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The disease and the sacred: the leper as a scapegoat in England and Normandy (eleventh–twelfth centuries)

Abstract : In the early and central Middle Ages, leprosy sufferers were represented and labelled in a range of different ways, ranging from words implying that they were impure or tainted (‘sacer’) to words emphasising their purity (‘sanctus’). How can we explain the odd phenomenon of a constant dichotomy in the way lepers were considered in medieval society? The lepers’ dual representation is all the more surprising in light of the close association of Christ with this group, as ‘Christus leprosus’. We may wonder why sources mention lepers both refered to elected of God and transgressors of religious rules? Why are they excluded from the valid community, taken away from the gates of the towns and at the same time included in leper houses? Could this strange opposition that wavers between glorification and relative rejection be explained by René Girard’s scapegoat? The latter shows that Christianity is based on the glorification of the Victim – Christ – accused of all evil and killed by the mob that makes up on His body (Luke 23:12). Actually Christ’s resurrection manifests his innocence. That is the reason why humiliation that leads to glory is the fondamental values of the medieval occidental society. This chapter addresses this dichotomy, focusing on both miracle accounts in which lepers were healed, and on leper houses which offered charity to lepers.
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-02139365
Contributor : Damien Jeanne <>
Submitted on : Friday, May 24, 2019 - 4:12:53 PM
Last modification on : Monday, May 27, 2019 - 2:13:13 PM

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Damien Jeanne. The disease and the sacred: the leper as a scapegoat in England and Normandy (eleventh–twelfth centuries). Brennern Elma; Touati, François-Olivier. Leprosy and Identity in the Middle Ages: From England to the Mediterranean, Manchester University Press, In press. ⟨halshs-02139365⟩

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