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Sara Ritchey

Associate Professor


My research interrogates medieval conceptual categories such as nature, the body, medicine, and matter in order to reveal how individuals sorted, valued, and regulated their world. At the same time, I am interested in how these medieval constructions continue to resonate in contemporary statements of value, aesthetics, and social regulation.

My first book, Holy Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval Christianity (Cornell University Press, 2014), explored the growing permeability of the material and immaterial, the human and divine, in late medieval theology and religious practice. Using art, liturgy, prayer, poetry, and agricultural projects from reformed religious communities from throughout western Europe in the late twelfth through fourteenth centuries, the book revealed an urgent concern with accessing divinity in matter. It argued that the material trappings of late medieval Christian devotion cannot be explained simply as the effects of popular enthusiasm and theological misunderstanding nor as the pursuit of a somatic imitation of a suffering Christ, but were instead the result of a fundamentally reoriented conception of the physical cosmos and the human relationship to it.

I am presently bringing to conclusion my second book project, ‘Salvation is Medicine’: Spiritual Exercises and Bodily Effects in Late Medieval Healing Communities. This book investigates the construction and transmission of therapeutic knowledge in female religious communities. Focusing on urban communities in the late medieval southern Low Countries, it draws on archival, hagiographic, and archaeological sources to uncover and explain the significant role played by Cistercian nuns and beguines in the delivery of bodily and spiritual healthcare. While it brings to light a number of overlooked mechanisms of care, including healing prayers, birthing indulgences, medical blessings, liturgical images, and penitential practices, it also inquires into the intellectual assumptions of an historiography that has excluded these practices and female practitioners from our reckoning of medieval medicine. This project has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, the British Academy and Huntington Library, and the Renaissance Society of America.

I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in the history of medieval medicine, gender relations in medieval Europe, late medieval religious and cultural history, and historical methods. In my undergraduate courses, I work to ensure that students from all majors come to evaluate how deep historical structures from the medieval past continue to frame our present thinking about such matters as bodily difference, religious identity, and medical efficacy. At the graduate level, I seek to assist students in sharpening their engagement with innovative methods and to interpret original sources from a perspective reasonably informed by critical theory.


PhD, University of Chicago

MA, University of Texas, Austin

BA, Tulane University

Selected Publications

2014: Holy Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval Christianity    (Cornell University Press).

2017: “Saints' Lives as Efficacious Texts: Cistercians Monks, Religious Women, and Curative Reading,” Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies (92.4).

2015: “Cult and Codex: Hagiographic Writing and Carthusian Reading in Royal Library of Belgium MS 8060-64.” Viator: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 46.3 (Autumn, 2015): 255-276.

2014: “Affective Medicine: Later Medieval Healing Communities and the Feminization of Health Care Practices in the Thirteenth-Century Low Countries,” Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures 40.2 (July, 2014): 113-143. Selected as “Article of the Month “ by Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

2014: “Illness and Imagination: the Healing Miracles of Clare of Montefalco,” in The World of St. Francis: Essays in Honor of William R. Cook.  Edited by Bradley Franco and Beth Mulvaney (Leiden: Brill, 2014) 80-99.

2013: “Wessel Gansfort, John Mombaer and Medieval Technologies of the Self: Affective Meditation in a Fifteenth-Century Emotional Community,” Fifteenth-Century Studies 38 (July, 2013): 153-174.

2012: “Manual Thinking: John Mombaer's Meditations, the Neuroscience of the Imagination, and the Future of the Humanities,” Postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Studies 3.2 (Fall 2012): 341-354.

2009: “Rethinking the Twelfth-Century Discovery of Nature,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 39.2 (2009): 225-255.

2009: “Nature and Spirituality in the Twelfth Century: Problems and Approaches,” Religion Compass 4 (June 2009): 595-607.

2008: “Spiritual Arborescence: The Meaning of Trees in the Late Medieval Religious Imagination,” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality (April, 2008): 64-82.

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