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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


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Publication details for Professor Andrew Beresford

Beresford, Andrew M. (2015). Torture, Identity, and the Corporeality of Female Sanctity: The Body as Locus of Meaning in the Legend of St Margaret of Antioch. Medievalia 18(2): 179-210.

Author(s) from Durham


The legend of St Margaret of Antioch problematizes a range of conceptions of selfhood, particularly the relationship between the body and identity, by constantly blurring the dialectical clarity of the opposition between self and other, between internal and external. Margaret, who is lacerated to the point where the inner workings of her body become visible, is swallowed by a dragon, but subsequently bursts outwards through its stomach by making the sign of the cross. She in this way becomes a complex and ambivalent figure, a source of abjection rather than scopic objectification for Olybrius, the pagan inquisitor, but a model of heroic resistance for a partisan Christian audience. In this discussion, which focuses on the previously unedited version of her legend in the Castilian Gran flos sanctorm, particular attention is paid to questions of ontological significance, the so-called ‘pious pornography’ thesis, and the appropriation of the female body as a symbolic locus of meaning.