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date: 01 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

No woman is so closely associated with her body as Mary the mother of Christ, so much so that we know her simply as the Virgin. Yet at the same time she is disembodied: ethereal, unattainable. Conventional wisdom holds that this tension was the cultural product of men and that its consequence was to burden women with a role model who was inimitable (Warner 1976). This chapter reassesses the role of the Virgin as a model for piety during the sixteenth century, arguing that both men and women actively engaged with her (cf. Peters 2003). Subsequently, Mary was regarded as a symbol of Catholic excesses and her place in religious culture was re-evaluated. She remained, however, the archetype of pious humility. Moreover, in spite of Protestantism’s criticism of Mary’s immaculate condition, the Virgin continued to exercise a moderating influence on contemporary misogyny by representing the idealization of humanity.

Keywords: English Reformation, gender, imitatio Mariae, lay piety, misogyny, Neoplatonism, querelle des femmes, Virgin Mary

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