Miraculous Maids? Self-Starvation and Fasting Girls

The cases of women in early modern England who claimed to survive by little but faith alone are described by Walter Vandereycken and Ron Van Deth.

In 1874 the prominent British physician William Withey Gull coined the term 'anorexia nervosa' for a peculiar form of self-starvation. This is far from saying that prolonged abstinence from food was previously unknown. In the late Middle Ages, extravagant fasting played a prominent part in the penitential or ascetical practice of deeply religious women. Thomas Netter, for instance, in a treatise against the Lollards, referred to a devout Christian girl from Norfolk. She was known...

in the vulgar tongue as Joan the Meatless, because it was proven that she had not tasted or drunk for fifteen years, but only fed with the greatest joy every Sunday on the sacrament of the Lord's body.

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