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John Mirk's Festial

John Mirk's Festial: Orthodoxy, Lollardy and the Common People in Fourteenth-Century England

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    John Mirk's Festial
    Book Description:

    `Marvellously perceptive and insightful'. FIONA SOMERSET, Duke University.Written with largely uneducated rural congregations in mind, John Mirk's Festial became the most popular vernacular sermon collection of late-medieval England, yet until relatively recently it has been neglected by scholars -- despite the fact that the question of popular access to the Bible, undoubtedly regarded as the preserve of learned culture, along with the related issue of the relative authority of written text and tradition, is at the heart of both late-medieval heresy and the resultant reformulation of orthodoxy. It offers, in fact, an unparalleled opportunity to analyze the religious ideology communicated by the orthodox church to the vast majority of people in fourteenth-century England: the ordinary country folk. This book represents the first major examination of the Festial, looking in particular at the issues of popular culture and piety; the oral tradition; biblical and secular authority; and clerical power.JUDY ANN FORD is Associate Professor in the History Department of Texas A&M University-Commerce.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-480-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: John Mirk’s Festial and Fourteenth-Century England
    (pp. 1-15)

    THIS short story of a women talking with Christ in the privacy of her bedroom resonates with the themes of much recent scholarship on lay piety in late-medieval England. The experience described is clearly mystical, yet it is expressed in the most tangible, physical language; it is Christocentric, affective, and focused on the blood of the Passion. In these ways the story powerfully echoes the experiences of such well-known fifteenth-century women mystics as Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich.² In its invitation to communicate with Christ without the aid of the clergy, especially in matters of sin and confession, the...

  5. 1 Popular Culture and the Study of Late Medieval Piety
    (pp. 16-31)

    It might be thought that a text that enjoyed the popularity of theFestialwould be a natural choice for scholarly investigation, but although the collection is well known it has attracted surprisingly little analysis.¹ Certainly, its sermons are often cited by scholars who study religion in late-medieval England. Historians such as Eamon Duffy and Michael Camille refer to theFestial, as do literary critics such as David Aers.² R. N. Swanson’s collection of documents illustrating religion in medieval England includes one of Mirk’s sermons in its entirety.³ TheFestialis widely known and little studied in the modern academic...

  6. 2 Clerical Power and Lay Agency
    (pp. 32-69)

    One of the most remarkable achievements of Mirk’s sermons is their ingenious synthesis of the notion of a dynamic, self-directed laity actively pursuing salvation with that of a vision of Christianity in which salvation is impossible without the intervention of priests.¹ In the sermons of theFestialthe laity are required to participate in the sacraments administered by the clergy, yet the narratives about the struggle to achieve salvation are structured in such a way that lay people are the central characters and clergy essential but dramatically marginal figures. Mirk thus promotes orthodoxy through the imagery of its opposition.


  7. 3 Secular Authority and Rebellion
    (pp. 70-112)

    Mirk composed theFestialin a time of upheaval that went far beyond the Lollard critique of sacerdotal authority. The most tangible expression of popular discontent with the traditional institutions of political and economic authority, such as lordship and the crown’s government, was the Great Revolt of 1381, an event described by Nigel Saul as ‘the largest and most serious outbreak of popular unrest in England in the Middle Ages … never before 1381 had there been a general rebellion against the king’s government. What happened in 1381 was altogether unique.’¹ The rebel leaders demanded stabilized rents, free negotiation of...

  8. 4 Biblical Authority and Oral Tradition
    (pp. 113-142)

    Mirk advocates the use of the English vernacular as a medium of religious expression, a position that was still considered orthodox at the time of theFestial’s composition, but one that distinguished him sharply from England’s most conservative defenders of orthodoxy during the late fourteenth century, a time when the vernacular was becoming increasingly associated with Lollardy.¹ The core of the dispute over the propriety of vernacular religious texts lay with the question of whether the Bible should be translated into English. The ideal of widespread access to the scriptures, combined with a bibliocentric version of Christianity, was a staple...

  9. Conclusion: The Festial and Popular Piety in Late Medieval England
    (pp. 143-150)

    A CLOSE reading of Mirk’s sermons indicates that his writing of theFestialwas motivated by a desire to dissuade the masses from Lollardy and revolt by providing an avenue of vernacularity, lay agency, and participatory ecclesiology within the orthodox church. TheFestialdoes not attempt to persuade its audience through the means of direct, didactic instruction grounded upon the presumed authority of the clergy who speak its words. Instead, Mirk adopts a more subtle approach: his sermons use narrative to convey their message. He appeals to a popular audience by speaking their language, not only literally – by using...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 151-162)
  11. Index
    (pp. 163-168)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 169-169)