The Third Annual Medievalists@Penn Graduate Student Conference – Family Matters
Panel I: Sisters In Spirit
“Family Life and the Garment of Love: St. Francis and Nicholas Bozon’s ‘Lives of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Agnes’
Courtney E. Rydel (University of Pennsylvania)
Courtney is a 5th year PhD candidate who’s research focus is on women saints.
Nicholas Bozon was a 14th century member of the Nottingham friary, and an Anglo-Norman Franciscan who wrote poetry, comedy, sermons, saint’s lives and translated a gospel as a deep meditation on love. He wrote about the life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Agnes.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary was born in 1207 and died at the age of 24 in 1231. She was married at the age of 13 to Ludwig IV of Thuringia. In 1223, she met Franciscan friars and began to live life by the ideals of St. Francis. She became a widow at the age of 20 when Ludwig died of plague.
In Bozon’s ‘Legenda Aurea‘, Elizabeth is the sole woman saint; Bozon did not include St. Clare of Assisi. It demonstrates that a socially advantageous marriage is conducive to holiness, and refers to Elizabeth as ‘la dame’, denoting her noble birth. Many moments in Elizabeth’s life were purposely made to resemble St. Francis’s and imitate Franciscan mendicancy; for example, her wanderings and giving away her wardrobe. “Garments of love” are realized metaphors. Nakedness and clothing are a reoccurring theme in Franciscan literature. St. Agnes is stripped of her clothing and taken to a brothel and her hair miraculously grows to cover her body.
Elizabeth’s life was adapted for an Anglo-Norman audience. Bozan wrote extensive backgrounds for St. Agnes and St. Elizabeth. His readers were upper class noble women who could relate to Agnes and Elizabeth’s stories. Their hagiographies demonstrated that the medieval noble woman was just as saintly and relevant as a female virgin martyr. Bozan works hard to make Elizabeth a more ‘imitable’ saint – one in which medieval noble women could relate to and imitate. He did this by ensuring Elizabeth retained her aristocratic status in the narrative, and she was made less dramatic so as to appeal to noble women.