Immaculate Perceptions : Gender and Sanctity in Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameBachelor of Arts (Hons)
During the medieval period saints played a significant role in the religious culture of Western Europe. During the thirteenth century a Dominican monk named Jacobus de Voragine compiled and edited a collection of hagiographies, named the Legenda aurea, or ‘Golden Legend’. The lives of women saints included in this text highlight gender-specific concepts of sanctity. The sanctity of women was constructed in a distinctive way, and saints provided a model for religious women to imitate. Historians have largely ignored both female saints and the Legenda aurea as areas of research, despite the popularity they inspired in medieval society. Certain themes permeate the vitae so frequently that it appears Jacobus intended to promote particular tropes of female sanctity. Saints who were virgins were probably included to appeal to a young female audience, possibly to encourage them to join the fledgling Dominican nunneries. The economic concerns of the order are also highlighted through Jacobus’ emphasis on the saint’s renunciation of wealth, as the Dominicans survived on alms. Noble and widowed saints could have appealed to an older audience of economically autonomous women. By emphasising a return to apostolic types of sanctity Jacobus is promoting his order and safeguarding the economic interests of the Dominicans.