Symbolic Illness and the Construction of Virginities in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints

Penelope Scott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The concept of virginity intersects with cultural ideas about health, illness, and the body, and these concepts are inextricably linked to spirituality in Anglo-Saxon England at a cultural and linguistic level. The varying significance of virginity according to gender, illness, and bodily violence is demonstrated through the examination of three of Ælfric's virgin saints' lives: Eugenia, Edmund, and Æthelthryth. This article argues that saints are characterized by distinct and gendered virginities, in which case the masculine form is fortitude and the unwillingness to succumb to sin. Feminine virginity is upheld as a virtue through the potent medical symbolism of bodily interiority and corruption. As Eugenia's vita demonstrates, the sex of the saint does not determine which model of virginity they represent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)959-979
Number of pages21
JournalEnglish Studies
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2019


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