honor masculine incarnation for alternative to castration culture

one-eyed sinner of Michelangelo

Deeply entrenched castration culture threatens to terminate modern life in miserable social death. Increasingly tyrannical sex regulations in practice almost exclusively target men. They feed modern penal justice systems that vastly disproportionately incarcerate persons with penises. Even in relatively liberal and tolerant medieval Europe, men’s sexuality was feared and regulated in part through castration. However, medieval Christian appreciation for masculine incarnation and masculine sexuality served to temper castration culture and oppressive penal punishments.

Whether through demonic influence or lack of appreciation for their masculine bodies, some medieval men yielded to castration culture. Consider the case of a medieval Irish parish priest. According to the twelfth-century bishop of Eoghan in Ireland:

A priest of holy and honest life was in charge of a parish in this province. It was his daily habit, at the first light of dawn, first to circle the church cemetery while singing the seven psalms as devotions for the dead. He lived very chastely and devoted himself to the service of careful teaching for good works. Demons often were disturbed that they could not conquer him at all to bend his vow of chastity and holy living.

{ Sacerdos quidam sancte uite et honeste parrochiam regebat in hac prouincia, cuius erat consuetudo ut cotidie, summo mane surgens, prius ecclesie cymiterium circuiens, septem psalmos pro fidelibus defunctis decantaret. Castissime uixit et sollicite doctrine et bonis operam dedit. Demones uero multociens conquesti sunt quod illum a proposito castimonie et sancte conuersationis nullus eorum flectere ualeret. }[1]

A demon vowed to his demon-leader that he would break this priest. Doing so would take fifteen years of effort. The demon-leader applauded the demon’s commitment to corruption and urged him to undertake this long task.

Acting subtly, the demon exploited the priest’s masculine humanity. Just as in the U.S. today, women in medieval Europe were free to abandon their newly born children:

Arising at dawn one day, the priest circled the cemetery as usual and found near a cross in the cemetery an abandoned infant girl. Accepting her, he entrusted her to a certain wet-nurse to feed as if the infant girl were her own daughter. He had the girl, once weaned, taught reading, because he intended to consecrate her to Christ as a virginal woman.

{ surgens mane quadam die sacerdos cymiteriumque de more circuiens repperit iuxta crucem in cymiterio infantulam unam expositam. Quam accipiens commendauit cuidam nutrici, ut eam quasi filiam suam propriam nutriret. Ablactatam uero eam littere discere fecit, cuius integritatem Christo consecrare proposuit. }

The infant girl developed into a beautiful young woman:

When she reached the years of puberty, and the priest had become accustomed to her beauty, concupiscence began to burn in him. He was intending to become too intimate with her, because she was too lovely, according to the beauty, or rather rottenness, of the flesh. And the more furtively and intimately he addressed her, the more fervently he was seized in love for her. Eventually he went so far as to ask her for consent to sexual relations. He obtained her consent.

{ Que cum ad pubertatis annos peruenisset et illius pulcritudini presbiter assuete et nimis familiariter intendisset, cepit in eius exardescere concupiscentia, quia secundum carnis pulchritudinem sed potius putredinem nimis erat speciosa. Et quo secretius et familiarius eam alloquebatur, eo feruentius in ipsius amorem rapiebatur. Contigit autem nuper ut eius assensum peteret et impetrauit. }

Almost all men do not need to be taught not to rape women, even beautiful young women wholly under their control. Men vastly prefer not only women who consent, but also women who are warmly receptive, actively loving, and enthusiastically appreciative of masculine sexual labor. Unlike dogs, men have a sense of moral right and wrong even when they feel ardent desire. So it was with this priest:

And after obtaining consent and permitted to have sex with her, he was inflamed more sharply. However, frightened at doing so unusual work, he postponed the act to the next day. … When that next day actually came, the priest called the young woman into his small bedroom and led her to arrange herself on the bed. He then stood in front of the bed for a while, hesitating to be doing. Finally, not at the instigation of the demon that had led him to this work, but truly inspired by the very God who doesn’t allow a person to be tempted beyond one’s limit, the priest, his soul thinking of the wicked of this sin, said to the young woman: “Wait a little, daughter, wait until I return.” The priest proceeded to the door of his bedroom, seized a knife, and cut off his very own genitals and threw them outside. He said: “What did you think, demons, that I haven’t studied your tricks? You will not rejoice in the ruin of me and my daughter, because you will possess neither me nor her.” … The priest indeed entrusted the virgin, whom he had nourished to serve God, to the virgins of a monastery.

