Bread has been a sacred element of the Judaic-Christian world for centuries. When the Jews fled Egypt they were to take unleavened bread with them which became a sacred part of the Passover celebration. In Christianity bread became an even more central component as Jesus not only spoke of God who “gives you the true bread out of heaven” (John 6:32), but he often spoke of himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:41, 50, 51, 58) which becomes central to The Last Supper which in turn became a central part of the Roman Catholic Mass. It is no wonder that when many Christian woman saints speak of their relationship with Christ, bread is a central tenet to their story as it speaks of their close relationship to Jesus and his references to bread.
Bread is full of symbolism which transforms easily into Christianity. If one were to look at the sourdough starter, it is made from batches of yeast that continuously expand by the addition of new flour. In turn new bread can be made from this old batch of yeast to breath new life into the faithful. The starter full of aged yeast is likened to the Apostles who have passed their knowledge down through the Church. Modern priests or women can then use this knowledge to make new bread and bring new members into the fold. These new members are in turn likened to the flour that is used to feed the starter and keep it going to make new bread again. Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century uses another form of symbolism stating “bread is baked so that people may be nourished by it and be able to live.” In this statement she is again inferring that Jesus is brought to people so that they can live.
This bread has been a symbol for a number of women who have claimed to live off three loaves along with water for up to seventeen or eighteen years. The bread as food is not so much significant as the fact that bread as a symbol for Christ. These women lived in isolation with only the “love” of Christ to feed them for this extended period of time. This notion is extended even further by the fact that they had taken three loaves with them which signifies the Holy Trinity of the Christianity. This particular story is an elaboration of Saint Mary of Egypt who also is said to have purchased those three loaves with three copper coins, again invoking the Holy Trinity. As soon as her three loaves of bread were gone, she “yearned for meat and fish that abound in Egypt” and “longed to drink wine.” This was used to illustrate that when “bread” or Jesus is absent from one’s life they will desire secular items that they would not need if they had their fill of Christ.
In turn other women such as Angela of Foligno give up all of their bread to the poor. This again symbolizes that Angela is not giving bread as food to the poor, but she is bringing Christ to them. Christ then in turn gives her the Eucharist which emanates from a leper’s scab as a reward for her sanctity. Warnings are given however by Amma Syncletica to not fill up completely on bread that one would not get thirsty for wine. This may infer that one may become overly pompous in their worship of Christ and ask too much of him. As with all things, moderation is key. In addition Christ spoke of the wine being a symbol for his blood, so one should partake of the wine as well.
We often hear of people joking about “all I got was some bread and water”, but to the pious Christian this in theory is all that they need. This is certainly in theory only because much of this must be taken as symbolism. The stories that fit into the giving and receiving of bread in the Bible are impregnated with the bread as a symbol for Christ. This stated, these Christian stories are important to teach the faithful and help them to remember that such a simple item as bread can be the most important part of life in Jesus Christ and that is “all they need.”