Focusing on the lives of several hundred Christian women in Europe between 1200 and 1500 who were noted for their religious devotion, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women is a groundbreaking exploration of their lives. These women’s religious practices centered on the Eucharist: a rite of communion by which, in partaking of bread and wine, they received into their bodies the body and blood of Christ in all of its redemptive power. According to author Caroline Walker Bynum, in their elaboration of Eucharistic practices these women created distinct forms of spirituality with deep personal meaning and broad cultural influence.
Bynum’s portrait of the lives of medieval holy women, marking a clear departure from previous studies of their lives, has inspired broad reassessments among historians about women of that era. Before Bynum, scholars who studied medieval women focused on their marginalization in society. While Bynum grants that women were subjugated, she argues forcefully that, generating their own distinct spirituality, numbers of women in the late Middle Ages exercised considerable power in relation to families, church authorities, and communities.
Bynum locates women’s power in a piety centered on food: food from their tables that sustained the poor, food from their bodies (milk or other fluids) that healed others, and food of the Eucharist that united them with God. She establishes...
(The entire section is 510 words.)