The Shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham focused on the Annunciation. The Shrine’s famous holy relics, vials of the breast milk of the Virgin Mary, reinforced the importance of fertility and the domestic. Although the site focused insistently on female fertility, it also foregrounded the dynastic. English monarchs, from Henry III onward, traveled to the shrine. In this paper, I will argue that Walsingham’s iconography reveals the interconnection of the domestic and the dynastic. Examining this iconography provides a way to consider the role that women, marriage, and fertility played in the creation of dynasty.
Womb-like settings in the spiritual development of female saints is a topic that has been relatively unexplored in the stories of Christian hagiography, particularly in the stories of the Byzantine Orthodox matericon, or ‘mothers of the church’ in the Middle East. This paper revisits this literature and shows how, in addition to absconding a patriarchal social system, medieval female saints such as Barbara, Tala, Marina, Anna-Simon have taken refuge in a maternal realm they descend into during their journeys. Objects in natural landscapes, cavernous spaces, and disguising masks were reflections of a divine womb where spiritual regrowth happens in these hagiographic legends.