The Peril of St. Veronica

In the time that she made her rigorous fast of five years, about which I testified the other time in my examination, but when I was not yet a Religious here, the sisters sometimes found Sister Veronica in the kitchen, in the refectory, or the dispensary, where she ate everything there was, and what is more, other times they found her eating before the hour of Communion, and then they saw her come to communion with the others. From this there derived great confusion and backbiting to the discredit of this Servant of God, but later it became clear, that in effect what appeared under the aspect of Sister Veronica was the Devil.

Abbes Ceoli

Translated in Holy Anorexia

St. Veronica was born Orsola Giuliani in Italy during the Seventeenth Century.  Her story is like many other ascetic women of the Middle Ages. She observed ritual fasting beyond the extreme of what was considered normal in that time.  I came across her story while working on my MA thesis on the connections between anorexia nervosa and religious belief. Rudolph Bell argued that many women who fasted themselves to death had exhibited clear signs of anorexia. At the same time I was working on a folk type song that tells the story of a man and a woman separated by an impassable river.  I decided to name the song after this saint I was reading about who seemed to spend her whole life battling demons, real and imagined, all with a deep sense of purpose and righteousness. Those who examined Veronica’s candidacy for sainthood seemed to believe that she had endured the hardship of her illness (they recognized that something was indeed not right about her actions) with saintly fortitude and faith.  She was a perfect candidate for this song. I actually considered writing a completely separate album based on Orsola and examining the many women discussed in Holy Anorexia. That could still be my next project.

Orsola is a special song to me.  It was the first song completed for the album, in fact it’s been sitting in its current form for quite some time.  I have to thank Karen Shields for her outstanding vocal work on this track. She came down for a couple of hours one evening and recorded the two best vocal tracks on the album.  It seemed ridiculous that I would write a song that discussed three perspectives, the man, the villagers, and the woman, without including a female voice.  The song itself was written with an eye towards building suspense and using dynamics to mark the changes between parts. I think it creates a nice effect.



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