You may have heard this by now, because I often start articles and then don’t finish them for weeks. But it’s official: The people who created South Park hate Jesus’s mom. And Catholics. And you. This is why The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights demanded that Comedy Central pull the rerun of the December 7th episode “Bloody Mary,” in which the denizens of our favorite redneck white bread mountain town discover a statue of the Virgin Mary that projectile menstruates.
Making fun of Jesus has pretty much been job one with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, South Park’s creators, ever since they circulated the Spirit of Christmas short that launched their whole entertainment empire. The League has been after South Park since at least 2002 for the episode, “Red Hot Catholic Love,” so it’s strange that Comedy Central decided that this was the issue to cave over. But cave they did, removing the episode from their repeat schedule.*
Alright, so what has this got to do with the Middle Ages? Plenty. The first thing I thought when I heard about the episode was, “Wow, other than the projectile part, that’s a pretty medieval-sounding miracle.” And if the modern Catholics at the Catholic League for Denouncing Entertainment in a Humorless Fashion are consistent in their ire, they’re no doubt working on a boycott of the entire medieval era for the way that they treated Jesus, Mary and the sacred traditions of Catholicism.
I was recently at an academic talk where a brief fight broke out between professors over the number of Holy Prepuces (The Greatest Genital Relic Ever Sold) littering medieval Europe–that is, how many churches claimed to have the bit of foreskin that Jesus had cut off during his circumcision. An offhand estimate of twenty-six was shot down in favor of a more conservative dozen. But regardless of how many foreskins Jesus had and where he left them, it’s the sort of medieval hilarity that’d make a pretty good episode of South Park. Imagine: Wendy Testaberger could return from wherever she’s been lately wearing Jesus’s foreskin as a ring and claiming to be married to Christ, ala Catherine of Sienna (1347-1380), a medieval woman, a rare female doctor in the church, who did just that. Jesus could come to Stan and company and ask for help getting this psycho-Bridezilla off his case, explaining that this sort of thing happens every few hundred years.
But back to the horrible sacrilege of the actual South Park episode. I couldn’t find any examples of the Virgin’s menstrual blood being venerated in the Middle Ages, unfortunately, though not for lack of trying.** The closest I could get was to her menstrual cave. As all good Christians know–especially those at the Catholic League of Stuff and Things–the Bible is very specific about menstruating. At that time of the month, a woman should remain in a cave in order to keep from making things unclean, and since Mary was a good Jew, she retired to a cave with a handy mikveh, or purification bath, which you can still visit in Nazareth today. The best part is, the whole site is under the control of French Franciscans for some reason. I imagine there was some kind of draft for holy artifacts around the time of the Reformation. The Templars got the number one first round pick, on account of having been completely eradicated, and they drafted the Holy Grail. The Franciscans had unwisely traded away most of their picks for miracles-to-be-named-later, and so the menstrual cave was just all that was left by the time they got to go.
As it turns out, the Virgin Mary’s menstrual cycle was an issue of great concern to medieval theologians. It’s a subject that deserves a longer treatment than I could give in a blog entry, but the main conclusion was that yes, she did indeed need to go to a cave once a month. In order for Christ to be born a human, the Virgin had to menstruate, else there would have been no matter for the body to be created out of, and no milk for the baby Jesus to drink once he was embodied.*** While no menstrual blood was collected for worship, phials of the Virgin’s milk we venerated at Walsingham and Oviedo among other places in the middle ages.
But for truly outrageous Virgin source material, Parker and Stone would need to look no farther than the Chester Cycle of Mystery Plays. In the Nativity play, two midwives attend Mary. One doubts that a virgin could give birth and sets out to prove it. Here’s the stage directions, in translation:
Then Salome [the midwife] shall attempt to touch Mary in her private parts, and at once her hands shall dry up and be withered.
The N-Town**** version of the same scene is even more explicit. So explicit, that I’ll have to quote it in Latin to keep your web browser from being used against you by the Catholic League for Headline Grabbing. Hic palpat Zelomye Beatum Virginem.
It’s hard to imagine a form of popular entertainment today that could get away with showing people fondling or attempting to fondle the Virgin Mary’s magic dehydrating private parts. Even in cardboard cutout form, with lots of bleeped swearing. But maybe if South Park would try, then Stan and Kenny and Cartman could just blame this weird medieval blog they stumbled upon. And maybe then the taco that craps ice cream could come by and introduce his new oddly-shaped stilt-walking girlfriend.
*Since I started writing this a few weeks ago, Comedy Central did refuse to remove the episode from both future repeat dates and the ultimate DVD release, so the Catholic League’s victory was temporary at best–not that you’d get that impression from reading their press release.
**For the record, typing ‘menstruate’ and ‘virgin’ and ‘worship’ into Google and JSTOR is as hard as I may try.
***Menstrual blood becomes mother’s milk, according to the medieval authorities.
****N-Town was not a town brought to you by the letter N, as the heathens at Sesame Street would have you believe. Rather, the plays in question were designed to be put to use in any town, unlike the Chester, York, and Wakefield plays, which were attached to a specific locality.