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Promiscuous Grace

Imagining Beauty and Holiness with Saint Mary of Egypt

Promiscuous Grace

Imagining Beauty and Holiness with Saint Mary of Egypt

A meditation on holiness and beauty through the study of Saint Mary of Egypt.
Saint Mary of Egypt has fascinated theologians, poets, and artists since the seventh century. Her story is richly evocative, encompassing sin and sanctity, concupiscence and asceticism, youth and old age. In Promiscuous Grace, Sonia Velázquez thinks with Saint Mary of Egypt about the relationship between beauty and holiness. Drawing on an archive spanning Spanish medieval poetry, Baroque paintings, seventeenth-century hagiography, and Balzac’s Le chef-d’œuvre  inconnu, Velázquez argues for the importance of the senses on the surface of religious texts on her way to revealing why the legend of Saint Mary of Egypt still matters today.


“In this luminous, revelatory, and sensitive book, at once wide-ranging and full of hidden depths, Velázquez lovingly follows the afterlives of Saint Mary of Egypt across words and images as well as spaces, places, and stages from Egypt to Spain. Velázquez’s beautiful prose and gorgeous readings express a deep care for her subject, leading us on a journey that touches the soul as well as the mind.”

Julia R. Lupton, University of California, Irvine

“In this superbly crafted meditation on religion and materiality, Velázquez interweaves the poems, art, and drama dedicated to Mary of Egypt in premodern Spanish Catholicism and its contemporary traces elsewhere. Her work on the creativity inspired by this saint evocatively reimagines the philosophical concept of beauty around the aging, holy female body and the Christian concept of grace around the profane. While grounded in thirteenth- and sixteenth-century Spain, this study fruitfully reimagines the peninsular Mary of Egypt as ‘good to think with’ for historians of European Christianity, art, and theater more broadly.”

Jessica A. Boon, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Table of Contents

List of Figures
On Translations and Spelling
In a Chapel: An Invitation to Imagine
1 Image Theory according to Saint Mary of Egypt
2 The Seductions of Hagiography
3 The Shoes of the Sinner and the Skin of the Saint
4 Neither Venus nor Venerable Old Men
5 Appearances Are Everything
Epilogue: In the Artist’s Studio

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