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Workshop: Cannibalism and the Eucharist

Wednesday 15th June, 5pm-7pm, Wolfson 3

(Please note change of room from our regular Medieval Seminar location!)

There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation. In which there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us.

[Canon 1, the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, Medieval Sourcebook]

The process of transubstantiation, by which the bread and wine of the Eucharist is transformed into the body and blood of Christ, would have been familiar to all medieval Christians. Yet even as it formed an essential part of Christian ritual and an important means of constituting the Christian community, it remained a point of contentious debate and profound anxiety for many medieval writers. What did it mean to eat the human flesh of God? To digest it? How was this consumption different to the consumption of animal flesh, or the bodies of other humans? What does eating God do to the body of the consumer?

From representations of the Eucharist in devotional literature in which the celebrant explicitly consumes flesh and blood to tales of cannibals in far-off lands whose customs eerily echo the Christian rite, throughout the literatures of medieval Europe these questions were not just a source of doctrinal anxiety, but a spur to imaginative reflections on and reformulations of a cannibal Eucharist. This workshop will discuss the various ways this imagery of cannibalistic consumption might have resonated with the medieval Christian, and how it reshapes the familiar sacrament of taking Communion. All are welcome!

Download the reading material for the workshop here:

 (PDF Document) Reading

For more information or to contact the organisers:

Jane Sinnett-Smith

Louise Campion