Where Men Met: Mystical Castration, Homosociality, and the Development of Medieval Clerical Masculinity

Thumbnail Image



Jennings, Robyn

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


University of Guelph


My thesis focuses on the intersection between mystical castration, homosociality, and normative clerical hegemonic masculinity as presented through the hagiographical writings on mystical castration. Mystical castration, as an aid to men in their battle for chastity, was known from Late Antiquity, with the angelic albeit ambiguous visitation to Serenus, up to the twelfth century, with the mystical castration of St. Hugh of Lincoln. In the process of achieving total chastity, a select but renowned group of men experienced spiritual intervention over their physical bodies. This was typically portrayed as an angelically performed surgery in which a body part, internal or external, was removed in order to extinguish lust. While each instance of mystical castration is unique, they share one similarity; the experience of mystical castration, while deeply personal, once communicated to other holy men, became a relational and communal experience. Hagiographers and their accounts of mystical castration, thus, reflect the homosocial aspect of mystical castration. Through the writing process the hagiographer transforms the act of mystical castration into a relational experience by reshaping the narrative to conform to prevailing ideas about hegemonic Clerical masculinity. He molds the narrative, making it belong to both himself and his subject, revealing that, while an individual experience, mystical castration was also a deeply shared experience. Mystical castration, thus, became a relational experience that worked through homosocial networks to reinforce ideals of normative clerical hegemonic masculinity.



Mystical Castration, Homosociality, Medieval, Masculinity, Clerical, Monastic, The Middle Ages, Hegemonic Masculinity, Homosocial, Gender, Manhood, Literary Networks, Monasticism, Ecclesiastical, Sexuality