The hundred and fifty years before the Protestant Reformation used to be seen as a period of religious decadence. More recently, they have been understood as an era of rather anxious piety, in which the faithful purchased indulgences, went on pilgrimage, and engaged in a variety of superstitious practices to ward off the ills of a violent society. Yet the prominence of blood in the cult, prayers, art, and theological disputes characteristic of the period has been ignored.
In this lecture, Professor Caroline Walker Bynum discusses the widespread prominence of images of the bleeding Christ in the iconography and piety of the period and the many university-level theological debates about blood relics and miracles, including anti-Jewish host desecration libels. She argues that the fifteenth-century concern with the blood of Christ was not simply a matter of superstition or a reflection of social unrest but rather a site where profound philosophical and religious questions such as the nature of identity, or the interaction of matter and spirit, were explored.