The hagiographers were often interested in the descriptions of practices of heroic fasting of saints. The authors of Saints’ Lives praised their abstemious behavior in regard to food and drink, and especially commended their remarkable adherence to a strict or heroic regimen of fasting. Indeed, one of the particularly strong expressions of female piety was abstinence or rejection of food. One of the most famous early medieval saints was the queen-saint Radegund. Her dietary habits and heroic fasting are described by her friend and biographer, Venantius Fortunatus, in his Vita and poetry. But does this description match the real Radegund?
St. Íte’s extreme fasting prompted angels to resort to force-feeding. She then shared this angelic sustenance with others and even became food herself – first for a flesh-eating stag-beetle foster-child, then for the nursing Christ-child. Her name, originally Deirdre, was changed to ‘Íta for her great thirst (íota) for the love of God’, yet she is the only female Irish saint with a vita not portrayed as miraculously multiplying beer or, in the case of the teetotalling Samthann, milk. This paper explores what fasting and feasting in female Irish saints’ lives suggest about gender, community, the body, and the love of God.
In the last few decades, sound, soundscape, and aural cultures have been widely studied in the context of medieval literature. Yet, the Merovingian hagiographical soundscape is still waiting to be deciphered. This lack of interest is not surprising: sounds, as sonorous information, are rarely mentioned in the texts. Some Vitae are even almost totally devoid of them. Building on Pierre Schaeffer’s listening modes and Umberto Eco’s differentiation between unintentional indices and signs which convey meaning, the present paper is an attempt to explain the hagiographers’ dismissal of certain sounds. By removing sonorous indices, and by creating a new auditory imagination (a ‘sacred sonography’ composed both of dramatic resonant theophanies and ordinary noisy micro-miracles), the hagiographers – this paper argues – wished to train their audience to acknowledge the presence of God in every bit of noise, in order to develop a spiritual sense of hearing.