lives and ideals were visualized in art, but also how art created alternate interpretations of their characters.

Course Objectives

  • Explain major historical behaviors/beliefs/institutions/practices and religious movements, and their relationship to the art of their time
  • Analyze Western traditions in art, and the social/cultural contexts in which the works of art were created
  • Compare and contrast the literary, religious, and artistic methods used to shape and define a female saint
  • Discuss, compare and contrast works of art, both verbally and in writing using an appropriate vocabulary

Course Materials

  • All readings will be available on Moodle.

Further Readings – not mandatory

  • Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, Berkeley (Ca.), Univ. of California Pr., 1988 – located in the Course Reserve Section of the Umbra Library.
  • Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff, Body and Soul Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism, New York, Oxford University Press, 1994 – located in the Course Reserve Section of the Umbra Library.
  • Jerlydene M. Wood, Women, Art and Spirituality: The Poor Clares of Early Modern Italy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Katherine Ludwig Jansen, The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000 – located in the Course Reserve Section of the Umbra Library.
  • Maiju Lehmijoki-Gardner, Wordly Saints: Social Interaction of Dominican Penitent Women in Italy, 1200-1500, Helsinki, Suomen Historiallinen Seura, 1999.