Holy Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval Christianity by Sara RitcheyHoly Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval Christianity by Sara Ritchey

Holy Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval Christianity

bySara Ritchey

Hardcover | April 29, 2014

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A magnificent proliferation of new Christ-centered devotional practices—including affective meditation, imitative suffering, crusade, Eucharistic cults and miracles, passion drama, and liturgical performance—reveals profound changes in the Western Christian temperament of the twelfth century and beyond. This change has often been attributed by scholars to an increasing emphasis on God's embodiment in the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ. In Holy Matter, Sara Ritchey offers a fresh narrative explaining theological and devotional change by journeying beyond the human body to ask how religious men and women understood the effects of God’s incarnation on the natural, material world. She finds a remarkable willingness on the part of medieval Christians to embrace the material world—its trees, flowers, vines, its worms and wolves—as a locus for divine encounter.

Early signs that perceptions of the material world were shifting can be seen in reformed communities of religious women in the twelfth-century Rhineland. Here Ritchey finds that, in response to the constraints of gendered regulations and spiritual ideals, women created new identities as virgins who, like the mother of Christ, impelled the world’s re-creation—their notion of the world’s re-creation held that God created the world a second time when Christ was born. In this second act of creation God was seen to be present in the physical world, thus making matter holy. Ritchey then traces the diffusion of this new religious doctrine beyond the Rhineland, showing the profound impact it had on both women and men in professed religious life, especially Franciscans in Italy and Carthusians in England. Drawing on a wide range of sources including art, liturgy, prayer, poetry, meditative guides, and treatises of spiritual instruction, Holy Matter reveals an important transformation in late medieval devotional practice, a shift from metaphor to material, from gazing on images of a God made visible in the splendor of natural beauty to looking at the natural world itself, and finding there God’s presence and promise of salvation.

Sara Ritchey is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Title:Holy Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval ChristianityFormat:HardcoverDimensions:9.25 × 6.13 × 0.39 inPublished:April 29, 2014Publisher:CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESSLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801452538

ISBN - 13:9780801452536

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Table of Contents

1. The Mirror of Holy Virginity
2. Viriditas and Virginitas
3. Clare of Assisi and the Tree of Crucifixion
4. The Franciscan Bough
5. An Estranged Wilderness

Editorial Reviews

"In this spirited study of the imaginative theology of the Middle Ages, Sara Ritchey calls attention to late medieval developments in the ancient doctrine of re-creation—developments that led religious men and women to train themselves in faith to see the things of the natural world differently. Reclaimed, reordered, and sanctified by God through the Incarnation and the tree of Christ's cross, local flora and fauna thus appeared to their eyes not merely as signs of the Creator and proof of his existence but also as sacraments of the divine presence. Recovering this spiritual hermeneutic through a focus on arboreal imagery, Ritchey offers a refreshing corrective to the commonplace view of medieval spirituality as anxiously distrustful of the physical senses and of material things."—Ann W. Astell, University of Notre Dame, author of Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages