Constructing the Life of the Medieval Virgin Martyr as Death. [abstract].
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'Passio' of the virgin martyr were extremely popular in the medieval world, providing a model and inspiration for women. Such Lives are distinguished from the biographies of female saints, which gave detailed accounts of women known to the writer, while virgin martyr Lives were legendary, formed from stories several centuries old, that were often adapted and supplemented according to the circumstances. Some, for example, were written for anchoresses, those committed to a perpetually enclosed life; others were used on saints’ days in church. The result is stories that are highly conventionalised in both structure and imagery, forming a body of literature that reflects attitudes to women and virginity, as well as raising some intriguing and complex questions about the nature of female agency and spirituality. In this paper, Dr Cadwallader firstly explores the highly conventional nature of the stories through a range of medieval passio to establish the qualities of the virgin martyr and the basic elements of her story. This study of the conventions of the virgin martyr Life establishes the base for the discussion which forms the second part of the paper, in which several major issues emerge.