{ Et licet acrius ureretur post impetratum assensum, pauefactus tamen ad opus tam insolitum, actum distulit in crastinum. … Die uero crastina predictus presbiter aduocans puellam in cubiculum suum introduxit eamque super lectum suum locauit. Stetit igitur ante lectum aliquandiu, quid ageret hesitans. Tandem uero non illo instigante qui eum ad hoc opus perduxerat, sed ipso inspirante qui non permittit hominem supra modum temptari, pensans animo presbiter huius enormitatis sceleris ait puelle: “Expecta, filia, paululum, expecta donec redeam.” Procedens itaque presbiter ad ostium cubiculi cultrum arripuit, uirilia sibimet abscidit forasque proiecit, dicens: “Quid putastis, demones, quod uersutias uestras non intellexerim? De perditione mea uel filie mee non gaudebitis, quia nec me nec illam habebitis.” … Sacerdos uero uirginem, quam Deo seruituram nutrierat, in monasterio uirginibus commendauit. }[2]

This horrible story underscores the terrible reality of castration culture. The priest mutilated his God-given body. In Christian understanding, God became incarnate as Jesus Christ, a fully masculine man. Jesus didn’t amputate and discard his genitals. Yet this Christian priest, falsely understanding himself to be a follower of Christ, castrated himself. Symeon the New Theologian, a devout Christian who lived in eleventh-century Byzantium, would have regarded this priest as having suffered demonic possession and ruin. Peter Abelard, a twelfth-century French theologian who endured the hateful gender injustice of assailants castrating him, would have regarded this priest as violently impious like Dinah’s brothers.

medieval public officials castrating man

The vision of Louis d’Auxerre at St. Patrick’s purgatory in 1358 revealed a humane, Christian alternative to castration culture. Louis d’Auxerre was a knight who had engaged in violence against men and other sins of the flesh. He explained:

As much as I was able, I dedicated myself to exertion in martial accomplishments. In this way I kept busy about the matter of now fighting-games, now knights’ tournaments, now pitched battles, now in France, now in Germany, now sometimes as far as Italy. In these I shed an abundance of Christian blood. I was also involved in other vices. I began to think to myself a little about being devoted no longer to sins of the flesh and wantonness, but purging patiently my crimes in the purgatory of Saint Patrick. I had heard about that purgatory several times.

{ Ego, inquit, postquam pro posse operam dederam operibus bellicosis, quam ob rem me nunc hastiludiis, nunc torneamentis, nunc campalibus bellis, nunc in Galliam, nunc ad Germanos, nunc nonnumquam ad Ytalicos, quandoque ad diversas alias nationes me transferens exercerem, quare copiam effuderam sanguinis Christianorum essemque multis aliis vitiis involutus, cepi mecum aliquantulum cogitare non deinceps mundo peccatisque carnis quam petulantie deservire, sed perpetrata facinora in purgatorio sancti Patricii patienter purgare, de quo audiveram alias. }[3]

Louis d’Auxerre decided to change his life and purge his sins. He thus traveled to the purgatory of Saint Patrick on Station Island in Lough Derg {Red Lake} in County Donegal, Ireland.

When Louis d’Auxerre entered the purgatory of Saint Patrick, he saw there thirteen white monks. The leader of the white monks stepped forward and addressed Louis:

Your foolish presumption has lead you here. Henceforth you cannot return without personal danger, and moreover it is exceedingly dangerous for you to go further. Immediately demons will come now in the most beautiful feminine form so as to seduce you, now in the horrible form of dragons so that, trembling in terror, you despair. However, there is one remedy of salvation. For this, see that you always have in mind the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in all the martyrdoms you suffer from these fiends, say first: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Then say, “May God and the Holy Trinity always be with me.” Remember to sign yourself three times with the sign of the Holy Cross. These acts will confer on you so much strength that you may overcome the enemy and all temptations of the demons.

{ Te, inquit, stulta presumptio huc duxit, non valens amodo redire sine tuo discrimine personali; et ultra te ire periculosum est valde, nam statim demones venient nunc in forma muliebri pulcherrima ut seducant te, nunc in draconum horribili forma ut terrore ac tremore te desperes. Unum tamen est salutis remedium, ut videlicet passionem domini nostri Iesu Christi semper habeto in mente; et in omnibus martiriis tibi ab eisdem fiendis dicere primo: ‘Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis’, deinde: ‘Deus et sancta trinitas semper sit mecum’, tribusque vicibus signo sancte crucis signare memento. Habebunt hec namque tibi tantam conferre fortitudinem ut inimicum superes omniumque demonum temptamenta. }[4]

The monk-leader said that the demons were now coming. He signed Louis with the sign of the cross and then left him.

At one time or another in life, everyone confronts demons. The most dangerous demons are the most highly deceptive ones. These demons pretend to offer widely recognized goods, but they don’t actually provide those goods. Those goods are merely illusions used to lead a person to evil. The demons that attacked Louis d’Auxerre presented to him goods that commonly constitute men’s dreams:

After the monk-leader left, women immediately came. They were incredibly beautiful — strolling, singing, and dancing. They were dressed in royal gowns and carried on their heads gold crowns adorned with precious stones. They were exceedingly beautiful and imbued with white and red colors. Their upswept hair was golden, and their foreheads, moderately elevated, were smooth and whiter than snow. The black arches of their eyebrows hung with elegance. Their eyes, very wandering, were more beautiful than an eagle’s, and their cheeks were more tender than curdled milk. The thin nose ran very straightly down to lips, lips ruddier than coral and the ivory teeth were arranged like a battle line. A most precious, jewel-like chin hung on each of them, and they had a neck of proper fleshiness and a throat that actively held a line. On the chest two small apples were raised. These women seemed to be no more than sixteen or seventeen years of age.

