This article sheds light on the complex interactions among knowledge, power, and the body in nineteenth-century American and Catholic culture through examining a series of "miracle cures" of Catholic women that took place in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., between 1824 and 1838. It analyzes the gender and power dynamics of the cures and of the stories members of the Catholic hierarchy told about the cures, situating both within the religious and cultural context of nineteenth-century North America. The bodies of cured women were scrutinized and "read" very carefully by Catholic men as a means of access to divine knowledge, and the article explores the cultural and theological factors that legitimated this process. Finally, the reading of women's bodies took place in the context of Protestant anti-Catholicism, and I argue that, given the sympolic importance of female bodies at the time——pure, healthy female bodies "incarnated" spiritual power and truth——stories of miracle cures were a means of validating Catholicism in the face of attacks against it.
- ©© 2007 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture