An Unsentimental View of Ritual in the Middle Ages, or Sainte Foy was no Snow White

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Journal of Ritual Studies


Religious rituals, Miracles, Holy relics, Monasteries, Rites of passage, Cultural studies, Medieval literature, Prisoners


The paper argues that ritual theories (especially those of Victor Turner and other symbolic anthropologists) overemphasize the achievement of "community" through ritual Contemporary British cultural theory suggests that ritual serves to articulate, but not necessarily to resolve, contesting ideologies and thus provides a convenient site for social negotiation. These theories are examined in the light of materials from the eleventh-century cult of Sainte Foy of Conques in southern France. Through ritual, the monks of the Conques monastery attempted to channel the power of their miracle-working saint into the reliquary-statue they controlled and to use the statue and the rituals surrounding it for their own monastic ends. Local elites, contesting the monks' attempt to achieve political and economic dominance in the region, often resisted the rituals or manipulated them to their own ends. Peasant worshippers also asserted their rights to perform their own rituals in the presence of the reliquary-statue.


Journal of Ritual Studies © 1992 Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew J. Strathern