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From Spiritual Necessity To Instrument Of Torture: Water In The Middle Ages

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Chapter Summary

This chapter focuses on some of the symbolic uses of water from the earliest Church Fathers to various twelfth-century mystics in order to illustrate the irony of the nature of water as an element with both spiritual and pragmatic functions that may seem on the surface to have no relationship, but upon closer examination are more clearly related. Examining the work of a selection of early Christian writers and Augustine on baptism, the imagery of water in the work of women mystics of the High Middle Ages, and a brief look at the use of water as an instrument of torture, the chapter argues that the use of water in all three of these has a remarkable symmetry of purpose and meaning. The essential nature of water to early medieval Christians flows from Greek, Roman, Jewish, and New Testament sources.

Keywords: baptism; early Christian writers; post-Augustinian writers; spiritual symbolism; water torture; women mystics



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