Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Praying for Deliverance: Childbirth and the Cult of the Saints in the Late Medieval Mediterranean
Authors: Johnson, Rebecca Wynne
Advisors: Jordan, William Chester
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: childbirth
Subjects: History
Religious history
Women's studies
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The tales and testimonies of the miracles worked by the saints, who were believed to heal the sick and raise the dead, remain among our greatest resources for understanding the lives of ordinary medieval people. My dissertation uses these accounts to re-create the largely lost world of pregnancy and childbirth in Mediterranean Europe between 1200 and 1500. By combining social, religious, and medical history, it explores the factors that made the medieval birthing chamber a site of personal and communal anxiety, and the role of religion in both assuaging and amplifying these concerns. It also challenges the current scholarly emphasis on the beginnings of childbirth’s medicalization during the late Middle Ages. In contrast, I argue that the most significant change to childbirth in this era was actually its Christianization. This movement, though driven in part by ecclesiastical concerns to assure the salvation of the unborn, drew its greatest impetus from the lay desire to manage childbirth’s uncertainties and dangers through appeals to the divine. Chapter One reviews the existing scholarship on medieval childbirth, and the potential that hagiographic materials from the era hold for furthering our understanding of it. Chapter Two uses these materials to chart womens’ relationships with the saints during pregnancy, a vulnerable period during which the saints’ aid was often invoked to ward off ill health and, in particular, to prevent miscarriage. Chapter Three examines devotion to the saints during birth itself, when later medieval people not only remained far likelier to call on saints than physicians, but employed a growing array of prayers and relics to manage the pain and fear of laboring women. Turning from mothers to their children, Chapter Four explores the biological and theological foundations of a miracle type that became increasingly prevalent in the later Middle Ages: the revival of stillborn infants. Chapter Five takes a closer look at these reports of revival, both permanent and temporary, which simultaneously promoted baptism’s necessity for salvation and reflected lay acceptance of the doctrine. A brief epilogue explores some consequences of childbirth’s later medieval Christianization in the centuries that followed.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Johnson_princeton_0181D_11578.pdf2.13 MBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.