The Middle Ages saw a flourishing of mysticism that was astonishing for its richness and distinctiveness. The medieval period was unlike any other period of Christianity in producing people who frequently claimed visions of Christ and Mary, uttered prophecies, gave voice to ecstatic experiences, recited poems and songs said to emanate directly from God and changed their ways of life as a result of these special revelations. Many recipients of these supposed divine gifts were women. Yet the female contribution to western Europe's intellectual and religious development is still not well understood. Popular or lay religion has been overshadowed by academic theology - the theology of universities and cathedral schools, resting on the method of disputation or biblical commentary - which was predominantly the theology of men. This timely book rectifies that neglect by examining a number of women whose lives exemplify traditions which were central to medieval theology but whose contributions have tended to be dismissed as 'merely spiritual' by today's scholars. In their different ways, visionaries like Richeldis de Faverches (founder of the Holy House at Walsingham, or 'England's Nazareth'), the learned Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch of Brabant (exemplary voice of the Beguine tradition of love mysticism), anchoress Julian of Norwich, charismatic traveller and pilgrim Margery Kempe and ecstatic Carmelite reformer Theresa of Avila all challenged traditional scholastic theology. Although their writings and ideas address different audiences from those of the treatises of men, and employ different genres to do so, the interest of women mystics in theological issues is revealed to be as serious as that of their male counterparts. Furthermore, these women arguably speak with greater authority, since they claim divine edict for their writings. They write about what they have experienced directly from God. Designed for the use of undergraduate student and general reader alike, this attractive survey provides an introduction to thirteen remarkable women, setting their ideas in context. In so doing, the book covers such key topics as medieval pilgrimage, penitential practice, belief in Purgatory, the courtly love tradition, mendicant orders and christological devotion. It also examines notable interactions between lay and religious culture during the period, in the fields of literature, art, architecture, music and liturgy.
Great Women Thinkers of the Middle Ages