Holy Anorexia Reconsidered: Interpreting Saints Legends Through the Lens of Disordered Eating


Theresa A. Vaughan (University of Central Oklahoma)

Medieval accounts of “holy anorexia,” or of refusal of food by women, have been interpreted in various ways. Focusing primarily on women, these stories were told as evidence of extreme piety in hagiography, especially for those who were reputed to survive only on the Eucharist and water. Looked at in light of modern understanding of eating disorders, these stories certainly can be interpreted as manifestations of mental illness cloaked in an aura of piety and saintliness. This presentation will offer several interpretations of holy anorexia focusing on folk religion and medieval medicine.

Part of 04-14 Peripheral Plagues: Localizing Illness in Medieval and Early Modern Texts, Friday, October 14, 8:30 am–10:00 am