Court and Convent

Senses and Spirituality in Hispanic Medieval Women’s Writing

Authored by: Lesley K. Twomey

The Routledge Companion to Iberian Studies

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415722834
eBook ISBN: 9781315709895
Adobe ISBN:


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Vision is the principal sense for medieval people for, through theoria, the gaze, it led to knowledge. 1 Christianity based its evangelism on visual testimony, since the disciples saw the risen Christ and the Gospels record their oral testimony. By the late Middle Ages, rituals of seeing (Lentes 2006) reveal a taste for public and private devotions prioritizing the gaze, whether exposition of the Blessed Sacrament or personal devotion to a religious artefact. Seeing something holy with the physical eye or seeing Christ through contemplation in the mind’s eye imprint holiness on the seer: “To see was to become similar to the object” (Biernoff 2002, 137; Beresford and Twomey 2013, 103–132). In this chapter, I explore Hildegard of Bingen’s theology of the senses, particularly seeing and hearing, aiming to assess seeing and hearing in women’s writing. 2 Conventual writers include Teresa de Cartagena (1420/25– ?), who wrote two treatises, one on infirmity and one justifying her writing; Constanza de Castilla (†1478), a Dominican prioress, who wrote liturgy and prayers; and Isabel de Villena (1430–1490), a Franciscan abbess, who wrote a life of Mary and Christ. 3 All are noblewomen: Teresa de Cartagena is from an “upwardly mobile” converso family (Seidenspinner-Núñez and Kim 2004, 132), whilst Constanza and Villena had royal blood. I also consider Leonor López de Córdoba’s Memorias, a treatise justifying her own family’s status.

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