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Approaching Medieval English Anchoritic and Mystical Texts

Approaching Medieval English Anchoritic and Mystical Texts

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 229
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  • Book Info
    Approaching Medieval English Anchoritic and Mystical Texts
    Book Description:

    This volume seeks to explore the origins, context and content of the anchoritic and mystical texts produced in England during the Middle Ages and to examine the ways in which these texts may be studied and taught today. It foregrounds issues of context and interaction, seeking both to position medieval spiritual writings against a surprisingly wide range of contemporary contexts and to face the challenge of making these texts accessible to a wider readership. The contributions, by leading scholars in the field, incorporate historical, literary and theological perspectives and offer critical approaches and background material which will inform both research and teaching. The approaches to Middle English anchoritic and mystical texts suggested in this volume are many and varied. In this they reflect the richness and complexity of the contexts from which these writings emerged. These essays are offered as part of an ongoing exploration of aspects of medieval spirituality which, while posing a considerable challenge to modern readers, also offer invaluable insights into the interaction between medieval culture and belief. Contributors: E.A. Jones, Dee Dyas, Valerie Edden, Santha Bhattachariji, Denis Renevey, A.C. Spearing, Thomas Bestul, Liz Herbert McAvoy, Barry A. Windeatt, Alexandra Barratt, R.S. Allen, Roger Ellis, Ann M. Hutchison, Marion Glasscoe, Catherine Innes-Parker

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-367-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. General Editors’ Preface
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. List of Contributors
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    This volume has two aims: to explore the origins, context and content of the anchoritic and mystical texts produced in England during the Middle Ages, and to examine the ways in which these texts may be studied and taught today. It is a volume that foregrounds issues of context and interaction, seeking both to position medieval spiritual writings against a surprisingly wide range of contemporary contexts and also to face the challenge of making these texts accessible to a wider readership. The volume provides new scholarly and critical essays, incorporating historical, literary and theological perspectives, which are designed to inform...

  8. 1 Hermits and Anchorites in Historical Context
    (pp. 3-18)
    E. A. JONES

    On a hot midsummer Friday on the road from York to Bridlington, probably in 1413, John Kempe finally acceded to his wife Margery’s desire to live a life of chastity.¹ Then, Margery’sBookcontinues, ‘went thei forth to-Brydlyngton-ward and also to many other contres and spokyn wyth Goddys servawntys, bothen ankrys and reclusys and many other of owyr Lordys loverys, wyth many worthy clerkys, doctorys of dyvynyte, and bachelers also, in many dyvers placys’ (I.11; 793–7). It was probably on this visit that she first met the anchoress of York (one of several in the city at this...

  9. 2 ‘Wildernesse is Anlich lif of Ancre Wununge’: The Wilderness and Medieval Anchoritic Spirituality
    (pp. 19-34)

    In her survey of anchorites and their patrons in medieval England, Ann Warren asserts that medieval anchorites, even when enclosed alongside parish churches, were regarded as having ‘escaped into the wilderness, [their] life a symbol of the desert ideal’.³ And, as the epigraph to this essay demonstrates, the author of theAncrene Wissedoes indeed equate the wilderness with the solitary life of the anchoress’ dwelling: ‘Wildernesse is anlich lif of ancre wununge.’ This seems to offer a straightforward enough formula: wilderness equals anchoritic life. There is, however, nothing simple or fixed about either element in this equation. The wilderness...

  10. 3 The Devotional Life of the Laity in the Late Middle Ages
    (pp. 35-50)

    A window in the parish church at Waterperry (Oxfordshire), reproduced below, shows us Walter Curson and his sons at prayer.¹ Between Walter and his eldest son, Richard, a book lies open, as a prompt to their devotions. Like many households, the Cursons probably owned a Book of Hours, a volume often beautifully illustrated and richly decorated.² Books of Hours (known also as primers) were a collection of psalms and prayers for daily recitation,³ derived ultimately from the ‘canonical hours’ or Divine Office,⁴ the daily cycle of prayers said at regular intervals during the day and night by priests and in...

  11. 4 Medieval Contemplation and Mystical Experience
    (pp. 51-60)

    The medieval use of the word ‘contemplation’ covers a range of different approaches to spirituality, not all of them well assorted, at least at first glance. This essay will attempt to give a brief outline of these different approaches and the issues they raise, particularly those issues that tend to cause difficulty to modern readers of medieval mystical texts. At the same time, by taking a chronological approach to the development of these different strands, this essay will attempt to draw them into some kind of serviceable overview.

    The word ‘contemplation’ provides a useful way into this complex field, as...

  12. 5 Richard Rolle
    (pp. 63-74)

    Thanks to the work of Horstmann in the last years of the nineteenth century,¹ followed by the groundbreaking and monumental scholarship on Rolle’s corpus by Allen,² Richard Rolle stood as the better known and most influential of a group of authors of religious prose labelled as the Middle English mystics, which also included Walter Hilton, theCloud-author, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe.³ In addition, Chambers, in his influential piece on the continuity of English prose from the time of King Alfred to Sir Thomas More,⁴ gave Rolle a prominent place in the history of English prose, far above Wycliffe....

