Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | April 3, 2009

Saluting Pru Porretta aka Lady Godiva

One of the joys of writing is that in the course of researching for it, one comes across such amazing and interesting people. I’m working on a chapter called ‘Naked Rebellion’ which looks at the way the body has been used to defend everything from workers’ rights to protesting against the fur trade and human rights violations.

The most famous use of this way of drawing attention to a cause comes from the 13th century legend of an 11th century figure Lady Godiva – who allegedly protested against her husband’s cruel taxes by riding naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry. Historians believe this never happened, but the idea is such a powerful one it has inspired many protests.

When dealing with the subject of nakedness I am always wary of the possibility of sleaziness, of using an apparently worthy aim for a less worthy end, but I’m also aware that when used in the right way it can represent incredible power: which is why, of course, we use the term ‘Naked Truth’. As Alan Cohen says: ‘The freest people I know are those who have the least to hide, defend or protect. Naked is powerful.’ It is also of course vulnerable, which is why nakedness when used in protest makes such a powerful statement.

In researching the legend I discovered a Youtube clip of a protest against property taxes in Arizona that used a Lady Godiva, a ‘Charmed’ episode in which Lady Godiva appears by magic to defend womens’ rights to breast feed in public, and British Film Institute archive footage of Godiva in a Coventry parade in 1902.

And then I came across the story of Pru Poretta, who has spent the last 25 years as Coventry’s Lady Godiva, parading on a horse. More importantly, she has also become a powerful force for good in the town and further afield, promoting multicultural awareness, women’s rights and children’s literacy. She has formed the Imagination Cafe to promote reading in schools, the Godiva Sisters to foster social inclusion, and the Coventry Women’s Festival. Learn more about this amazing woman on her website and in this BBC article ‘Leading the Life of Godiva’. Here is a piece on the festival which has just finished from the Coventry Telegraph:

“THE ninth annual Coventry Women’s Festival got underway at the city’s Transport Museum on Saturday. The week-long festival celebrates women’s achievements and the successful struggle of women around the world against poverty and exploitation. People of all ages enjoyed dance classes, pampering and a variety of stalls at Saturday’s event. Pru Porretta, chair of Coventry Women’s Festival, said: “It is a place where women’s voices, feelings and wisdom are valued. “You can listen to inspiring speakers, receive an award, find a new contact or career path, have a health check, get pampered or tap into your artistic side with expert guidance all the way.”

Read the rest of this article.

Lady Godiva (1898) by John Collier (1850 - 1934)

Lady Godiva (1898) by John Collier (1850 - 1934)


Responses

  1. Interesting synchronisity here. We recently worked on body image in our Wicca III class and the controvery connected to skyclad rites, naturists and festival clothing or lack there of. I work this lesson plan around efforts to desensitize folk from the judgments we make about our own bodies, restoring our sense of pride and power in our flesh, and healing our histories when negative judgements spoil our self esteem. I wil send them this link and encourage the class to consider the Lady’s legacy as part of our own. An obvious connection I had heretofore neglected. Over here across the Pond we didn’t know about the Coventry Festival. Thanks much.

  2. Thank you Dorothy. I have just finished the chapter on ‘Religion & Nakedness’ in which I looked at the issue of nakedness in Wicca, Druidry, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. It really is a fascinating subject because in the end it boils down to the question ‘Do you consider the body – God/dess’ creation sacred or not?’ And if you accept the As Above, So Below doctrine, then our bodies are the Microcosm that reflect the Macrocosm.
    I’d better stop or I’ll write the chapter all over again here! I’m tempted to paste it in to a post, but I don’t think the publisher would like that. But perhaps tomorrow I’ll put in an excerpt about two great poets and mystics, both women, who were skyclad, which was exceptionally brave.
    And of course with the pressure to conform to an idealised body image it is particularly hard for women (and men) to accept their own figures. Earlier in this blog I posted the wonderful Dove video that shows how images are improved in photoshop to create idealised figures. I hope your class went well!

  3. A good movie that I’ll never forgetted, although just the tittle.

  4. This is interesting. Streakers go naked for the shock value and perhaps the kick they get out of doing it. The flow of adrenaline, the attention..
    It’s said that Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. In their innocence they thought nothing of it, until they made the descent into matter and then began to cover up!
    I guess when we make the descent into matter we bring a whole lot of baggage with us, our desires, our personal ambitions. We forget our original harmony with nature and spirit.
    True nakedness is to divest ourselves of all the heaviness, the gravitational force that pulls us down.

  5. and there is the greatest nakedness of all..that of the spirit which has nothing to hide at all…

  6. Indeed! As Alan Cohen said: “The freest people I know are those who have the least to hide, defend or protect. Naked is powerful.”


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