BSR Online Lecture | Leprosy and its similitudes in thirteenth-century Italian preaching


Edward Sutcliffe (BSR; Bristol)

This event will be in English.

This event will take place via Zoom and requires advance registration. Please click here to reserve your place.

This lecture explores the interaction between medicine, religion, and health in premodern Italian society, through an examination of the representation of lepers and leprosy in thirteenth-century sermons. In medieval religious discourse, the image of leprosy was frequently used to evoke concepts of sin, moral decay, and exclusion, while scriptural narratives detailing the miraculous healing of lepers demonstrated the correspondingly powerful curative effects of sacramental grace. This lecture looks at the ways these common figurative associations were constructed and communicated in thirteenth-century preaching. In Italy in this period, theologically conventional definitions and descriptions of leprosy were beginning to conflict both with shifting social attitudes towards illness and exclusion, and with the alternative classifications and understandings of the disease found in new Latin translations of Greek and Arabic medical texts. This lecture examines how and why some thirteenth-century Italian preachers abandoned standard readings of leprosy, and instead sought new language and imagery that would allow spiritual metaphors based on the disease to continue to resonate within an intellectually and culturally dynamic context.

Dr. Edward Sutcliffe was awarded his PhD by the University of Bristol in 2018. His thesis, entitled Saints, Sermons, and Suffering: Leprosy and Franciscan Identities 1207-1257, is currently under revision for publication in Brill’s The Medieval Franciscans series. He was awarded a Rome Fellowship at the BSR for nine months commencing in September 2019, the final three months of which were deferred until the summer of 2021, as a result of the pandemic. He is currently Lecturer in Medieval Christianity in the Department of Religion and Theology at the University of Bristol.