Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Real Presence of Mary: Eucharistic Disbelief and the Limits of Orthodoxy in Fourteenth-Century France1

  • Wendy Love Anderson (a1)


On July 15, 1318, a twenty-six-year-old laywoman named Aude Fauré was called before the Inquisition tribunal at the diocesan seat of Pamiers in southern France and immediately confessed to having temporarily doubted both the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood; her doubt, she explained, had been cured by intervention from the Blessed Virgin. Less than a month later, Aude abjured her errors by the usual formula and was sentenced to a series of pilgrimages and fasts stretching over the next three years. Aude's multiple confessions, along with depositions from her family, friends, and neighbors, take up a mere six folio pages in the famously detailed Register kept by Bishop Jacques Fournier, head of the Pamiers tribunal, and preserved in the Vatican Library after Fournier became Pope Benedict XII. This relatively quick-moving and insignificant case seems unrelated to the best-known activity of Fournier's tribunal, namely, the extinction of the last vestiges of Occitan Catharism. Yet Aude's case has gleaned several mentions in recent historiographic works, and these mentions are striking for their focus on the protagonist's psyche: she has been variously diagnosed as hypersensitive, neurotic, masochistic, morbid, hysterical, obsessive, afflicted with atheism, prone to fantasy, tormented by guilt, suffering from postpartum depression, and simply deviant.



Hide All

2. dossier, Aude's has been edited in Le Registre d'inquisition de Jacques Fournier, évêque de Pamiers (1318–1325), ed. Jean, Duvernoy (Toulouse: Edouard Privat, 1965), 2:82105 (hereinafter “Duvernoy” followed by volume and page numbers).

3. Cf. Ladurie, Emmanuel Le RoyMontaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324 (Paris: Gallimard, 1975; corr. ed., 1982), 532–34; Dronke, Peter, Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua (†203) to Marguerite Porete (†1310) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 214–15; and Rubin, Miri, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 342–43.

4. These are, respectively, Dronke, , Women Writers; Bynum, Caroline Walker, Holy Feast, Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 266; and Rubin, , Corpus Christi.

5. Biller, , “The Common Woman in the Western Church in the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries,” in Women in the Church, ed. Sheils, W. J. and Diana, Wood (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 145.

6. My own reading of Aude's dossier has been heavily informed by John Arnold's emphasis on the discursive and textual nature of the increasingly complex fourteenth-century inquisitorial records, and the resultant “production” of heresy. These concepts are elaborated in Arnold's, Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), and Belief and Disbelief in Medieval Europe (London: Hodder Arnold, 2005). In Aude's case, we can see the very conscious “production” of orthodoxy even in a situation relatively far removed from organized heretical movements.

7. Ibid., 82: “Auda statim dixit et respondit quod credebat dominum Jhesum Christum carnem suscepisse de Beata Virgine Maria et natum fuisse ex ea, ipsum passum et crucifixum pro genere humano fuisse, et resurrexisse et celos ascendisse, venturum etiam ad iudicandum bonos et malos, et quod profitebatur et credebat fidem et sacramenta prout tenet sancta romana Ecclesia.”

8. Ibid., 83: “stabat, ut dixit, tota perterrita et turbata, quia receperat corpus Christi sine confessione dicti peccati.” Following Duvernoy, I have chosen to render names of persons and places in the vernacular whenever possible. Aude's husband's name is Guillelmus Faber in the Register, and the town in which they lived is Muro Veteri; Aude herself came from the town of Fagia.

9. Duvernoy, 2:83: “videlicet quod licet crederet quod Deus omnipotens esset in celis, tamen non credebat quod ille Deus esset in sacramento altaris, nec quod per verba sancta que dicit capellanus, esset ibi corpus Christi.”

10. Aude addresses Ermengarde as tia, “aunt,” in her report of their conversation on 82–83, but Ermengarde testifies that she is not related to Aude on 87. However, both Aude and Ermengarde agree that Ermengarde warned Aude against bringing heresy into their ostal, the (patrilineal) extended-family residence. Since Ermengarde is identified as being from Merviel (like Guillaume, but unlike Aude), she is almost certainly a relative of the Faurés and a representative of Aude's in-laws. “Aunt” could be either literal or a courtesy title.