As they came towards me, so graceful and cheerful, one of them, who seemed to hold greater authority among the others, spoke to me in a submissive voice in this way: “Fine knight, we rejoice in the highest that you have come to us. We are beyond doubt not demons. Contrary to what that most fallacious demon who preceded us to you disclosed, we are immortal goddesses having great power and much riches. Find comfort, therefore, in our advice for your salvation. Accept our pleasures. Receive our passionate and seductive embraces. Enter secretly the gates of love and passion, for surely our passion is healing. If you do this, you will have in consequence not only delight but also material benefit. Indeed, we have control over the greatest treasure-vaults. When you would like to return to your own living arrangements, if from ours you would like to take something, I say you will be able to being back with you whatever riches you would like.”

{ Post hec statim mulieres veniunt, quarum incredibilis erat pulchritudo, vage corizantes saltantesque, regalibus indumentis indute, coronas aureas ornatas pretiosissimis lapidibus in capite deferebant, formose valde, lacteo rubeoque colore mixto perfuse; declinati capilli aurei erant, tempora mediocriter eleuata, frontes polite nive erant albiores, supercilia arcualia nigredine condecente pendentia, oculi aquile pulchriores ac vagi nimis, genne lacte coagulato teneriores, nasus velut stilus rectissimus usque ad labia decurrebat, labia rubicundiora corallo, dentes eburnei uelut acies ordinati, ut lapis pretiosissimus barbucium in eis pendebat, collum decenti carnositate, habebant ac guttur lineatum actualiter, in pectore duo poma parua pulcherima leuebantur; in etate XVI uel XVII annorum ad plus videbantur.

Sic ego graciles et iocunde ad me venientes, una quarum, que pre aliis maiorem auctoritatem videbatur tenere, sic michi voce submissa taliter loqui: “Decore miles, te ad nos venisse summe lectamur; sumus procul dubio non demones, ut qui nos prevenit ad te demon fallacissimus reseravit, sed dee immortales habentes potestatem magnam multasque divitias. Acquiesce igitur meis tue salutis consiliis, solatia accipe nostra, amplexus cupidos vagosque recipe nostros, amoris claustra subintra cupidinis, quippe nostra cupida cura est. Quod si feceris, non delectabile solum, sed etiam tibi bonum etiam utile consequetur. Habemus namque super thesauros maximos potestatem, quod quando volueris ad propria remeare si ex nobis tecum aliquod ducere voles, poteris, inquam, divitias deferre prout voles.” }

What could be better than one beautiful, warmly receptive young woman? Many beautiful, warmly receptive young women. And even better, many rich, generous beautiful, warmly receptive young women who don’t insist on a life-long relationship! Such women presented themselves to Louis d’Auxerre. As if all the goods they had to offer him weren’t enough, they also proposed to save him from mortal danger:

“As you can see, I have keys to the door through which you entered. By these means, at your will you can immediately be put outside them. To the contrary, if that should be refused, if you scorn to do what I have advised for your salvation, behold dragons will soon come to devour you immediately.” Indeed, terrifying dragons in a great multitude appeared behind the women. The dragons came quickly and impetuously towards me. They came hissing, with jaws open, and discharging enormous fire from their ears, eyes, and noses. With these beasts were many others, dragging behind them a burning city. They had various types and forms and were even more terrifying in appearance. The flames of fire that came forth from them seemed to touch the sky. “Be agreeable,” said the woman, “consider the terrifying appearance of the beasts. Save yourself according to my advice that I said for your salvation.”

{ “Habeo namque ut vides illius porte claves per quam intrasti, quare ad vota te statim ponere extra possim. Si vero, quod absit, pro tua salute quod consulo contempseris facere, ecce dracones mox venient ut te statim devorent.” Quippe dracones terribiles in multitudine maxima post ipsas apparuerunt, versus me cum sibilis impetuque aperto ore de auribus oculis et naribus amplissimum ignem proicientes velociter veniebant; et cum ipsis bestie alie multe erant trahentes post se igneam civitatem, quarum aspectus etiam terribilior erat, diversas habentes species et figuras. Flamma namque ignis ab eis procedens celum tangere videbatur. “Bene,” inquit mulier, “illum aspectum terribilem considerans bestiarum salva te ipsum ut dixi meo tue salutis consilio.” }

Men’s lives should matter. These women seemed to value and appreciate Louis d’Auxerre’s life. Why not follow their advice for salvation?

The medieval authority Alan of Lille dared to apply to women the medieval proverb “all that glistens isn’t gold {non teneas aurum totum quod splendet ut aurum}.” As a knight, Louis d’Auxerre wasn’t a deeply learned man like Alan of Lille. Yet Louis intuitively had some sense for wisdom and true authority:

I responded to her with nothing, but was silent. In fact, I was perplexed not a little, because then those before-told women were continually sending into my heart arrows burning greatly with lust, and then my lust was growing. Thus a meal was being prepared for the dragons, if I had assented in the least to the warning spoken to me. Finally, I came back to myself with the advice that I remembered in the words of the master who had spoken to me earlier. Soon the women disappeared. Suddenly I was chained by foot and hand, and I was thrown among those worst, most ferocious wild beasts. I began to be burned by fire. Remembering then the prayers that I had been taught, I said in my heart: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. May God and the Holy Trinity always be with me.” I signed myself three times with the sign of the Holy Cross. Thus I was suddenly liberated from those pestiferous tormentors.

{ Cui respondens nullatenus, sed silens fui quippe perplexus non modicum, tum quia sagittas trahentes concupiscentie ignitas valde cordi meo mulieres prefate continue emittebant, tum etiam quod concupiscentiam augmentabant, ut esca prepararetur draconum, ubi loquentis michi minime monitis assentirem. Ad me tandem reversus consilio verborum memini artificis, que michi antea loquebatur, mox mulieres disparuerunt; repente pedibus manibusque sum vinculatus ac inter illas feras pessimas ferocissimas sum proiectus. Igne comburi incipio, orationes memorans doctas iam dico in corde meo: “Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, Deus et sancta trinitas sit mecum semper,” me signo ter signo sancte crucis liberorque repente a tortoribus tam pestiferis. }

The beautiful women were merely a gyno-idolatrous illusion. Simply recalling the monk-leader’s warning was enough to dispel that illusion. Then Louis experienced the reality of being enchained and thrown among ferocious beasts. Declaring the masculine incarnation of God in Jesus and praying to be part of the community of love that is the Holy Trinity was powerful enough to liberate Louis from chains and ferocious beasts.

Dispelling gyno-idolatrous illusions and avoiding demonic dangers requires continual effort. Louis d’Auxerre’s vision reflected life experiences of a medieval knight. An old lady with two beautiful girls offered him the choice of either girl. Lovely nuns, recognizing the attractiveness of a knight relative to a cleric, emerged from a convent and pleaded with him to spend time with them in pleasure. He encountered a beautiful girl alone at a spring in a field. She was eager to be with him. He met three beautiful women leisurely playing chess under a tree in a field. They sought to play with him. All these experiences turned out to be similar gyno-idolatrous illusions and demonic dangers. The specific form of such problems depends on the time, place, and particular person. But gyno-idolatrous illusions and demonic dangers are common in the lives of almost all persons.

Virgin Mary welcoming sinners cleansed in Saint Patrick's purgatory

Human sexuality creates moral risks for both women and men. While relatively liberal and tolerant medieval European societies didn’t encourage totalitarian sexual regulations and public denunciations for long-past alleged sexual crimes, medieval persons recognized moral dangers of human sexuality. For example, a cleric in England in 1153 had a vision of a young woman named Cecilia. The cleric and Cecilia had been sexually intimate. She subsequently died and was in purgatory. In his vision, he spoke with her in purgatory:

I said, “How goes it with you?” She responded, “Badly until now, for after I had departed this life, I endured a harsh sentence and was assigned to various punishments.” To which I asked, “Why, or for what causes, do you undergo such torments?” She said, “I left behind in you a shield of faith when, without forethought and unjustly, I betrayed our compact. Therefore, denuded of so much protection after my death, I readily fell prey to enemies. Because I had loved you excessively ardently with carnal lust, I grimly endure the fire which I have lit. I pay the penalty for my excesses and crimes wretchedly in the alternation of torments. If I had not committed them, I would have undergone nothing or certainly the lightest sentence from my trial.” To which I responded, “I am now completely horrified by what I have heard, and I suffer violently for your misery as if it were my own.”

{ “Quomodo,” inquam, “tecum agitur?” ‘Et illa, “Hucusque,” inquit, “male, quia postquam de hac uita discessi, uariis suppliciis deputata tristem sententiam pertuli.” Ad quam ego, “Cur,” inquam, “uel quibus de causis tanta sustines tormenta?” Et illa, “Quoniam,” inquit, “fidei scutum in proditionem pactionis inprouide et iniuste tibi reliqueram, et ideo postquam exuta sum corpore, nudata tanto munimine, libere hostibus in predam incidi. Et quia te carnali concupiscentia nimis ardenter dilexeram, ignem quem accendi grauiter sustineo, excessusque meos et delieta cum penarum alternatione miserabiliter luo, que si non commisissem, aut nullius uel certe leuissimum examinationis iudicium sustinuissem.” Cui inquam, “De re audita iam totus inhorreo, et de miseria tua, ac si mea esset, uehementer indoleo. }[5]

Cecilia poignantly describes her cleric-lover as a “shield of faith {fidei scutum}.” She, however, betrayed their compact, perhaps one of sexual exclusivity. In any case, she admitted that her love for the cleric had been disordered through a particular excess: “I had loved you excessively ardently with carnal lust {te carnali concupiscentia nimis ardenter dilexeram}.” That wasn’t only her fault. She declared of her cleric-lover: “you are powerfully stirred by the incitements of the flesh {stimulis carnis uehementer agitar}.” These are forgivable sins. The editor of this medieval purgatorial vision observed:

The narrator for his part evinces no anxiety at all about the clerk’s sex life, whereas he does spend some time bewailing the clerical failing of unmindful and over-hasty recitation of the psalms. The clerk also goes with great ease from his own bed (shared with his {male} companion) to find the bed where Cecilia used to rest (and which, presumably, she used to share with the clerk), indicating perhaps that these places are in close proximity.[6]

As medieval literature makes clear, the realities of human sexuality don’t imply an imperative for castration culture. The moral risks of human sexuality can be addressed humanely. In contrast, cutting away men’s seminal blessing is a human and social evil.

Healthful, enduring societies require appreciation for men’s seminal blessing. Christians believe that God became incarnate as the fully masculine man Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. We have beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son born from the Father.

{ καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας }[7]

From a Christian perspective, through Jesus all persons have become adopted daughters and sons of God. With even minimal understanding of Jesus, all Christians should reject castration culture. With necessary respect for men’s rights, which are human rights, all persons of whatever beliefs should reject castration culture.

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[1] Treatise on Saint Patrick’s Purgatory {Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii} 28.3-5, Latin text from Easting (1991), my English translation, benefiting from the Italian translation of Tinti in Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018). All subsequent quotes from Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii are similarly sourced. The subsequent three quotes above are in order from Tractatus 28.

Easting Latin’s text of Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii is edited from three manuscripts: Lambeth Palace Library MS 51, British Library MS Royal 13 B viii, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, MS 50. Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) provides Easting’s Latin text. So too does Napoli (2015), along with a Portuguese translation.

Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii reports the visit of the Irish knight Owein {Owen} to Saint Patrick’s purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg {Red Lake} in County Donegal, Ireland. On the early history of this pilgrimage site, Zaleski (1985) pp. 467-9. Owein’s visit to St. Patrick’s purgatory occurred in 1146 or 1147. After returning from St. Patrick’s purgatory, Owein went on a crusade / pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Owein then became associated with the Cistercian Order of monks.

Working with the Cistercians after returning from Jerusalem, Owein recounted his experience in St. Patrick’s purgatory to the Cistercian monk Gilbert of Louth {Luda}. In 1148, the Irish king Dermot MacMurrough {Diarmait Mac Murchada} requested Cistercian monks from England to help establish an abbey at Baltinglass (also known also as Vallis Salutis) in County Wicklow, Ireland. Dermot MacMurrough ruled as Diarmait na n-Gall and was King of Leinster, a province in eastern Ireland. Gilbert was then a Cistercian monk at Louth Park Abbey in Lincolnshire, England. At King Dermot MacMurrough’s request, Gervase, the abbot of Louth Park Abbey, sent Gilbert and other monks to help establish the new abbey at Baltinglass. King Dermot MacMurrough directed Owein, who had just returned from Jerusalem, to assist Gilbert and his fellow monks. Owein assisted Gilbert in Ireland for two and a half years. Gilbert thus came to know Owein and hear Owein’s experience in St. Patrick’s purgatory. Gilbert subsequently became the abbot of Basingwerk Abbey in Flintshire, Wales.

Gilbert told Owein’s story to the Cistercian monk Henry of Sawtry. Sawtry, also known as Saltrey and Saltereia, is in the historic Huntingdonshire county of England. The Cistercian Sawtry Abbey, also known as the Abbey of St. Mary, was founded there in 1147. Henry of Sawtry recounted Gilbert’s story in the presence of Hugh of Sartis, Abbot of the Cistercian Wardon Abbey (first known at the Abbey of Saint Mary de Sartis) in Bedfordshire, England. Hugh of Sartis urged Henry of Sawtry to record the story that Gilbert had heard from Owein. Henry of Sawtry thus wrote the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii.

Henry of Sawtry apparently wrote his first redaction of the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii between 1179 and 1185. He apparently wrote a second redaction between 1186 and 1188. On the writing of the Tractatus, Maggioni in Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) pp. XXIII-XXX. The Tractatus records Henry of Sawtry only as “brother H., a monk of Saltrey {frater H. monachorum de Saltereia}.” Tractatus 1.1. In his thirteenth-century chronicle, Matthew of Paris identified him as Henry of Sawtry {Henricus de Saltereia}.

To verify the account that he had heard from Gilbert about Owein’s experience in St. Patrick’s purgatory, Henry of Sawtry consulted two Irish abbots. One abbot said he had heard nothing of such stories. The other said he had heard such stories many times. Henry of Sawtry then consulted a third Irish authority:

Recently I also addressed a certain bishop. He is a nephew of Saint Patrick the third, that is, a nephew of the companion of Saint Malachi. His name is Bishop Florentian. In his diocese, so he told me, is St. Patrick’s purgatory. About this with more curiosity I inquired. The Bishop responded, “Certainly, brother, it is true.”

{ Nuper etiam affatus sum episcopum quendam, nepotem sancti Patricii tertii, soci uidelicet sancti Malachye, Florentianum nomine, in cuius episcopatu, sicut ipse dixit, est idem Purgatorium. De quo cum curiosius inquirerem, respondit episcopus: “Certe, frater, uerum est.” }

Tractatus 25.5-6. Bishop Florentian told Henry of Sawtry the story of the parish priest in his diocese castrating himself. The point of that story, along with another story that Florentian told Henry (Tractatus 26-7), seems to be the vigorous activity of demons in his Irish diocese.

The Tractatus itself provides no additional information about the Irish Bishop Florentian who had ecclesiastical authority over St. Patrick’s purgatory. Maggioni, however, noted:

Florentian is usually identified with Fógartach Ua Cerballáin, Bishop of Tyrone (Tír Eoghain) from 1185 to 1230 (See J.-M. Picard – Y. Pontfarcy, St Patrick’s Purgatory. A Twelfth Century Tale to the Other World, Dublin 1985, pp. 24-26). Another hypothesis, less likely, regarding Flaithbhertach O’Broclanm, abbot and Bishop of Derry, who died in 1175, was put forward by B. de Breffny (In the Steps of St. Patrick, London 1982, pp. 111).

{ Florentianus è usualmente identificato con Fógartach Ua Cerballáin, vescovo di Tyrone (Tír Eoghain) dal 1185 al 1230 (Cfr. J.-M. Picard – Y. Pontfarcy, St Patrick’s Purgatory. A Twelfth Century Tale to the Other World, Dublin 1985, pp. 24-26). Un’altra ipotesi, meno probabile, che riguarda Flaithbhertach O’Broclanm abate e vescovo di Derry, morto nel 1175, è stata avanzata da B. de Breffny (In the Steps of St. Patrick, London 1982, pp. 111). }

Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) p. XXIII, n. 8. Above I’ve taken the bishop to be Fógartach Ua Cerballáin, Bishop of Tír Eoghain {Land of Eoghan}. Regarding the name Owein, Easting noted:

Rather than seek fictional origins for his name {Owein} I would recall the point made by H. L. D. Ward: ‘The Welsh name Owen has always been chosen by English (or Anglo-Irish) writers, to represent the Irish Eogan {Eoghan}, though the two names were originally quite disconnected’ (Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum, II (London, 1893), p. 435, n.).

Easting (1986) p. 172, n. 38. The Bishop of Eoghan is thus a fitting authority on Owein’s story.

Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii circulated widely in medieval Europe:

the Tractatus, in particular its central engaging account of the journey of Sir Owain, was an enormous hit. It survives, in whole or in part, in over one hundred and fifty manuscripts in Latin alone, including the Chronicles of Roger of Wendover, the Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais (d. 1264), and an account by Henricus Salteriensis of Purgatorio Sancti Patricii in the Patrologia Latina, as collected and edited by Migne (PL 180.977-1004), and in over three hundred translations and adaptations in almost every European vernacular, ranging from a Sicilian version that adds King Arthur and transforms the mountain described in the Tractatus into Mount Etna to a lively version by Marie de France (fl. 1175-90), Espurgatoire S. Patriz. In addition, there are countless references to the story such as the description in the Legenda aurea of St. Patrick being led to the gates of Hell.

From Foster (2004), Sir Owain, Introduction. The Tractatus has also received much attention from modern scholars. However, modern scholarship hasn’t been particularly successful in establishing the truth:

a regrettably large number of misapprehensions and confusions have been consistently recounted: as Locke rightly said, ‘The amount of misinformation which has been circulated about the Tractatus is overwhelming.’

Easting (1986) p. 159, citing Locke (1965) p. 641. Easting (1978) corrects errors in Locke (1965). Both Easting (1986) and Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) are essential for learning the most truthful understanding about the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii according to the best available knowledge today. These two sources have provided the facts recounted here relating to Owein, Gilbert of Louth, Henry of Sawtry, and the Tractatus. Gardiner has usefully placed online a large bibliography for St. Patrick’s purgatory.

The story of the parish priest who castrated himself has received little attention. Yet it’s recorded in Peter of Cornwall’s copy of the Tractatus is his Book of Revelations. Easting (1978) p. 782. The castration story was thus included in the Tractatus before 1200. The story may well been part of the first recension of the Tractatus, completed before 1186. It has often been elided in copies, translations, and interpretations of Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii. See, e.g. Gardiner’s modern English translation of the Tractatus: Gardiner (1989) pp. 135-48.

