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Iconic women: Martyrdom and the female body in early Christianity

Elena Martin, (2006) Iconic women: Martyrdom and the female body in early Christianity. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Martyrdom is an inherently corporeal experience often involving horrific torture and directed towards the annihilation of the human body. Our earliest Christian martyrdom narratives, dating from the mid-second century C.E., focus on the bodies of the martyrs and the physicality of persecution. This focus became increasingly more intense from the second century onwards, as is evidenced by the martyr panegyrics of the fourth century. These homilies simultaneously convey horror through clinical descriptions of the persecuted body, and beauty through poetic and romanticised accounts of the tortured body. The present study pursues this preoccupation with the martyred body in the mid-second to late- fourth centuries. Exploring the theological ideas surrounding the martyred body, this study centres on the interpretation of martyrdom as a holy performance enacted beneath the eyes of God. Martyrdom is discussed in relation to early Christian understandings of revelation, ancient notions of body language, and modem theories of performance and communication. Revealing the presence and power of God through their bodies, the martyrs were seen and depicted as teachers, preachers, exemplars, and icons, both in times of persecution and times of peace. This understanding of martyrdom is particularly important for the study of women in early Christianity. While women were excluded from assuming roles as teachers and preachers in the Church, they actively preached the Christian faith through their bodies. By performing martyrdom, Christian women became preachers of the gospel, philosophers of virtue, teachers of faith, and icons of Christ.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:2006
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:30

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