11. Duvernoy, 2:82–83.

12. Ibid., 83: “in cuius presencia dixit quod de novo Beata Virgo Maria inmiserat in cor suum quod credebat in sacramento altaris esse carnem et sanguinem Christi. Et omnia alia credebat que bonus christianus seu bona Christiana debebat credere.”

13. Ibid., 85: “‘Nam quando sum in ecclesia et elevatur corpus Christi, non possum orare ipsum nec possum ipsum respicere, set quando puto respicere ipsum, supervenit quoddam anbegament ante occulos.’” Dronke, , Women Writers, 273–74, suggests amending Duvernoy's anbegament to essbegament, corresponding to Mid. Provençal esbayment or esbleougissament and Mod. Fr. éblouissement (“glare” or “dazzle”).

14. Duvernoy, 2:85–86.

15. Ibid., 87.

16. For instance, the 1229 Council of Toulouse had mandated confession three times a year (Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas) for the Christians of southern France; Mansi, cf. J. D., Sacrorum concilorum nova et amplissima collectio (Florence: Antonii Zatta Veneti, 17591798), 24:197. The Lateran IV canon is number 21, Omnis utriusque sexus. For a brief discussion of how this canon influenced late medieval confessional practices, cf. Bossy, John, “The Social History of Confession on the Eve of the Reformation,” The Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 25 (1975): 2138.

17. Lateran, IV, Canon 1, De fide catholica.

18. Duvernoy, 2:94: “dictus dominus episcopus volens plus inquirere cum dicta Auda veritatem super premissis, fecit dictam Audam coram se adduci.”

19. Ibid., 103: “confessa fuit spontanea.”

20. Ibid, 94: “peccati de quo est facta mentio superius,” and 98 on her failure to confess her error of disbelief.

21. I have chosen to translate turpitudo here as “uncleanliness,” although in this context it appears to specifically describe the afterbirth and other emissions associated with a normal delivery. However, this English word fails to convey the sense of pollution that accompanies the Latin. Dronke (cf. above) chooses to translate turpitudo as “disgusting afterbirth.” Since this is a pivotal term in Aude's testimony, I will be resorting to the Latin turpitudo at certain points later in this article.

22. Duvernoy, 2:94: “contigit enim sibi, ut dixit, quod cum quadam die iret ad ecclesiam Sancte Crucis ad missam audiendam, audivit a quibusdam mulieribus, de quarum nominibus dixit se non recordari, quod nocte precedenti quadam mulier quandam filiam [Duvernoy adds ‘pepererat’] in via intus castrum de Muro Veteri, ita quod non potuerat pervenisse ad hospicium, quo audito cogitavit turpitudo quam emittunt mulieres pariendo, et cum videret elevari in altari corpus Domini, habuit cogitationem ex illa turpitudine quod esset infectum corpus Domini, et quod et [Duvernoy corrects to ‘ex’] hoc inicit in dictum errorem credentie videlicit quod non esset ibi corpus Domini Iesu Christi.”

23. Ibid, (italics mine): “tamen occurrebat sibi illa turpis cogitatio quando elevabatur corpus Christi, et non poterat credere quod corpus Domini esset ibi in altari, nec poterat ipsum rogare nec inspicere bene, inpediente ipsam cogitatione predicta et multis aliis cogitationibus que sibi in dicta elevatione occurrebant.”

24. Twenty-three of the thirty-two occurrences of turpitudo in the Latin Vulgate come from Leviticus; perhaps the most telling one in this context is Lev. 20:18: “Qui coierit cum muliere in fluxu menstruo et revelaverit turpitudinem eius ipsaque aperuerit fontem sanguinis sui interficientur ambo de medio populi sui.” Wood, Cf. Charles, “The Doctors' Dilemma: Sin, Salvation, and the Menstrual Cycle in Medieval Thought,” Speculum 56 (1981): 713: “By sin not just death entered the world, but also fertile carnality; and in women … menstruation was both a mark of that sin—the curse of Eve—and the necessary companion of their fertility.”

25. Often, the distinction between ordinary menstrual blood and its purified form was made precisely because medieval physicians could not imagine that the vulnerable fetus could survive sustained exposure to the former. A tripartite distinction was also possible, in which the menses of pregnant women were divided into a purified portion (which later sustained the child as breastmilk) and a “superfluity” (of an already superfluous substance), which was supremely corrupt and was expelled as afterbirth. MacLehose, Cf. William F., “Nurturing Danger: High Medieval Medicine and the Problem(s) of the Child,” in Medieval Mothering, ed. Parsons, John Carmi and Bonnie, Wheeler (New York: Garland, 1979), 38.

26. Fournier's dossier tells us that she had been married for eight years, and that (as we shall see) when Aude became ill, her husband hired a nutrix who stayed on after Aude recovered. It is extremely likely that the woman was hired as a wet-nurse for a child of Aude's. It is, however, something of a leap to argue from there that Aude was suffering from postpartum depression, as does Rubin, in Corpus Christi, 343–44.

27. The extent to which late medieval churching rituals ritually performed and thereby reinforced gender roles has most recently been discussed (using northern French liturgical texts) by Rieder, Paula M., “Insecure Borders: Symbols of Clerical Privilege and Gender Ambiguity in the Liturgy of Churching,” in The Material Culture of Sex, Procreation, and Marriage in Premodern Europe, ed. McClanan, Anne L. and Karen, Rosoff Encarnación (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 93113. As Rieder points out, “the churching of women not only communicated pollution but actually produced women polluted by the processes of conception and childbirth.….The frequent repetition of the rite assured that the constructed category of sexual pollution and the image of women, in particular, as the harbingers of that pollution remained constant elements in the medieval discourse on sexuality”: 99.

28. A good summary of these intertwined principles appears in Lambert, Malcolm, The Cathars (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 161–64.

29. Cf. Duvernoy, 1:215 ff., 3:464, and 2:130, among others.

30. Ladurie, Le Roy, Montaillou., 480, n. 3.

31. Beckwith, , Christ's Body: Identity, Society, and Culture in Late Medieval Writings (London: Routledge, 1993), 35.

32. Cf. above, note 11. Guillaume's comment is on Duvernoy, 83: “Quomodo, maledicta, loqueris in bono sensu tuo?” Ermengarde's is ibid., 87: “Co, na traytoressa no sia, nam iste locus et istud hospitalium semper fuit mundus de tot male nec de yregia!” I thank the Church History reader who brought these conflicting diagnoses to my attention.

33. Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologiae IIIa a.31 q.5. Jacquart, Danielle and Thomasset, Claude, Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages, trans. Adamson, Matthew (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), 7677, cite this passage and point out that Aquinas supports the more typical equation of menstrual blood, afterbirth, and female semen in his Sentences commentary; here he is clearly bending as many rules as possible for Mary.

34. Wood, Cf., “The Doctors' Dilemma,” 718–24.

35. Cf. New Testament Apocrypha, 2nd edition, ed. Wilhelm, Schneemelcher, English trans, ed. Wilson, R. McL. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1991), 1:421–39.

36. Edited in Stephen, Spector, The N-Town Play, 2 vols., Early English Text Society S.S. 11 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 1:160. Recent scholarship on late medieval English mystery plays has pointed out the extent to which many of these dramas create new scenes where Mary's pure, painless, and pollution-free conception and delivery of the infant Jesus can first be doubted and then be attested by witnesses. Coletti, Cf. Theresa, “Purity and Danger: The Paradox of Mary's Body and the En-gendering of the Infancy Narrative in the English Mystery Cycles,” in Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, ed. Linda, Lomperis and Sarah, Stanbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 6595.

37. Fulton, Rachel, From Judgment to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 900–1200 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 197.

