Sickness, Disability, and Miracle Cures: Hagiography in England, c. 700 – c. 1200
By Véronique Joséphine Gabrielle Thouroude
PhD Dissertation, University of Oxford, 2015
Abstract: This thesis considers how religious literature represented sickness and disability in Anglo-Saxon and post-Conquest England. Based on Gospel accounts of Jesus’s healings, narratives of miracle-cures were highly valued within medieval Christian culture. By analysing a selection of miracle-cure narratives from the main period of miracle writing in England, from the age of Bede to the late twelfth century, this project considers the social significance of such stories.
All miracle-cures followed the pattern of a spiritual triumph over the material world, but this thesis focuses on how hagiographers represented human experiences of sickness and disabilities. The first two chapters of this thesis address the conceptual structure of the project. The first explains the two areas of scholarly theory that underpin this thesis. These are the use of narrative sources for historical study; and sociological conceptualisations of bodily difference.
The second chapter orientates the case-studies selected for this project in their context. Miracle-cures were recounted in relation to other aspects of the culture of medieval England, most importantly the theology of sainthood and of sin.
The remaining three chapters of the thesis provide detailed thematic analysis of selected miracle-cure narratives. The third chapter asks how the spiritual experience of bodily difference was understood. The next chapter considers the physical understandings of a body that was affected by either sickness or disability, and the links between miracle-cure narratives and contemporary medical theory.
The fifth and final chapter addresses the representation of social aspects of sickness and disability in these texts, in particular the moralising rhetoric of such texts in favour of community support. This thesis concludes with a discussion of how modern Disability Studies and scholarship on medieval culture benefit from interaction with one another.