Virgin, Bride and Lover [microform]: A Study of the ...

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Title Virgin, Bride and Lover [microform]: A Study of the Relationship between Sexuality and Spirituality in Anchoritic Literature
Author(s) Catherine A. Innes-Parker
Date 1993
Publisher Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1992
Place published Ottawa : National Library of Canada = Biblioth?que nationale du Canada, 1993.
Abstract The spirituality portrayed in AncreneWisse and the texts associated with it is rooted in the anchoress' own situation: a female solitary enclosed within the four walls of her anchorhouse. The images used to express that spirituality are tied to her experience of enclosure and to her gender. These two elements come together in the matrix of anchorhouse/body/heart, in which the anchoress' female body becomes identified with the anchorhouse in which it is enclosed. The spirituality of these texts is thus deeply grounded in the anchoress' sexuality and her perception of her own body. The images of enclosure and female sexuality which dominate these texts are expressed in terms of the paradox of the virgin who is at the same time the lover and bride of Christ. The female body enclosed within the anchorhouse is sealed by physical chastity, just as the anchoress is sealed within her anchorhouse. Physical purity is itself an image or symbol of the purity of heart and soul which is an essential prerequisite for theanchoress' goal of union with God. It is for this, and this alone, that she has turned from the world and enclosed her body and heart in the confines of her anchorhouse. The union with God which the anchoress seeks is also described in images which are governed by both her enclosure and her gender. The spiritual quest of the anchoress is unequivocally the search of a female devotee for a male God, who approaches her in very human terms. The enclosed chamber of her heart which she prepares for his coming is the arbour or bower in which she greets her beloved, and the nest or womb in which she nurtures her God. Her union with God is described in terms both sensual and sensuous, combining erotic imagery with imagery of motherhood and fertility. The erotic union with Christ available to the anchoress in her enclosure transforms and redeems, as the body which is vulnerable to lust (her own and other's) becomes the vessel which bears Christ through imitation and union.

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