38. Ibid., 245.

39. Cf. Rubin, , Corpus Christi, 142–45.

40. Bynum, , Holy Feast, 102–3. But the Virgin's soothing lactation could also be contrasted to, or explicitly divorced from, her own lower body with its far more disturbing effusions, as Aude's story makes clear. On the “partition” of Mary's body, Elliot, cf. Dyan, Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 114–16.

41. Ibid., 131.

42. Blannbekin, Agnes, Life and Revelations, chap. 42, trans. Wiethaus, Ulrike, in Agnes Blannbekin, Viennese Beguine: Life and Revelations (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2002), 40. The original Latin is in Leben und Offenbarungen der Wiener Begine Agnes Blannbekin, ed. Dinzelbacher, P. and Vogoler, R. (Göppingen: Kümmerle, 1994), 128–30.

43. Duvernoy, 2:86: “‘Senher, veray Dieus e veray horn, tot poderos, que naquestz del corse de la Verges Maria ses tot peccat, e presestz mort e passio sus l'aybre de la veray crstz et fostz per las mas e pels pes clavelastz e per le cap de espinas coronat, e pel costat de lansa nafrat, don esshic sane et ayga, don tostz em rezemitz de peccat, Senher, trametestz me una lagrema de aquela vostra ayga que lave le mieu cor de tota legesa et de tot peccat.’” (The Occitan of this prayer suggests that it is one of the few elements of Aude's dossier which experienced a minimum of inquisitorial translation.)

44. These developments are discussed in more detail by Despres, Denise, “Mary of the Eucharist: Cultic Anti-Judaism in Some Fourteenth-century English Devotional Manuscripts,” in From Witness to Witchcraft: Jew and Judaism in Medieval Christian Thought, ed. Jeremy, Cohen, Wolfenbutteler, Mittelalter-Studien 11 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1996); and Miri, Rubin, Gentile Tales: The Narrative Assault on Late Medieval Jews (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999), 728.

45. For some of the earliest variants of this legend, Meersseman, cf. G. G., Kritische Glossen op de Griekse Theophilus-Legende (7 eeuw) en haar latijnse Vertaling (9 eeuw) (Brussels: Paleis der Academién, 1963).

46. Kathrin, Utz Tremp, “Parmi les hérétiques': la Vierge Marie dans l'inquisition de l'évêque Jacques Fournier de Pamiers (1317–1326),” in Marie: Le culte de la Vierge dans la société médiévale, ed. Dominique, Iogna-Prat, Eric, Palazzo, and Daniel, Russo (Paris: Beauchesne, 1996), 533–60.

47. Aude seems to have been either deliberately vague or confused about the location and timing of this episode, initially thinking it had all taken place at her own house, but later amending her testimony to state that the nurse was staying at one of the widows' houses initially and that the widows came over to Aude's house later on to visit her, whereupon they discovered Aude's distress.

48. Duvernoy, 2:95: “dicta Auda incepit turbari et moveri.” The nurse Alazais de Pregolh's testimony is slightly more precise about Aude's symptoms: according to her, when the Host was being presented, “incepit molestari et clamari ac expoliari se raubis suis, et tune dicta Aladaycis et Guillelma, pedisseca dicta hospicii dicte Aude, credentes, ut dixit, quod dicta Auda pateretur tune morbum caducum Santi Pauli”: 100. It seems as though the onlookers thought Aude might be suffering from some form of epilepsy or other convulsive disease.

49. Duvernoy, 2:98: “Sancta Maria, succurre michi!” This version makes clear that the unconfessed sin was Aude's disbelief, not the “secret sin” of her earlier confession.

50. Ibid., 95: “dicens ad interrogationem dictam duarum mulierum que eandem interrogabant quare sic turbabatur et movebatur, que dixit quod pro eo quia non poterat credere Deum, que mulieres dixerunt ei: ‘Sancta Maria, quid dicitis, revertamini ad Deum et habeatis spem in eo!’”