  13. 6 Language and its Limits: The Cloud of Unknowing and Pearl
    (pp. 75-86)

    When I was a student reading English at Cambridge, I had the good fortune to be taught by a great medieval scholar and inspiring teacher, Elizabeth Salter, one of whose special enthusiams was the Middle English mystics. She had been a student of Phyllis Hodgson, the editor of the standard scholarly edition of theCloud-author’s work, and that was doubtless how I came to readThe Cloud of Unknowingfor the first time, when most of my contemporaries were more likely to be readingSons and LoversorA Passage to India. But Elizabeth Salter saw the writings of the...

  14. 7 Walter Hilton
    (pp. 87-100)

    Walter hilton is one of the most important religious writers of late-medieval England. He was especially popular in the fifteenth century and, with the advent of printing, continued to be read well into the sixteenth. He succeeded in appealing to a relatively broad cross-section of lay and clerical readership by espousing a moderate, safely orthodox approach to matters of spirituality and religious practice. Hilton left a variety of works, the longest and most popular of which is theScale of Perfection, a comprehensive treatise on the contemplative life written in English for a woman who had taken religious orders.¹ Although...

  15. 8 ‘And Thou, to whom This Booke Shall Come’: Julian of Norwich and Her Audience, Past, Present and Future
    (pp. 101-114)

    Reading the writing of the medieval English mystic, Julian of Norwich, is often problematised by the fact that very little biographical information is available to illuminate our knowledge and understanding of either the woman or her writing. Unlike the effervescent Margery Kempe, for example, or the well-documented figure of Saint Bridget of Sweden² whose pseudo-histories and widely accessible bodily presence provide an easier inroad into their mystical writings for a student audience, Julian, as writer, as body, appears initially to remain tantalisingly beyond the margins of her own difficult texts and dense mystical theology. What we do know is largely...

  16. 9 ‘I Use but Comownycacyon and Good Wordys’: Teaching and The Book of Margery Kempe
    (pp. 115-128)

    Questions about teaching as an aim and activity inThe Book of Margery Kempe– whether Margery Kempe’s role constitutes teaching, or whether her book sets out to teach through some didactic design on its readership – can offer fruitful approaches to understanding theBookin the present. What is Margery Kempe’s bookfor?

    How to cope with aspects of Margery Kempe’s conduct that seem to appropriate a teaching role is something that challenges her contemporary society. It raises issues about her claims, for with what authority is she dispensing instruction (if she is), and precisely what is she teaching? The prospect...

  17. 10 Teaching Anchoritic Texts: The Shock of the Old
    (pp. 131-144)

    Ancrene Wisseand its associated treatisesHali Meiðhad, Sawles Ward, and the three saints’ lives of Margaret, Katherine and Juliana, have long been hallowed texts in any degree that includes Early Middle English literature. But in other environments they are virtually unknown and, like most medieval texts, have never achieved ‘canonical’ status. We medievalists understandably regard them as extremely important. Not only are they rare and therefore precious examples of Early Middle English prose; they also offer a fascinating insight into the anchoritic life as theorised and presumably practised in thirteenth-century England. Unfortunately, modern students lack easy access to these...

  18. 11 Introducing the Mystics
    (pp. 145-156)
    R. S. ALLEN

    As we all know, mystical writing is itself a paradox: the Ineffable is transmitted by voice and image, and these are then to be inscribed for an audience. All record of perceptions under rapture can only be approximations to the event itself. Mystics write under a burning urge to convey their primary experience, in such a way that the reader can read back behind or through it, and them, to their primary contact. Students today, trained to focus on the text itself rather than the idea of an author, should find mystical writing easier to engage with. Critical interest in...

  19. 12 Holy Fictions: Another Approach to the Middle English Mystics
    (pp. 157-174)

    The module I taught on the Middle English mystics, called ‘Medieval Ways to God’, was usually taken by nine to ten students, a mix of second- and third-year undergraduates who attended ten lectures and ten optional seminars, could write a practice assessment midway through the module, and submitted for their assessment a portfolio essay at the end of the module. The texts, mostly in translation, wereThe Cloud of Unknowingand the Long Text of theRevelationsof Julian of Norwich, now available in the admirable Spearing translations; Margery Kempe, translated by Windeatt; and Ogilvie-Thompson’s edition of Hilton’sMixed Life....

  20. 13 Approaching Medieval Women Mystics in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 175-184)

    In teaching English literature, at various levels, I try in courses not specifically concerning women writers to include as many women’s voices as I can. Despite much ground-breaking work that has uncovered many long-neglected women writers, in the early period, at least with respect to writers in English, the choice is still somewhat limited, and so one invariably turns to Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. In a survey course aimed at introducing students to the literary tradition of English (the actual title of a course I have been asked to teach many times),¹ women mystics – or any mystical writers,...

  21. 14 Contexts for Teaching Julian of Norwich
    (pp. 185-200)

    Recent research relating to Julian of Norwich has tended to go in two main ways. One comments on her showings in terms of medieval theology;¹ the other looks at them in the context of women’s writing and the issues of feminist scholarship.² She has also attracted the attention of those discussing the issues of apophatic and cataphatic religious discourse,³ and discussion has emerged recently in relation to the genre of her writing.⁴ Of them all, some of the feminist studies would seem to provide the best lead-in to Julian for students studying her work on non-specialist courses, particularly the work...

  22. Learning by Doing: Margery Kempe and Students Today
    (pp. 203-206)
  23. Useful Terms for Students
    (pp. 207-210)
  24. Index
    (pp. 211-213)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)