The Curse of Christ’s Wound: Christ’s Blood as ‘Anti-relic’–by Kathryn Loveridge

John Mirk’s Festial is a collection of sermons written in English in the years immediately following the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Sermon 34 includes the tale of a dying merchant who, despite the warnings of friends and priest, refuses to confess his sins.[1] When Christ himself begs the merchant to confess, the merchant still refuses.[2] In an extraordinary act of rage, Christ puts his own hand into his side and, denouncing the merchant as a “fendus child”, casts his blood into the man’s face and condemns the man to Hell.[3] Mirk wrote the Festial in direct answer to the perceived threat of Lollard heresy which denied the efficacy of orthodox confession and the role of the priest in absolution.[4] By providing a collection of dramatic and engaging sermons, Mirk hoped to counter social and religious dissidence, and encourage orthodox worship among his parishioners.

In this article, I offer a fresh interpretation of this overlooked episode, using René Girard’s theory of sacrificial violence to explain Christ’s violence towards the merchant and the destructive, condemnatory force of his blood.[5] In medieval literature and imagery, Christ’s blood, present in the host, in relics, and in mystical visions, both reveals sin and saves the sinner. However, in this episode, Christ’s violent and bloody intervention suggests that his blood goes beyond its primarily salvific function as a relic. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘relic’ as “the physical remains […] of a saint, martyr, or other deceased holy person, or a thing believed to be sanctified by contact with him or her, [or] preserved as an object of veneration and often enshrined in some ornate receptacle”.[6] It is important to note here that a relic does not condemn a soul to damnation. There are certainly numerous examples of the relics of saints being used to curse wrongdoers or coerce them into acting according to the desires of those in clerical authority (the legends surrounding the relics of Sainte Foy are notable for this).[7] Elsewhere, in tales of host desecration, Christ’s blood is instrumental in revealing the guilty. Nevertheless, these examples fall short of the violence evident in Mirk’s narracio in which Christ himself hurls his blood in the merchant’s face. A physical change in the merchant’s appearance occurs as a result of violent contact with the blood and the merchant is damned to Hell. Christ’s blood therefore behaves differently from a relic: contact with it damns rather than saves. In this sense, I contend, it takes on the characteristics of an ‘anti-relic’. For the purposes of this article, I define ‘anti-relic’ as a material object that, while sharing some characteristics with ‘relic’ (it is from the physical remains of a holy person; is an object of veneration; and it is kept in a holy receptacle), nonetheless differs crucially since it has the power to condemn a soul to hell. In the example from Mirk’s narracio, Christ’s blood prevents rather than facilitates the merchant’s salvation.

The limited scholarship previously afforded this episode has focused either on the prominence Mirk gives to the importance of confession, or on the fear of Hell he aims to produce. Caroline Walker Bynum associates the prominence of Christ’s blood in the narracio with the bloody representations of Christ that proliferated in Passion Week performances and the practice of self-mortification and flagellation.[8] Such representations of Christ, she declares, were intended to “inspire terror as well as devotion,” but she does not elaborate on this, preferring to emphasise the salvific, beneficent role of Christ’s blood in medieval Eucharistic devotion.[9] Miri Rubin considers Mirk’s treatment of blood and the transubstantiated Host as a response to Lollard heresy, but concentrates on his sermon for Corpus Christi.[10] In her recent edition of the Festial, Susan Powell makes no comment regarding this episode either in her introduction or in the textual notes; although Judy Ann Ford discusses Christ’s personal intervention in the salvation of the individual in this narracio in the context of Lollard heresy, she, too, does not address the matter of Christ’s unusual behaviour.[11] By bringing in Girard’s theories of sacrificial violence, my argument draws attention to the unusual use of Christ’s blood as an object of condemnation.

The narracio of the wicked merchant is contained in Mirk’s additional sermon for the first Sunday in Lent.[12] As befits a Lenten sermon, Mirk hammers home the importance of confession and penitence.[13] Mirk supports his teaching on the necessity of confession with three narraciones: the narracio of a wicked knight and his lady, the narracio of a woman too ashamed to confess her sin, and the narracio of the wicked merchant.[14] In the first and third narraciones, the protagonists suffer eternal damnation not because of the sin they have committed, but because of their refusal to confess. Mirk supports his argument with quotations from scripture and the writings of illustrious theologians such as Augustine (d.430) and Anselm (d.1109). Mirk’s message is unequivocal: God is merciful and desires a sinner’s salvation, but woe betide the sinner who refuses the offer of salvation.[15] Mirk is at pains to stress this, warning his audience and readers:

