chapter  4
20 Pages

Virtue and Violence: Saints, Monsters and Sexuality in Medieval Culture

The version of the life of St Benedict (c.480-c.550) presented in the thirteenthcentury Golden Legend contains a variety of anecdotal accounts of the activities of the saint and his followers. Two of these form an interesting commentary on medieval views of the temporal world and its temptations presented within the context of a collection of saints’ lives that was often used as a source for both sermons and images throughout Europe in the late medieval period. The first incident concerns St Benedict himself, living as a hermit in a desert place:

Soon the devil brought to the holy man’s mind the image of a woman whom he had once seen, and he was so aroused by the memory of her that he was almost overcome with desire, and began to think of quitting his solitary way of life. But suddenly, touched by the grace of God, he came to himself, shed his garment, and rolled in the thorns and brambles which abounded thereabouts; and he emerged so scratched and torn over his whole body that the pain in his flesh cured the wound of his spirit. Thus he conquered sin by putting out the fire of lust, and from that time on he no longer felt the temptations of the flesh.1