Gendered Attitudes Towards Physical Tending Amongst the Piously Religious of Late Medieval Sweden

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Gendered differences concerning intellectual and physical religious expressions in medieval Europe have previously been discussed by several medievalists. It has been suggested that medieval male piety was expressed primarily in practical and intellectual terms within canonical rituals and in verbalized form in prayers and mass. Female piety, on the other hand, is thought to have been expressed in more physical terms, using bodily expressions as self starvation and the embracement of disease. Notifications in the Swedish late medieval Vadstena Diary, discussed in this article, suggest that the brethren who kept the diary were biased by these gendered ideals in their selection of what and how they documented the diseases and deaths of the female and male monastic members. It seems as if it was perceived as especially serious and noteworthy when male inhabitants were afflicted in ways that hindered their performance of their ritual duties. For women it seems as if leprosy might have been perceived as something that elevated their pious status by their distressful endurance. It also seems as if obesity – the opposite to the ideal of the holy anorectic – was judged as more shameful in a pious woman than in a pious man. In the article I take the discussion of late medieval pious ideals one step further and suggest that these gendered attitudes affected what kind of surgical, medical and hygienic treatments were expected by and provided for male and female monastic inhabitants. Through the rich archaeological materials from Cistercian institutions (mainly Alvastra and Vreta) it is possible to study the traces of their lived reality. The archaeological finds indicate that while special equipment for medication existed at both male and female institutions, surgical treatments were more extensively provided at male institutions. The same goes for wound treatments and the attention to personal hygiene.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMedicine, healing and performance
EditorsEffie Gemi-Iordanou, Stephen Gordon, Robert Matthew, Ellen McInnes, Rhiannon Pettitt
PublisherOxbow Books
ISBN (Print)978-1-78297-158-0
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Archaeology

Free keywords

  • medieval monastery
  • medieval healing
  • personal hygiene
  • surgical instrument
  • medical instrument
  • disease
  • Middle ages
  • medieval
  • gender
  • body
  • Cistercian
  • monastic medicine
  • Vadstena monastery
  • Alvastra
  • Vreta
  • Varnhem
  • Gudhem
  • Birgittine


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