Passing the Test of Sanctity: Eunuchs and the Ecclesiastical World of Byzantium

in The Perfect Servant

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2004 | ISBN: 9780226720159
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226720166 | DOI:
Passing the Test of Sanctity: Eunuchs and the Ecclesiastical World of Byzantium

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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This chapter explores the relationship between individuals gendered as eunuchs and the ecclesiastical world of Byzantium—an extremely important part of the evolving position of eunuchs in Byzantine society, and a complex one. Some eunuchs in early Byzantium managed, despite significant disdain and scorn from the rest of society, to gain prominence, but rarely as religious figures. The church routinely condemned castration and, in the earlier centuries of the empire, associated eunuchs with licentiousness and immorality. Monastic foundation documents (typika), for example, occasionally use language that excluded eunuchs from monasteries. At the same time, however, regulations for monasteries for women recommended the use of eunuch priests, stewards, spiritual directors, and doctors when the nuns required such services. By the tenth and eleventh centuries, eunuchs were established in important positions throughout the church, up to and including the patriarchate. They were in many monasteries, and were portrayed as saints. The chapter shows the dual process by which the concept of sanctity itself was redefined in ways that made it accessible to eunuchs, while eunuchs came to be numbered among the important personalities and historical actors of the Byzantine church.

Keywords: sanctity; Ecclesiastical World; eunuch priests; spiritual directors; Byzantine church; patriarchate

Chapter.  7488 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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