This article takes a new approach to the conflicts represented in the thirteenth- century saints’ lives of the Katherine Group. Identifying saints and idols as contrasting poles in these conflicts, it argues that the category of sentience is a key distinguisher that is consistently employed to denigrate idols and idolators. Pagan antagonists are systematically identified as nonagential and material; by contrast, the saints communicate divine truth unimpeded and resist attempts to disrupt their highly integrated performances. The category of sentience is shuttled to-and-fro between parties as various antagonists attempt to reduce the saint to the status of an object. While superficially victorious, the saints finally fall prey to the binary logic of hagiography: to triumph over interrogation, torture, and death, the saint ultimately sacrifices her own sentience. This analysis reveals the investments of a medieval theory of sentience with implications for both hagiography at large and the twenty-first-century material turn.
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Research Article| May 01 2020
Johannes Wolf; An Old Materialism: Saints and Idols in the Katherine Group Hagiographies. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2020; 50 (2): 269–291. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-8219554
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