Alle ƿat is now helud in schryfte schal be at ƿe day of dome knowon to alle ƿe worlde with myche confusion, and ƿan schal he ƿat heluth bene demod off God ƿerfore into ƿe fyre off helle. Ƿerfore ƿe apostul saythe ƿus: ‘Horrendum est incidere in manus Dei omnipotentis,ƿat is to say: hit is horribul and grisly to fallon into Goddus handus. (ll.57-60)
[All that is concealed in confession, at the Day of Judgement shall be known to all the world with much confusion, and then shall he that has hidden his sins be judged by God to go into the fire of Hell. Therefore the apostle says: ‘Horrendum est incidere in manus Dei omnipotentis’, that is to say: it is horrible and gruesome to fall into God’s hands.]

Presenting the Godhead in this way, Mirk provides his audience with two seemingly contradictory aspects of the Godhead: that of the benevolent Christ who forgives and saves, and that of Christ the judge at Doomsday. This tension between the dual aspects of God is apparent in scripture, in devotional and theological work from Augustine onwards and in medieval iconography.[16] However, in Sermon 34’s third narracio the salvific and damnatory attributes of God in the person of the Son are dramatically conflated: here, the salvific image of the crucified Christ is seen to judge and condemn.

René Girard’s theory of sacrificial violence explains why these conflicting characteristics are brought together in the Christ of this narracio. In Violence and the Sacred (2005), Girard offers an explanation for the practice of sacrifice that he claims can be applied to all so-called ‘primitive’ societies.[17] He argues that the violence generated when people desire the same thing (‘mimetic desire’) becomes itself the focus of imitation. In an attempt to eliminate this internal violence, the community chooses a “sacrificeable victim” who becomes the focus of “the violence that would otherwise be vented on its own members”.[18] Violence is therefore used in an attempt to stop further violence. However, the violence enacted upon the victim in the sacrificial ritual is unsuccessful, and further sacrifices imitating the initial sacrifice are required. In order for the violence to be deflected successfully, two things are necessary: the victim must be sufficiently like and unlike the rest of the community (often one on the margin of the community), and the belief in his guilt must be unanimous.[19] The victim is further pushed into the margins of the community when, as part of the sacrificial ritual, he is often forced to commit taboo actions, thereby dehumanising himself and even making himself monstrous, so that he is a suitable subject of the violence.[20] The salvific and damning capabilities of the victim are echoed in the blood spilt in sacrifice: it can be purifying and reviving, but also contaminating and destructive.

A clear comparison can be made between Girard’s examples and the scenario Mirk presents to his readers. The community of the Church (represented by the characters in the narracio) is threatened with destruction through heresy (the merchant’s refusal to confess), which is present both within and on its peripheries. In order to maintain its integrity, the Church unanimously and violently removes the merchant, whom it identifies as the source of the violence, from the community. This sacrificial ritual culminates in the merchant’s death when, instead of accepting salvation from the bleeding Christ before him, the same blood condemns him to Hell.

Mirk’s merchant aligns with Girard’s definition of the sacrificial victim.  He is physically an outsider, as Mirk places him outside the bounds of the East Anglian city of Norwich which was famed both for its mercantile wealth and for the prominence it gave to religious devotion.[21] The merchant is also an outsider because, by refusing to confess, he rejects religious orthodoxy − an orthodoxy emphatically cherished by the city itself but under attack from heresy outside the city walls.[22] The merchant’s occupation also marginalises him. Roger Ladd observes in late-medieval literature a largely negative regard for the emerging merchant class, who existed outside the traditional class structure.[23] Mirk himself is somewhat ambivalent in his treatment of merchants and commerce. In Sermon 34, two out of the three narraciones include merchants. In the first narracio, a rich merchant is killed for the gold he is carrying, but it is the inherent danger of his occupation rather than his morality that proves fatal to him and his murderers are punished by God.[24] In the third narracio, the evil merchant’s life-style and lack of faith are repeatedly contrasted to the devotion and benevolence of the good merchant.[25] Nevertheless, although the merchant’s occupation is not necessarily synonymous with his immorality, the negative treatment that mercantilism receives elsewhere in late medieval English literature ensures that the merchant’s occupation is sufficient to allow Mirk’s audience to place him on the margins of respectable society.

