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Book: Books as Bodies and as Sacred Beings

Chapter: Saints’ Lives as Performance Art

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.38093


Some people become famous for going to ascetic extremes, and as a result attract admiring hagiographers who chronicle their lives. In an essay added to this collection after the Seoul conference, Virginia Burrus recounts some vivid early Christian examples. She compares their practices to those of modern performance artists who use their own bodies as the medium for their art. Burrus notes that how the bodily performances of saints and artists affect their audiences vividly and viscerally, but also how both depend on mediation to extend their performances: the ancient saints through the texts of their hagiographies, the modern artists through photography and video technology. More than other kinds of textual mediation, however, the bodily performance draws readers’ and viewers attention away from its forms of mediation. Burrus argues that the saints’ performances get mediated also by art in the form of iconography and by things in the form of relics. They
thus exhibit three dimensions of performativity: textual, visual and thingly.

Chapter Contributors

  • Virginia Burrus ( - vburrus) 'Syracuse University'