Sunghyun Jang. The Symbolism of the Pit in the Prioress’s Tale - Jewish-Christian Disputes over the Virgin Mary     page(s): 173-191


My study examines the symbolic role of the privy pit in the Prioress’s Tale. I note that Mary works a miracle in the privy where, as the Prioress emphatically states, “Jewes purgen hire entraille,” and link this to medieval Christian writers’ rejection of the Jewish notion that Mary’s womb, like those of other women, was a dark, stinky, and filthy place—namely, a pit. Mary’s intervention on behalf of her young devotee in the Jewish privy represents her victory over the Jews who have condemned her womb and hence Christ who was conceived in it. I maintain that the Prioress draws a close analogy between the pit in the Jewish ghetto and the womb of the Virgin Mary. When thrown into the pit after his death, therefore, the little child symbolically enters—it can be argued—the holy, pure womb of Mary. The rebirth of the child as an infant saint reflects the Prioress’s penchant for childlike piety. In her view, the linguistic and intellectual innocence of young children should be admired and emulated in Marian devotion.       
Keywords:   Geoffrey Chaucer, Mary, Jews, Christian, Womb