Further supporting the Girardian theory of sacrificial violence in this narracio is the unanimous participation of the laity, the clergy and Christ, as well as Mirk’s audience, in the merchant’s destruction. For Girard, unanimity is essential for the success of the sacrifice, without which “the sacrifice (is) even worse than useless […] even dangerous”.[26] Mirk carefully constructs his narrative, introducing the characters one by one – the good merchant, the priest, the priest with friars, the merchant’s companions, and finally Christ himself – in order to create an all-encompassing community which unanimously assents to the merchant’s destruction. This unanimity is clearly illustrated by Christ’s final cry of condemnation, in which he calls the present and future community of Heaven as witnesses on the Day of Judgement to sanction the merchant’s condemnation. Christ seals this action with the blood from his side. “Ȝow fendus chylde”, Christ cries, “ƿis schal be redy tokun betwixt ƿe and me in ƿe day off dome ƿat I wolde haue ȝevon ƿe mercy and ƿou woldust note” [You devil’s child, this day shall be a sign between you and me in the day of judgement, that I would have shown you mercy, but you rejected it].[27] The unanimity is emphasised by the fact that the merchant’s condemnation is witnessed by the terrified men keeping watch at his bedside, not to mention Mirk’s own readers and audience, who are meant to side with the community and who are warned to behave with due obedience and respect for religious authority.[28]

Another feature of the Girardian sacrificial ritual evident in Mirk’s narracio is the inevitability of the victim’s sacrifice, despite the illusion that escape is possible. While superficially the merchant is given ample opportunity to repent and receive salvation, his fate is a foregone conclusion. The merchant’s fate is intended to provide a dramatic contrast to Mirk’s preceding narracio in which a sinful woman’s encounter with a bleeding Christ leads to her forgiveness and redemption, underlining the importance of confession. Mirk steadily builds up the guilt of the merchant to point where repentance is impossible, using formulaic and repetitive dialogue between the merchant and those addressing him. The merchant’s response is unfailingly heretical. This is demonstrated towards the beginning of the narracio: after initially putting off confession, the dying merchant now argues that it is too late to confess, “for he wyst wel inow ƿat God wolde ȝef hym no mercy for hys longe abydynge” [for he knew well enough that God would show him no mercy because of all his procrastination] (ll.200-1). When the priests and friars also ask the merchant to confess, his answer remains the same:

But euer he made ƿe same answer to hem as he dud ti ƿe gode man, and sayde he wolde not schryuen hym ne none mercy askon. ( ll.204 6)
[But the man repeatedly answered them as he had answered the good man, and he would not confess nor ask for any mercy.]

Christ himself reiterates the request, and again the merchant’s reply is the same (“and euer he answered as he dud before”).[29] This dogged rejection of help makes the merchant complicit in the sacrifice. Including the victim in the unanimous participation in the sacrifice Girard maintains, is another feature of the sacrificial ritual.[30]

In Girard’s definition of the sacrificial ritual, the victim is required to commit acts of taboo which will “eliminate his lingering and superfluous humanity” and render him monstrous and alien to the community.[31] Mirk’s merchant is guilty of no less than mutilating the body of Christ himself. Re-enacted violence against Christ’s body was performed legitimately by priest and congregation in the sacred ritual of the Eucharist. However, this sacrificial violence might also be committed illegitimately by anyone who questioned the nature of the Host, the efficacy of the sacrament or the authority of the priest who administered it, and by those who sought violently to desecrate the Host. The latter charge was commonly levelled against Jews, who were often accused of mutilating the Host.[32] In committing such acts of sacrilege, these groups and individuals were considered guilty of wounding not only the transubstantiated body of Christ, but also the body of Christ as perceived in the Church, the ecclesia, which was a powerful symbol of Christian unity.[33] In the narracio of the wicked merchant, Mirk equates the merchant’s heretical disobedience with these horrific acts. He includes two descriptions of the bleeding Christ: when he visits the dying merchant in the middle of the night and when Christ puts his hand in his side and draws it out full of blood and throws it at the merchant. As Rubin argues in her discussion of Eucharistic visions, tales in which a doubting or unbelieving sinner was forced to confront the bloody result of his or her sinful acts featured Christ’s bleeding body as revealed in the context of the Mass.[34] The merchant’s encounter with the wounded Christ shows him to be particularly culpable in causing his suffering.

The merchant’s guilt is strengthened in versions of the story in Mirk’s possible sources, the Gesta Romanorum and Handlyng Synne.[35] In these versions, however, the responsibility for Christ’s bodily agony is laid squarely at the feet of the man who is guilty of a particular sin: he is a ‘profane sweare’[profane swearer].[36] Mirk alone places the focus entirely on the merchant’s refusal to confess, thereby attributing Christ’s suffering to this refusal. This is highly unusual. The merchant’s refusal leads to a confrontation with Christ who appears to the merchant “wit blody wondys” and an open, bleeding side.[37] This image of Christ as ‘Man of Sorrows’ was a familiar one in late-medieval devotional literature and imagery, and, along with other images which point to his suffering, such as pietàs or the crucified Christ surrounded by the arma Christi, is calculated to invoke in the beholder emotions such as pity, guilt and love, to aid devotion.[38] In medieval devotional writing and theological exegesis, these man-made representations of Christ frequently take on a life of their own. This is most clearly evident in the transubstantiation of the elements during the Mass, but can also be found in examples such as Francis of Assisi’s encounter with the crucifix in the church of San Damiano and the various versions of the Mass of St Gregory where Christ himself appears to the celebrants. In her study of metamorphic potential of images of the crucifix and the body of Christ in the late Middle Ages, Bynum observes that they become “both image and object, both representation and relic, both animate and inanimate”.[39]

This argument can be extended, however, to make it apply conversely in relation to Mirk’s treatment of the crucified Christ and the wicked merchant. Bynum highlights the use of devotional statues like articulated Christs and pietàs as monstrances, containers for relics and hosts which worshippers were encouraged to touch and kiss.[40] In other pietàs from Northern Europe, the side wound is an opening big enough to hold a relic or the Eucharistic wafer. To access these, the devotee would have to insert fingers or tongue or lips into the wound, actions also mirrored in devotional writing from the high Middle Ages onwards. This performance of devotion is similar to the action required of the sinful woman in Sermon 34’s second narracio.[41] A woman is tormented by a terrible sin which she is too ashamed to confess. One night, Christ appears to her and asks her to place her hand into the wound in his side, declaring that, if he is not ashamed to show his wound, then she should not be ashamed to disclose her sin in confession.[42] The woman obeys. In fact, Christ goes so far as to take the woman’s hand and put it into his open side. When she withdraws her hand, it is covered with Christ’s blood. When she makes confession to her priest, the blood disappears and the hand returns to its former whiteness.  In the narracio of the wicked merchant, however, the merchant is denied access to Christ’s side. Instead of allowing the merchant to touch, finger or kiss his wound, Christ, standing a bed-length from the dying man, hurls his blood in the merchant’s face in an act of condemnation.[43] Mirk shocks his readers by the contrast of Christ’s extraordinary use of his blood here to its role in the previous narracio as a salvific and healing relic.

The effect of this contact on the merchant’s appearance is very different from contact with Christ’s blood-relic. Just as the sinful woman in the previous narracio bears the mark of Christ’s sufferings on her bloodied hand, so the flesh of stigmatics was believed to carry evidence of Christ’s suffering. Sometimes these impressions were self-inflicted, as in the case of soldiers of the first and second Crusades, and famously, in the case of Henry Suso (d.1365) who incised Christ’s name over his heart with his stylus.[44] Sometimes, Christ’s wounds themselves performed the action, as demonstrated in the more conventional bestowing of stigmata, like that of Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena which followed intense meditation on the crucifix.[45] In Mirk’s tale, Christ’s blood physically alters the appearance of the sinful woman, but upon confession her hand returns to its original white state.  The merchant’s transformation is much more extreme. The men watching over the dying man are horrified when they see “ƿe rede blode in hys face and alle ƿe body as blak as spyche” [the red blood in his face and all his body as black as pitch”[46] The merchant’s bloodied face and blackened corpse are evidence of his monstrous transformation from Christ’s son and a member of the community to something demonic, a “fendus schylde” [devil’s child]. He is shown as the monstrous sacrificial victim, marked guilty of threatening the stability of the community.

The association of black and red with the Satanic was widespread in the late Middle Ages. Julian of Norwich, for example, writes of being visited by the Devil in the terrifying guise of a red male youth with black spots when she lies sick.[47] Bettina Bildhauer examines the medieval fear of the tribe of Red Jews bent on destroying Christendom, and associated with the cannibalistic Gog and Magog.[48] Jeffrey Jerome Cohen remarks on the red and black Saracen giants in the fourteenth century Romances.[49] Mirk himself associates feral monstrosity and the colours black and red with sin and the devil. In Sermon 19 he writes of a young man who opens his father’s tomb to find a “hell beast”, a “passing grete tode as blak as pyche” [an enormous toad as black as pitch], clutching the throat of his dead father’s corpse; and in Sermon 22 he tells of a “fende” in the shape of a black horse.[50] The merchant’s colour transformation therefore clearly identifies him with the satanic; while the fingered and kissed blood of the relic saves, Christ’s hurled blood performs the opposite function, literally demonising the merchant and consigning his soul to Hell.