51. Ibid., 95: “Postque cum dicte due mulieres recessissent, ipsa Auda rediit ad cameram ubi iacebat dicta nutrix et dixit sibi: ‘Tu recepisti corpus Christi, credis quod illud quod recepisti sit corpus Christi?’ que nutrix respondit quod credebat firmiter, cui dixit dicta Auda: ‘Quomodo potest esse quod ego non possim credere?’ et dicta mulier dixit ei, ‘Domina, revertamini ad Deum et credatis firmiter illud esse corpus Christi.’ Et dicta Auda dixit dicta nutrici quod rogaret Deum quod poneret in corde suo quod crederet, et dum dicta nutrix, ut melius poterat, rogaret Deum, supervenit Guillelma, ancilla dicti hospicii dicta Aude, cui dixit dicta Auda: ‘Guillelma, pone te in orationem et roga Beatam Virginem Mariam de Monte Gaudio ut illuminet me quod ego possim credere Deum.’ Quod et fecit dicta Guillelma flexis genibus. Et cum orasset, statim dicta Auda fuit, ut dixit, illuminata, et credidit firmiter in Deum, et credit adhuc prout dixit.” The church of Notre-Dame de Montgauzy or Montjoie, an Augustinian priory in the County of Foix, was a major regional pilgrimage site from at least the eleventh century forward; another woman in Fournier's Register made a pilgrimage there to request the return of her stolen property (Duvernoy, 1:192–97), so it seems likely that the Virgin of Montgauzy was also locally renowned as an intercessor. Unfortunately, the church Aude and Guillelma had in mind was destroyed in the late sixteenth century during the Wars of Religion, so we cannot speculate about whether any particular imagery might have made the Virgin of Montgauzy especially receptive to Aude's plight. de Lahondés, Cf. Jules, Les églises des pays de Foix et de Couserans (reprint Nîmes: C. Lacour, 2001).

52. The only exception, Aude's husband Guillaume, claimed that his continued belief in her temporary insanity was the reason he had failed to inform the Inquisition of her fall into error (cf. above). There is ample reason to suspect an element of self-interest in this diagnosis.

53. Duvernoy, 2:103–4. Aude was to confess at Easter, Pentecost, All Saints, and Christmas; as her earlier testimony suggests, the custom in Merviel would have been to confess and receive Communion only at Easter.

54. Ibid., 104. The three churches in question were Notre-Dame de Rocamadour, Notre-Dame du Puy, and Notre-Dame de Vauvert.

55. Ibid, 105.

56. Ibid.: “Item retinemus nobis potestatem quod supranominate mulieres que superios in processu periurium commiserunt possimus de dicto periuriu punire, penitencias eisdem iniungendo et alias prout nobis placeurit et visum fuerit faciendum.” Aude herself is the only woman in her dossier who seems to have substantially altered her testimony during her trial, and she is certainly the only woman supranominate throughout the sentencing phrase, unless we are to count the Virgin Mary! All the other women who testified in her case seem to have done so truthfully, judging from their conformity to Aude's reports of the same exchanges. I can only suggest that Fournier might have been referring to the one remaining omission in the dossier, the identity of the person or persons who brought Aude's case to the Inquisition's attention in the first place.

57. Duvernoy, 2:103: “nunc se meliori consilio usa credit prout asseruit de corde bono et fide non ficta corpus Christi esse vere in sacramento altaris.”

58. For more on these strategies, Arnold, cf., Inquisition; and Givens, James B., Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline, and Resistance in Languedoc (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997), 93110.

59. On the differences between men's and women's—and especially husbands' and wives'—versions of miracle stories, often focusing on who had invoked the crucial saint first, best, or most often, cf. the discussion in Smoller, Laura, “Miracle, Memory, and Meaning in the Canonization of Vincent Ferrer, 1453–1454,” Speculum 73 (1988): esp. 437–40.

1 This article has gone through several stages of revision: I would like to thank Dr. Lucy Pick of the University of Chicago, Dr. James Ginther of Saint Louis University, and the 2002–3 Erasmus Institute Fellows at the University of Notre Dame for comments and suggestions. I would also like to thank my anonymous readers for Church History for their careful and constructive critiques. Any remaining infelicities or errors are, of course, my own.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed