True humanity

In the second edition of his book on ritual in the early modern period (Cambridge 2005), Edward Muir describes the 14th and 15th century obsession with “Christ’s carnality”: “As Leo Steinberg has shown, in fifteenth-century Italy thoroughly Christian artists made visual allusions to Christ’s phallus, showing that the god-man had all the attributes of other men. In many paintings the Virgin Mary pointed to the penis of the infant Jesus, and some scenes of the deposition from the cross obviously showed the outlines of Christ’s adult member beneath the obligatory cloth that hid his sex from view. Allied to this concentration on the parts of Christ’s body was the cult of the holy foreskin. Other than the consecrated host and perhaps some drops of blood shed on the cross, the fleshy residue from the infant Jesus’s circumcision would have been the only bodly remnant of Christ on earth since the rest of the his body was resurrected and ascended to heaven. The researches of Caroline Walker Bynum have shown that the cult of the holy foreskin seems to have had a certain charm for female mystics. When Catherine of Siena experienced her mystic marriage to the infant Jesus, she received from him a ring made not of gold but of his foreskin.”

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