Crucial to the blood’s power to condemn, and therefore key to its function as an ‘anti-relic’, is its gendered ambiguity. Examining the role of gender in medieval perceptions of Christ is nothing new in medieval scholarship. Bynum famously intervened in this field with her ground-breaking Jesus as Mother (1982), in which she argues for a medieval perception of Christ’s blood as positive, feminised and maternal.[51] The argument for this feminisation of Christ is supported by devotional literature, including the writings of Anselm (d.1109), Julian of Norwich and Bernard of Clairvaux, and visual imagery in which Christ’s side wound appears as a vulva or vagina, or a nipple with which Christ will suckle his followers.[52] This feminisation has been complicated by scholars such as Peggy McCracken, who explores the valorisation of Christ’s blood in the context of late-medieval European Romance literature, and by Robert Mills and Kathleen Biddick, who examine the gendered ambivalence and ‘monstrous’ potential of Christ, further blurring the gender boundaries which seem so clear in Bynum’s approach.[53]

The bleeding Christ in Mirk’s narracio displays both male and female characteristics. On one level there can be little or no doubt about Christ’s maleness. Christ, after all, is God’s son, and Mirk uses the masculine personal pronoun to refer to him (“he”, “hys”, “his”).[54] Moreover, his blood usually falls into the category of the salvific, free-flowing and very public blood of the male hero as defined by Peggy McCracken. However, bearing in mind the prevalence of feminised images in both literature and iconography, it is perfectly plausible that Mirk and his audience would have envisaged this Christ putting his hand into his vagina/vulva shaped side-wound. From such a  wound he is frequently portrayed as giving birth to ecclesia. Moreover, according to the theology of Anselm, the nourishing blood/milk which feeds ecclesia flows from Christ’s side. This mixing of imagery suggests a fusion of the male and female in the blood and person of Christ, more extreme, perhaps, than the androgyny discussed by Bynum.

Unlike Christ’s nourishing blood/milk, however, in this narracio Christ’s blood is destructive. Does Christ’s act of violence transform his nurturing, female blood into the taboo blood of menstruation? That is a possible answer, and one which corresponds to Girard’s theory of pure and impure blood. Spilt blood, he maintains, has destructive as well as salvific potential, and menstrual blood is often considered impure and contaminating.[55] However, in the Middle Ages menstrual blood was itself regarded somewhat ambivalently, being a necessary outlet for the impurities in the body, and something not confined solely to women. Regular bleeding was also encouraged in men (although male menstruation per se was believed to be confined to Jews).[56] A case can be made that Christ’s heroic, male blood becomes female, taboo blood, but the alteration of Christ’s blood from relic to ‘anti-relic’ can also be explained with reference to the unconditional maternal love exemplified in devotional literature such as Ancrene Wisse (c.1225-1240) and Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Divine Love (c.1393). In both these examples, Christ is equated with a self-sacrificing, loving mother.  In Ancrene Wisse, he/she empties herself of blood in order to heal her child.[57] In contrast, responding to the merchant’s repeated refusal to confess, Mirk’s Christ abruptly ceases to define himself through the relic of his nurturing blood. It is at this point that he reveals himself as both bleeding hero, whose blood accuses and condemns the guilty, and as the menstruating or menstruous female (or even a male Jew) whose blood can wither crops and kill babies.[58] Like his gender, Christ’s blood is changeable: it can shift from relic to ‘anti-relic’, from a substance that saves to one that condemns.

Mirk relies on the changeable characteristics of Christ’s blood in an attempt to address the heresy threatening his congregations. The death and condemnation of the heretical merchant provides an abrupt and chilling climax to sermon 34. However, according to Girard’s theory, the success of any sacrificial ritual is far from assured. This perhaps explains the anxiety present in Mirk’s prayer and the admonition with which he concludes his sermon:

Wherefore I amonest ȝow ƿat ȝe tak not his grace in vayne, but schryue ȝow clene and put ȝow fully into hys mercy and into hys grace. And ƿan wyl he take ȝow into to hys grace and into hys mercy, and bring ȝow to ƿe ioy ƿat euer schal laston, ƿe whyche ioy God graunte ȝow and me. Amen. (ll.228-33)
[Therefore I warn you not to take his grace in vain, but confess yourseves clean and put yourselves fully into his mercy and into his grace. And then he will take you into his grace and into his mercy, and bring you to the joy that shall last forever, which joy may God grant you and me.]

His treatment of Christ and the merchant suggests that, in Mirk’s view, the desired state of harmonious obedience is ever-threatened by violent heretical disruption, which can only be deflected by the violent and unanimous extirpation of the monstrous merchant and his ilk. The threat must be removed by a Christ whose identity is also unstable. The implications of the instability of the sacrifice are material for further examination. Nevertheless, applying Girard’s theory of sacrifice to this narracio enables us to deepen our understanding both of Christ’s blood and orthodox religion in late-medieval England, offering, as it does, an explanation for the blood’s multi-valent uses in the literature and iconography of the time.

Kathryn Loveridge

Kathryn Loveridge is in the second year of a PhD at Swansea University in the UK. Her dissertation examines the monsterisation of Christ’s blood in Late Medieval European Literature.

[1] John Mirk, John Mirk’s Festial: Edited from British Library MS Cotton Claudius A. ll, Volume 1 ed. Susan Powell, Early English Text Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 135-6; ll.191-227. Alan Fletcher dates the Festial between 1382, the year after the Peasants’ Revolt, and 1390. Susan Powell is a little more specific, however, locating it in the latter part of the 1380s. Susan Powell, The Medieval Church in the Sixteenth Century: The Post Reformation History of a Fourteenth Century Sermon Collection (Salford: University of Salford, 1998), p.27. Mirk, Festial,; Alan Fletcher, ‘John Mirk and the Lollards’, Medium Aevum 56/2 (1987), pp.217-224.

[2] Mirk, Festial, p.135; l.209.

[3] Mirk, Festial, p.136; ll.217-9.

[4] Alan Fletcher, ‘John Mirk and the Lollards’, Medium Aevum 56/2 (1987), p.216-224; Judy Ann Ford, John Mirk’s Festial : Orthodoxy, Lollardy and the Common People in Fourteenth-Century England, (Cambridge : D.S. Brewer)pp.143-150. A. I. Doyle, ‘Publication by Members of the Religious Orders’ in Book Production and Publishing in Britain 1375-1475, ed. by Jeremy Griffiths and Derek Pearsell, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) pp.109-23), p.115. Powell is more sceptical, observing that the Festial contains only two specific references to Lollards and Lollardy (in the sermons for Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi), and thus fails to address Lollard heresy with sufficient emphasis. She does not, however, dismiss the theory that the Revised version of the Festial might have been compiled to counter the influence of Lollard sermons. Susan Powell, The Medieval Church in the Sixteenth Century: The Post Reformation History of a Fourteenth Century Sermon Collection (Salford: University of Salford, 1998), p.27. Mirk, Festial,

[5] René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, trans. Patrick Gregory (London: New York: Continuum, 2005).

[6] Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2013) [Accessed 2/05/2013).

[7] The Book of Sainte Foy, ed. and trans. Pamela Sheingorn (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995).

[8] Caroline Walker Bynum, Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), pp.4-6.

[9] Bynum, Wonderful Blood, p.15. See also Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1580 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992), p.247.

[10] Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p.223.

[11] John Mirk,  John Mirk’s Festial: Edited from British Library MS Cotton Claudius A. ll, Volume II, ed. Susan Powell, Early English Text Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) pp.362-4; Judy Ann Ford, John Mirk’s Festial: Orthodoxy, Lollardy, And the Common People in Fourteenth-Century England  (Cambridge, Eng.: D.S. Brewer, 2006).

[12] Mirk, Festial, pp.130-6. It is written in Hand D* and found only in the base text (Cotton Claudius A.II (α)) and Group A manuscripts DEFG. See, Mirk, Festial, pp.cxiv-cxvi; Mirk, Festial II, pp.362-4.

[13] There is some overlap between the contents of Sermon 34 and the sermon for the second Sunday in Lent (sermon 20 in Powell’s edition): however, the sermons differ significantly in content and whereas the tone of sermon 20 is optimistic, that of sermon 34 is altogether much darker. Mirk substantiates Sermon 20’s Lenten message of repentance and divine  reconciliation with the stories of estrangement and eventual reconciliation between Esau and his brother Jacob (Genesis 27-33), the story of Christ and the Samaritan woman with a sick daughter (Matthew 15.21-8), and the story of the woman with the horrible sin which he repeats in sermon 34. Both the passages from Genesis and Matthew are designated readings for this period in Lent. Mirk, Festial, pp.81-4; Mirk, Festial II, pp.322-3.

[14] In the first narracio, an impoverished knight kills a merchant and steals the gold he is carrying in order to win the favour of the lady he wishes to marry. Returning to the place where he committed his crime, he sees the ghost of the merchant promised vengeance by God. The knight and the lady  refuse to confess to their crime and think themselves safe from God’s punishment, building a castle to protect themselves. At the appointed time, however, the earth opens up, swallowing the castle, the knight, the lady and all their friends and servants. The second narracio concerns a woman tormented by an unnamed sin which she is too ashamed to confess. One night Christ appears to her and asks her to place her hand into the wound in his side. For, Christ declares, if he is not ashamed to show his wound then she should not be ashamed to disclose her sin in confession. The woman obeys. When she withdraws her hand it is covered with Christ’s blood. On confession to her priest, the blood disappears and the hand returns to its former whiteness. Mirk, Festial, pp.132-3; ll.74-121 and pp.134-5; ll.151-165.

