Recent decades of work in hagiography have looked to the phenomenon of medieval cursing in order to understand the ritual and profane uses of language better; much of the research has been focused on Ireland. Legal and literary history play a role in these studies, particularly when it comes to the “vengeance cursing” applied by saints in order to attain a greater good.
Jesse Harrington’s recent Cambridge dissertation distinguishes between “punitive miracles, divine vengeance and ritual sanction” in the redemptive sense, but also writes of fatal “vengeance episodes” and “coercive fasting” as subsets of cursing. These phenomena are well-known in the Irish tradition, but can also be found among Anglo-Latin writers. Harrington’s thesis is titled “Vengeance and Saintly Cursing in the Saints’ Lives of England and Ireland, c. 1060-1215″ and was accepted by Corpus Christi College (Cambridge) in 2017.
Cistercian scholars will be particularly interested in a passage about Aelred of Rievaulx, who often abased himself in the hopes that the shameful spectacle would reconcile warring parties. It is close to what Harrington calls “self-abasement as self-assertion”, a manner of achieving “reconciliation through outward shaming” (109-110). In addition to legal and historical precedents, Harrington references biblical passages (in this case, Jeremiah 31) in order to find precedents in the style of corrective justice by which God humbles and forgives Israel.
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