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To console, to nurse, to prepare for eternity: the Catholic sickroom in late nineteenth-century England

Mangion, Carmen M. (2012) To console, to nurse, to prepare for eternity: the Catholic sickroom in late nineteenth-century England. Women's History Review 21 (4), pp. 657-678. ISSN 0961-2025.

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This essay examines, using Foucault's concept of heterotopias and the Foucauldian notion of surveillance, the Catholic sickroom as a sacred space, created and managed by women religious, where women could be mediators of the sacred. It considers how women religious shaped the meanings of the sickroom using a salvific spiritual message found in the directives, actions and bodies of the sister-nurse. By examining the Catholic sickroom as a crisis heterotopia, the multiplicity of meanings which were present in this ‘real place’ emerges. Catholic women religious in England provided alternate sites of medical treatment for Catholics where the medical and the sacred could co-exist. They entered into social relationships through a cultural discourse that structured their work as ‘caring’, yet they also took the opportunity to mould the religious practices and behaviour of patients within these spaces. The heterotopian place of the Catholic sickroom exposed the ‘real space’ where women ministered in all but sacramental ways to the spiritual needs of patients. This study positions women religious as key protagonists in the development of the sacredness of the sickroom as a social space thereby expanding the spheres of influence of women. The Catholic sickroom, both in the institution and in the home, provided an alternate social space where the politics of religion, theology, and gender added to the complex meanings of the sickroom.

Item Type: Article
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > History, Classics and Archaeology
Depositing User: Carmen Mangion
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2012 11:34
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:27

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