The Priest: John Audelay’s Wounds of Sin

  • Jeremy J. Citrome
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The surgeon, because he both healed and hurt, served as a uniquely encompassing metaphor for the crucial struggle between damnation and salvation at the heart of medieval Christian identity. The mutilating effects of his violent techniques could suggest the punishments of the damned, as we saw in Cleanness and its graphic description of the Dead Sea. Conversely, the physical restoration that resulted from successful treatment reminded authors of the divine grace that attended the bodies of the saved both here and in the afterlife, as The Siege of Jerusalem attests. While these two poems help us to understand the importance of the metaphor of the wounds of sin and its treatment, it remains to examine the effects such constructions had on the very men who embodied them: the priest who granted absolution and the surgeon who popularly represented him. This chapter will discuss the first of these figures with reference to the work of John Audelay, whose fifteenth-century single-author anthology of religious verse is doubly valuable as an example of this ubiquitous metaphor and as an autobiographical account of literal affliction and the various cultural meanings that illness assumed in the penitential culture of later medieval England.1 At the heart of this remarkable collection is an emerging conflict between the physical realities of chronic suffering and the official stance of the Church that confession, because it negates the sins that cause disease, is the only truly efficacious medicine. The overarching narrative in which this conflict plays out in Audelay’s anthology can tell us much about both the changing approach to devotion in the fifteenth century and the continued importance of the surgeon to discourses of salvation right up to the eve of the Reformation.


Fifteenth Century Anonymous Author Illness Narrative Holy Ghost Divine Grace 
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© Jeremy J. Citrome 2006

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  • Jeremy J. Citrome

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