[15] Mirk, Festial: p.131; ll.57-60.

[16] Christ as both Saviour and Judge was a familiar image in medieval iconography, as can be attested, for example, by the numerous Doom paintings still surviving on the walls of English churches, for example, that in Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, Warwickshire. [Accessed 30/04/2013]; Anselm famously explores God’s love and the significance of divine justice in the Monolgium and the Proslogium. For an online English translation of the these works see XII.

[17] Violence and the Sacred was initially published in French under the title La Violence et le Sacré. René Girard, La Violence et le Sacré (Paris: Grasset, 1972).

[18] Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p.3.

[19] Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p.87. My use of the masculine pronoun reflects the predominance of male examples provided by Girard. Although Girard makes some reference to the marginalization of women and children and therefore their suitability as sacrificial victims, his use of specific female examples in Violence and the Sacred is very rare indeed.

[20] Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p.91.

[21] Norman Tanner, ‘Religious Practice’ in Medieval Norwich, ed. Norman Tanner (PIMS, 1984) pp.137-56 (p.155, 154 and 150-1).

[22] Tanner, Medieval Norwich, pp.154, 150-1.

[23] Roger A. Ladd, Antimercantilism in Late Medieval English Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp.2-4. pp.157-60.

[24] Mirk, Festial, pp.132-3; ll.74-121.

[25] Mirk, Festial, p.135; ll.191-204.

[26] Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p.105.

[27] Mirk, Festial, p.136; ll.217-9.

[28] Mirk writes, “Wherefore I amonest ȝow ƿat ȝe tak not his grace in vayne, but schryue ȝow clene and put ȝow fully into hys mercy and into hys grace” [Therefore, I warn you not to take his grace in vain, but confess fully and put yourseves fully into his mercy and into his grace]. Mirk, Festial, p.136; ll.229-30.

[29] Mirk, Festial, p.135; ll.215-6.

[30] Girard, Violence and the Sacred, pp.171-2.

[31] Girard, Violence and the Sacred, p.272.

[32] Bynum, Wonderful Blood, pp.75-82.

[33] Bettina Bildhauer discusses this fear of the Jewish threat to the body of Christ and the Church with reference to the depiction of the cannibalistic Gog and Magog who she argues gorge not only on human flesh but also on the hybridised body of Christ which is also map of the world, the Ebstorf Mappa Mundi, and the body of Ecclesia, the Church. Bettina Bildhauer, ‘Blood, Jews and Monsters in Medieval Culture’ in The Monstrous Middle Ages (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003) ed. Bettina Bildhauer and Robert Mills, pp.75-96 (pp. 79-81).

[34] Mirk, Festial, p.135-6; ll.208-13, ll.216-9; Rubin argues that eucharistic exempla can be divided into many groups and sub-groups. Here they are presented in three categories according to the type of story-line pursued:  a vision of real substances, or other unusual sensations, such as smell, taste or sound, as  reward for faith and piety or such revelations used to counter trivial doubt; some unusual behaviour of natural elements, animals and humans, arising from awe of the eucharist or from sheer proximity to it; the appearance of eucharistic properties, usually flesh, blood or the Man of Sorrows, to a knowing abuser- a Jew, a witch, a thief, a negligent priest –after which punishment ensues. Rubin, Corpus Christi, p.118.

[35] Robert Mannyng, Robert of Brunne’s ‘Handlyng Synne’, ed., Frederick James Furnivall, Early English Text Society (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1901), pp.25-8; ll.689-758; Early English versions of the Gesta Romanorum ed. Sidney J.H. Herrtage, Early English Text Society (London: N. Trübner & Co, 1879) LXXXVIII, pp.409-11.

[36] Gesta Romanorum, pp. 409-10.

[37] Mirk, Festial, p.135; ll.208-13.

[38] A graphic image of the suffering Christ surrounded by the arma Christi is found in Folio 23r, British Library. Add. MS 37049. Referred to as “The Charter of Human Redemption”, this devotional image depicts Christ’s declaration of love written on a charter underneath Christ’s bleeding hands. The Charter of Human Redemption is discussed in detail by Bynum. See Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe (Zone Books: New York, 2010) pp.89 and 92-3.

[39] Bynum, Christian Materiality, pp.112-116 and pp.166-7.

