On the Purification of Women

Churching in Northern France
Rieder, Paula
Date published: 
April 2007

This book is a social history of the ritual and custom of churching, a liturgical rite of purification after childbirth performed on a woman's first visit to church after giving birth. The book describes the development of the rite from its original meaning as a response to blood pollution to its redefinition as a rite that honoured marriage. It also examines its use by French bishops as a disciplinary tool enforcing the church's definitions of marriage and lay sexuality and explores the ways that women, families, and clergymen manipulated the rite for their own purposes. The study focuses on northern France and is based on a wide variety of sources, including sermons, penitential literature, court records, liturgies and illuminated manuscripts. It will be of particular interest to students and scholars of women's history, gender and sexuality, and the relationship between church and society.