A Jeanne Site
Saints and Power
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 27, 2000
Faculty on the Site.
Saints, Power, Access to Forums, and Eating Disorders
Link added May16, 1999
New York Times Article and Related Links
Barbara Newman's Work on Women and Middle Ages
Link added May 16, 1999
Links added May 16, 1999
On May 16, 1999, an article, "Power Suffering," by Jennifer Egan, appeared in the New York Times Magazine. The article offers fascinating sources for those of you interested in any of the following:
14th Century references to Papal history, to the history of women and the waning of the power they had in the Middle Ages, the weakness of the all-male hegemonies of power.
Here are references to the escape of the Pope to Avignon during times of civil unrest in Rome. Catherine of Siena, the saint who is subject of the article, wanted the Pope back in Rome, for she believed the Church needed such strength. She readily chastised the Pope with harsh words when he failed to show the courage to return. Catherine, throughout her life, held enormous power, during this period of waning power of women.
Jennifer Egan cites Barabara Newman, "professor of English and religion at Northwestern University," on the male view that women were more susceptible to emotion, and also spirituality. "For this reason, Newman says, it was impossible for male clerics to dismiss out of hand the holy visions of a woman." Newman equates woman's voice as "voice from the underground of Christ standing in judgment over the power structure."
There is a rich history here that should be incorporated into any liberal arts education, particularly that of women, who need to understand that most of the issues we face are centuries old.
Jennifer Egan connects the stories of sainthood to present day stories of anorexia, bulimia, and self-mutilation. Catherine of Siena flagellated herself, suffered self-inflicted penances, and near the end of her life (in her early thrities), her body was unable to tolerate food, and even water. She was in constant pain.
Egan points out the absurdity that in 1999, in a "secular, affluent culture, where women have access to a degree of education, independence and self-expression that would have staggered a 14th-century woman, self-denial and suffering continue to hold out the same kind of promise." (at top of col.2, p. 112) What Egan does not say, but certainly what comes to mind, is that the expectations of males as well as females have been shaped by this vision of woman as long-suffering saint.
Jennifer Egan stresses the need for a male mentor to protect the woman saint. She briefly recounts the story told by Barbara Newman of Marguerite Porete, who "was burned in 1310." Marguerite simply told her tale as would a male saint. She did not claim visions through which God spoke through her helpless unworthy body. She did not apparently gain a male protector, as did Catherine of Siena, and she was tried as a heretic and burned. On the one hand, spiritual calling could engender power in a woman the priests were forced to recognize as an object through which the power of the voice and vision of God were channeled. The priests own system dictated such possibilities - woman as a channel for higher powers. On the other hand, without appropriate deference to the fact that she herself was a mere worthless object through which such power was channeled could lead to disaster, to witch hunts.
One well-done source on this surprising power women gained from spritual communion is Howard Schwartz' s Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural, the stories of Lilith, the reputed first wife of Adam, who refused to obey him. Needless to say, most of the Lilith stories revolve around woman led by Satan, not by the spritual bond of sainthood.
This link will take you to the English Department page, from which you will need to link to Faculty and Staff (in the left frame), then to Faculty at the top of the frame, and then to Barbara Newman (in the main frame). Professor Newman, of Northwestern University, not only lists her published works in this area, but also offers links to amazon.com.
Information on Alan Humm
Notice that there is an extensive bibliography on Humm's page.
On this site you will find Dante Gabriel Rosetti's painting of Lilith. Look under the artistic lilith, then under the visual arts, then Lady Lilith.