Centre for Advanced Studies in Languages & Literatures - Masters by Research Theses

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    Gendering virginity and violence in Ælfric’s lives of female saints
    (University College Cork, 2021-09-07) McAuliffe, Robyn; Birkett, Thomas; University College Cork
    This thesis examines the construction of the female saint and female sanctity in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints. Special attention is paid to the influence of the early-medieval ecclesiastical and secular contexts which resulted in the widespread glorification of the virginal status and the subsequent inextricability of virginity from female sanctity. It argues that virginity as a state is typically gendered female and that there is a conflation of virginity with female beauty within Ælfric’s Lives. This can be seen in the epithets ascribed to the female saints which often highlight the virginity, beauty, and brightness of the saints. The thesis also examines the female saint as a liminal persona, one who seemingly straddles a number of irreconcilable states. Ælfric’s treatment of the female saints within his hagiographic work has a clear reliance on the gender of the saint, with gender seemingly influencing their admirable attributes, namely sexual abstention and virginity, whilst also being used to determine how, and through what means, the saint should be treated within the text to enable her sanctification. It becomes quite clear, having examined a number of Ælfric’s female saints, that sexual violence is primarily used against the female saints, thus highlighting that violence, like virginity, is gendered female within the Lives and is integral to the saints' sanctity.