This research will analyse the biographical and autobiographical texts of late-medieval and early modern women who were deemed to be mystics, blessed, or saints. The main objective is to determine to what extent extreme religious experiences (ecstasies, visions, physical sensations) might be attributable not to unexplainable relations with the Godhead, but to very explainable medical causes. What their contemporaries saw as mystical experiences can, from our modern perspective, be characterized in medical terms. Questions at the basis of the project are, therefore: what is the boundary between illness and sanctity? Is it possible to draw a demarcation line between alleged miracles and mental illness? What do biographical texts tell us about this? Where, how, and when have these texts come down to us and who has transmitted them? This research will consider five cases of mental illnessess (anorexia, visions, hysterical pregnancies, folie à deux and post-partum depression) in biographical texts of six religious women: St.Lutgardis of Aywières †1246, St.Angela of Foligno †1309, the Bl.Giustina of Arezzo †1319, St.Margareta Ebner †1351, Margery Kempe †1438, Bl.Colomba of Rieti †1501. These six women may well illustrate a broad spectrum of diseases. This research is important because: a) biographical texts that reveal how women saints lived their daily lives marked by ecstasies and mental alterations, that have not yet been fully investigated; b) similar studies exist, but they focused only on a single nervous disease and were limited mostly to Italian women saints; c) current studies have not taken into account the fundamental iconographic sources.
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Funding SchemeMSCA-IF-GF - Global Fellowships
00165 Vatican City