This session addresses problems in the presentation of female spirituality in a range of contexts from rural Britain to urban Milan.
The anonymous early 12th-century vita of St Winifred describes her summoning a synod of the whole of Britain to reform monastic life; she then moves from the solitary life to found and lead a religious community. Within a few years, however, Robert of Shrewsbury’s life of the saint ignores this story and depicts her entering a women’s religious community founded by a man. This paper sets the rewriting of Winifred’s vita in the context of the politics of monastic reform in the Welsh March: the different versions articulate the challenges presented by changing orthodoxies to women in religious life.
In 1209, French beguine Marie d’Oignies prophesied the Albigensian Crusade, in a vision of crosses descending from heaven. Her confessor and biographer, Jacques de Vitry, was inspired by her to preach this crusade. His biography of Marie was intended to counter heresy in southern France as well as to perpetuate her memory. This paper examines how Marie’s life was still being used by male authors and translators in the 16th century as an example of orthodox piety, and in particular by the English monk John Fewterer, in one of the last orthodox Catholic publications in England before the Reformation.
In the year 1300 the Milanese Inquisition revealed a group of people who venerated a woman, Guglielma of Milan (d. 1281), as the Holy Spirit incarnate. On the second advent of Guglielma another woman, Maifreda da Pirovano, was to become pope, vicar of the Holy Spirit. These ideas can be seen on a background of radical female mysticism and eschatological expectations. However, this paper will argue, that the Guglielmites thought in sacramental terms. They had no plans of a political or military take-over, but relied wholly on Eucharistic and liturgical transformation in bringing about the return of Guglielma.