Ring of Flesh: Late Medieval Devotion to the Holy Foreskin

  • Author / Creator
    White, James
  • This work examines the late medieval (c. 1200-c. 1500) veneration of the Holy Foreskin, the relic of Jesus’s penis that resulted after his circumcision. I argue that as relics of Jesus’s prepuce proliferated throughout western Europe during the late Middle Ages, they engendered both controversy and innovative forms of devotion. Theologians wondered whether earthly relics of Jesus’s penis—a part of his body—called into doubt the relevancy of the Eucharist, the bread and wine turned into Jesus’s body and blood through transubstantiation. They also worried that relics of the Holy Foreskin imperiled the concept of bodily resurrection: if Christ himself could not be resurrection in bodily perfection, humans had no hope of achieving the same. I also explore as case studies three late medieval holy women who each gave their own interpretation to the Jesus’s foreskin: as an acceptable ersatz Eucharist, as a prefiguration of Jesus’s Crucifixion (and thereby Resurrection), and as a stand-in for the Christchild himself. I close by examining the paradoxical nature of the Holy Foreskin itself, as a relic of the Jewish practice of circumcision that medieval Christians themselves did not perform. Overall, I argue in this thesis that the body was and continues to be a complicated site onto which religious beliefs can be placed. By exploring medieval beliefs about the Holy Foreskin, we learn not just about a particular type of relic, but also about developments in Christianity during the Late Middle Ages.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.