Anorexia Sacra


About Anorexia Sacra by Line Tjørnhøj

”... Trusting in no one and agreeing with no one insofar as he might want to dissuade you from pursuing your founding purpose or might place a stumbling block in your way, preventing you, in that perfection with which the Spirit of the Lord has called you, from fulfilling your vows to the Most High. (Saint Clare of Assisi to Agnes of Prague 1235 - translation Joan Mueller)


Clare of Assisi - founder of the most extreme ascetic medieval order “Poor Clare’s” - died in 1253 from anorexia. At the time of her death she was highly respected and admired. She is the most well known of a group of medieval female ascetics who - according to contemporary psychiatric understanding - practiced behavior commonly associated with eating disorders. They were strongly connected to the mysticism of the time as a religious movement and they saw strict asceticism as the only true way to unify with Jesus Christ as his heavenly brides. 

Our contemporary western culture - in a cult like manner - pays tribute to the perfect appearance of the body, personified by models on catwalks and becoming evident through Hollywood presenting infantile “thin”-looking ”superstars”. In the context of western ”abundance” anorectics fear to drown in their own fat and they present their ”holy icons” as ”thinspiration” on the proana websites (pro = professional – ana = anorexia). Back then and now ”control” and ”willpower” are the keywords for the anorectics and back then and now they exchange proana tips – existential and spiritual thoughts and written poetry. Leaving family, the psychiatric system and friends behind in a complete powerless voyeuristic position, anorectics take a tour de force - often for years - alone with their pain and suffering – and quite frequently tragically ending in death.

In her work, Line Tjørnhøj strives to confront this tangible human caused “pain” and transforms that energy into a reconciling and creative musical expression.

Human suffering can take so many forms and the only “instrument” that is truly capable of displaying this wide spectrum of emotions, is the human voice - doing both, staging the drama, forming the words and simultaneously bringing comfort and healing.

This is possible when singers dare to extend their vocal expression beyond pure singing and integrate basic authentic sounds of their voices into the expression: sounds that normally express extreme conditions such as pain, great joy, satisfaction and devotion.

This is how the drama – Anorexia Sacra - comes to life on stage.

The libretto of Anorexia Sacra consists of extracts from Clare of Assisi’s letters and other medieval writings that were blended with Line Tjørnhøj's lyrics. She got her inspiration from the writings on the proana websites and attempted to build a poetic bridge, and a textual collage, respectively, spanning more than 800 years of time. The libretto is especially pointing out the powerless situation parents and treatment initiatives found themselves in when confronting the enormous power and will of self-starvation.

It displays the aspects of thoughts and feelings expressed through compulsive self-destructive behavior. But mostly it is the story of a father who watches his beloved daughter starving herself to death.


Line Tjørnhøj´s work

Anorexia Sacra won 2009 Opera Vista Festival and performed  march 2010 in Houston Live Oak Friends Meetinghouse, Texas

Review by Buzz Belmont in Houston Chronicle

Opera Vista


Helene Gjerrris + ensemble

Ave Maria

Tzvetanka Varimezova + ensemble


Helene Gjerris + ensemble



Text & Music:

Line Tjørnhoj