[40] Among the many examples Bynum provides are the articulated sculpture of Christ in Lichtenthal, the feet and hands of which are badly worn from contact with devotees, and an image in a book of devotion (Folio 140v, Paris BN MS Fr. 574 of the side-wound surrounded by the arma Christi, also worn from touching. Bynum, Christian Materiality, pp.22-3, pp.43-4 and pp.64-5.

[41] Mirk, Festial, pp.134-5; ll.151-165.

[42] Mirk, Festial, p.134, ll.159-60.

[43] The merchant’s companions see Christ “standyng before ƿe seke mannus bedde”. Mirk, Festial, p.135; l.210.

[44] Bynum, Christian Materiality, p.89.

[45] Bynum, Christian Materiality, pp.113-9.

[46] Mirk, Festial, p.136: ll.224-5.

[47] The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, ch. 66, ll. 2769-77 [Accessed 12/02/2013].

[48] Bettina Bildhauer, ‘Blood, Jews and Monsters in Medieval Culture’ in The Monstrous Middle Ages (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003) ed. Bettina Bildhauer and Robert Mills, pp.75-96 (pp.81-83).

[49] Jeffery Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters and the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p.74 and 169.

[50] Mirk, Festial, pp.80-1; ll.110-130; pp.92-3; ll135-163.

[51] Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).

[52] A particularly clear example of Christ’s vaginal side-wound is found in Folio 331r, Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, The Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters Collection 69.86. See Bynum, Christian Materiality, p.199.

[53] Peggy McCracken, The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), e.g. p. ix and p. 108. Robert Mills, ‘Queering the Un/Godly: Christ’s Humanities and Medieval Sexualities’, in Noreen Giffney, and Myra J. Hird,ed. Queering the Non/Human (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), pp. 111 – 135 (p.131); Kathleen Biddick, The Shock of Medievalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998) p.153.

[54] Mirk, Festial, pp.135-6; ll.213, 216.

[55] Girard, Violence and the Sacred, pp.34-40.

[56] Bildhauer cites the Bartholomäus, a popular thirteenth-century compilation of Greek and Latin medical authorities, to discuss the perceived benefits of regular bleeding to men and women., Bettina Bildhauer, ‘Conceptualizing the Monstrous’ (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006), pp.22-27. On the medieval belief of Jewish male menstruation see Bildhauer, Medieval Blood (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2010) pp.94-6. Willis Johnson also examines this topic in ‘The Myth of Jewish Male Menses’. See, Willis Johnson, ‘The Myth of Jewish Male Menses’ in Journal of Medieval History, Vol.24, No.3, pp.273-95, 1998. [Accessed 12/03/2013].

[57] Child thet hefde swuch uvel thet him bihofde beath of blod ear hit were i-healet – muchel the moder luvede hit, the walde this beath him makien. This dude ure Laverd us the weren se seke of sunne ant swa i-sulet ther-
with thet na thing ne mahte healen us ne cleansin us bute his blod ane, for swa he hit walde. His luve maketh us beath th’rof.( ll.136-40) [Imagine a child that had such a dreadful sickness that it needed a bloodbath to heal it. Its mother would love it so much that she would make it this bath. This is what our Lord did for us who were sick with sin and so sullied with it that nothing could heal us or cleanse us but his blood, for so he would do it. His love makes us a bath from it.] Ancrene Wisse, ed. Robert Hasenfratz (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000) Book 7; (ll.136-40) [Accessed 01/01/2013]

Than seyd our good Lord Jesus Christe, askyng, Art thou wele payd that I suffrid for thee? I sayd, “Ya, good Lord, gramercy; ya, good Lord, blissid mot thou be.” Than seyd Jesus, our kinde Lord, If thou art payde, I am payde; it is a joy, a blis, an endles lekyng to me that ever suffrid I passion for the, and if I myht suffre more, I wold suffre more. Julian of Norwich, Shewings [Then spoke our good Lord Jesus Christ, asking, Are you well pleased that I suffered for you? I said, “yes, good Lord,thank you, yes, blessed must you be.” Then said Jesus our kind Lord, If you are pleased, I am pleased; it is a joy, a bliss, an endless liking to me that I ever suffered the passion for you, and if I might suffer more, I would suffer more]. Julian of Norwich, The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, ch. 22; ll.777-81. [Accessed 12/02/2013].

[58] Bildhauer, Medieval Blood, pp.96-101; Women’s Secrets: Translation of Pseudo-Albertus Magnus’ “De Secretis Mulierum” with Commentaries, ed. and trans. Helen Rodnite Lemay (New York: SUNY Press, 1992), for example, pp.48 and 88.


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