Marie de France’s twelfth-century Old French translation, The Legend of the Purgatory of Saint Patrick {L’Espurgatoire Seint Patriz} includes this story at vv. 2269-78. Marie de France is particularly notable for her concern for men and her contribution to medieval literature of men’s sexed protest. Scholars considering L’Espurgatoire Seint Patriz have typically ignored this important story. See, e.g. Bloch (2003), Brown (2015), and McCullough (2017). One scholarly study that does address it simplistically interprets it as showing ‘an inscription of repentance on the body, the “corporel sustance” that is the instrument of sin.’ Kinoshita & McCracken (2014) p. 168. The story is better interpreted in terms of castration culture and Marie de France’s appreciation for men’s sexed protest.

Steel (2016) treats this story and castration generally with deeply entrenched ignorance and complacency with respect to the social problem of violence against men. Consider the relatively simple matter of Steel recounting part of the story:

But just before he rapes the girl, he flees her bedchamber, and, outside, — and here I quote from Marie de France’s translation – he “cuts off his genitals / and cast them away from him.” End of story. Nothing more is said of the girl.

Steel (2016) p. 4. The priest explicitly sought and received the young woman’s consent to sex. Steel perhaps charged the man with rape for extra ideological credit in the current academic marketplace of values. In addition, the priest castrating himself would seem a more important ending focus than the gynocentric, poor-girl ending: “nothing more is said of the girl.” Furthermore, that ending is false. After he castrated himself, the priest, who had the girl taught to read, sent her to a convent.

[2] Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (God will not tempt you beyond your strength and will provide a way of escape). This parish priest fundamentally misunderstood the way of escape.

Torture applied to men’s genitals is well-documented throughout history. Owein saw men suffering such tortures in the fourth field in St. Patrick’s purgatory:

Others were hanging in fires by iron hooks stuck in their eyes, or ears, or nostrils, or mouth, or breasts, or genitals.

{ Alii in ignibus pendebant, uncis ferreis in oculis fixis, uel auribus, uel naribus, uel faucibus, uel mamillis, aut genitalibus. }

Tractatus 13.3. Violence against men, including sexual violence against men, is a serious problem that gynocentric societies have willfully ignored.

[3] Taddeus of Gualandi of Pisa {Taddeus de Gualandis de Pisis}, Vision of Louis {Visio Ludovici} 1.5, Latin text of Maggioni in Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) pp. 274-301, my English translation, benefiting from the Italian translation of Tinti in id. Subsequent quotes from Visio Ludovici are similarly sourced from Book 1. Voigt (1924) provides an inferior Latin text. Klein (2009) provides an English translation of Voigt’s Latin text.

The knight Louis who experienced St. Patrick’s purgatory is variously known as Louis d’Auxerre, Louis of France, and Louis of Sur. He may have been Louis de Chalon, the youngest son of the Count of Auxerre. Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) p. 270. Auxerre (Autissiodorensis) is in Burgundy, France. His visionary experience most likely occurred on September 17, 1358. Id. p. 271. Louis’s vision follows the general pattern of Owein’s vision in Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii. Taddeus de Gualandis de Pisis, who recorded Louis’s vision, was a minor friar and lector for the Roman church of Santa Maria Ara Coeli. Id. p. 271. He apparently wrote Visio Ludovici in January, 1360. Id. p. 272.

Maggioni’s Latin text draws upon the manuscripts Paris, BnF, n.a.l. 1154, folios 7r-10v (a primitive Latin text; written at the end of the fourteenth century), Ivrea (Italy), Capitular Library 77 (XII), folios 166r-174r (a refined Latin text; written late in the fourteenth century or in the fifteenth century), and Naples, National Library, Vind. lat. 57, folios 258-263 (an abbreviated Latin text; written late in the fourteenth century or in the fifteenth century, recopied about 1600 into Naples, ms. XXII. 39, folios 84r-89r). For a critical edition of the Naples text, Barillari (2008). Visio Ludovici was subsequently translated into Italian, where it survives in Venice, Museo Correr, 1508 and Padua, Biblioteca Civica 106. On the Italian texts, Barillari (2014). Visio Ludovici was also translated into Catalan, where it survives in fragments in Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Diversos y Collecciones, Sant Cugat del Vallès 82 & 83 (folios 157-163v), as well as the Garrotxa manuscript. For a critical edition of the Catalan version, Perujo Melgar & Iglesias-Fonseca (2014).

[4] Cistercian monks were known as “white monks.” The literary history of St. Patrick’s purgatory is closely associated with the Cistercians. For broad reviews of that literary history, Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) and Krapp (1900).

Demons repeatedly appearing as beautiful women is a distinctive feature of Visio Ludovici. That feature may have developed from the third vision of Visions of Georgius Grissaphan {Visiones Georgii Grissaphani}. Visiones Georgii describes the vision that the Hungarian knight Georgius Grissaphan had at Saint Patrick’s purgatory about the year 1353. Petrus de Paternis (Peyre de Paternas), an Augustinian hermit, wrote Visiones Georgii near the Papal Court of Avignon probably about 1357.

