Marriage and Sanctity in the Lives of Late Medieval Married Saints
By Andrew W. Cranmer
Master’s Thesis, Queen’ s University, 2001
Abstract: Historians have generally assumed that for a medieval person to achieve sanctity he or she had to reject marriage and seminal roles and, by extension, social and familial expectations. Yet, the vitae of married saints, who were the minority of canonised saints in the Middle Ages, reveal that marriage and sanctity could coexist. Between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries the Medieval Church canonised several illustrious men and women who married, engaged in sexual relations, and maintained their religious devotion. Approaching the study of medieval marriage through modem hagiographical analysis, this thesis differs from many contemporary studies in that it thoroughly considers a few saints rather than cursorily address a large number.
Considering both male and female examples of married saints, this thesis reveals the commonalities and differences between the male and female experience of marriage. While this is not a thesis about saints per se, it approaches medieval marriage through saints’ lives. Thus, portrayed here is less the lived reality of medieval marriage than the ideal marital life as described by chaste clerical writers. The subjects are, of course, all lay saints.
Appropriate behaviour, whether sexual, parental, or religious, is described at length in many medieval vitae. How did the saint come to marry? How are sexual relations portrayed in saints’ lives? How did the saint live after the death of or separation from a spouse? Addressing these various questions among others, in this thesis I argue that married saints reveal a synthesis between the common life of the medieval laity and the religious life of the holy person. Marriage, and more importantly sexual relations, did not necessarily prevent medieval men and women from attaining holiness.