The third vision of Georgius Grissaphan is “in the form of women {in forma mulierum}.” Georgius sees:

women extraordinarily and extremely wonderfully lovable and well-formed and most beautiful among all the women in the world

{supra modum et valde mirabiliter amabilem et formosam et pulcherrimam inter omnes huius mundi mulieres}

One of these women urged Georgius to reject Christ as a deception and marry her. If he did, he would be rich and powerful as the king of her realm. Georgius noticed that the women have bestial feet, one of a horse and one of an ox. He prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner {Domine Jhesu Christe, fili dei viui, miserere michi peccatori}!” Immediately, a horrible noise sounded, the beautiful women vanished, and a devil appeared within extremely fetid smoke. Visiones Georgii, Latin text from Hammerich (1930) pp. 115-8, my English translations.

A man receiving love from a royal goddess is a well-attested theme of human folklore. In addition to sexual access to a young, beautiful woman, the man commonly also receives land and power. This folk theme is consistent with a gynocentric substructure of human society. On this folk theme in relation to Visiones Georgii and Visio Ludovici, Barillari (2011). A shallow but now-prevalent approach is to treat this serious issue with merely anti-meninist moral denunciation: “misogynist obsession with women as a vehicle of damnation {l’ossessione misogina sulla donna veicolo di dannazione}.” Di Febo (2013) p. 185. For extensive analysis of Visiones Georgii, Nagy (2018). For a table of Latin manuscripts of Visiones Georgii, id. pp. 347-52

[5] From Lambeth Palace Library, MS 1213, folio 359, ll. 33-46, Latin text (simplified presentation) and English translation (with my insubstantial changes for ease of reading) from Easting (2007). The story states that the events occurred in the year that Eustace, son of the English King Stephen, died. That implies the year 1153. The story itself is written in a twelfth-century hand. The manuscript comes from St. Augustine’s abbey in Canterbury, England. Although where the vision occurred isn’t specified, it most probably occurred, given its circumstances, somewhere in east Kent, England. Id. p. 163. The subsequent short quote, “you are powerfully stirred by the incitements of the flesh,” comes from l. 110 in this story.

Cecilia’s statement suggests that, because she had betrayed her cleric-lover, he didn’t pray for her soul after her death. She thus lost the protection of his faith. After hearing of her punishments in purgatory, the cleric is horrified and regrets that he didn’t pray for her.

[6] Easting (2007) p. 173. Jacques Le Goff’s high-profile work on the birth of purgatory, Le Goff (1981), ignored ordinary men’s experiences of penal punishment under gynocentrism and their sense of purgatory. Newman observed:

Is it coincidence that the two most woman-centered texts that come down to us from the whole early Christian period are also the first two witnesses to Purgatory? I am referring to the second-century Acts of Thecla and the slightly later Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas (203).

Newman (1993) p. 90. The relationship between Paul, Thecla, and Thecla’s mother emphasizes mechanisms of gynocentric oppression. Perpetua’s relationship to her father dispels still-prevalent delusions of patriarchy. Understanding well the history of purgatory requires sympathetic appreciation for ordinary men’s experiences and desires. Gurevich (1983). Men’s mystical visions have been unreasonably marginalized in scholarly study. Hawes (2012).

[7] John 1:14, Greek text of the Morphological Greek New Testament via Blue Letter Bible, English translation mainly from the Revised Standard Version.

The historical reception of Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii and actual pilgrimages to St. Patrick’s purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg in County Donegal, Ireland, show word and fleshly life interacting:

In the tradition of Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, the primary literary text was born and developed independently from a given place, as well as the ritual of pilgrimage to the Purgatory was born independently from a given text. But they, text and pilgrimage, met in Avignon around 1353 and from that time both textual traditions and pilgrimage reports began to interact with each other, modifying each other, inspiring and shaping new texts and new ritual forms, creating fictional characters, derived from historical figures and, on the contrary, testifying literary characters as historical figures.

Maggioni (2017) p. 173. A similar process is apparent at the microscopic level of manuscript variations in Visio Ludovici. Barillari (2013).

[images] (1) One-eyed sinner in the Last Judgment of God. Detail in fresco by Michelangelo on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome. Via Wikimedia Commons. Painted between 1536 and 1541. On the one-eyed sinner, Matthew 5:27-29. On the Last Judgment, Luke 13:23–28 and Revelation 20:11-12.  St. Agnes redeemed the male gaze. (2) Public officials castrating a man under the penal practices of Toulouse. From Coutumes de Toulouse, a manuscript created 1295-1297. Illumination on folio 32v, Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9187. Via Gallica. (3) The Virgin Mary, sized according to medieval gynocentrism, welcoming cleansed men sinners exiting from St. Patrick’s purgatory. Detail from fresco of St. Patrick’s purgatory in what’s currently the convent of the Sisters of Saint Clair in Todi, Umbria, Italy. Fresco dated 1346 and attributed to Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio. The building that contains the fresco was in 1346 a monastery of the mendicant Order of the Servants of the Blessed Mary (Servites). Image derived from Plate 6 of Petris (2012), p. 271, and used in accordance with U.S. copyright law.


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