IMC 2017: Sessions

Session 1512: Narrating Conversion to Christianity

Thursday 6 July 2017, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:Anne-Marie Helvétius, amhelvetius@univ-paris8.fr
Paper 1512-aConvert Me Wholly: Introspective Piety and Penance as Transformation from Rejected Other into Reformed and Desired Self
(Language: English)
Camarin Porter, Department of History, Northern Arizona University
Index terms: Lay Piety, Mentalities, Religious Life
Paper 1512-bFrom Riches to Rags: Conversion Narratives and Memoria in The Book of Margery Kempe and the Sisterbook of Diepenveen
(Language: English)
Godelinde Gertrude Perk, Institutionen för språkstudier, Umeå Universitet
Index terms: Language and Literature - Comparative, Language and Literature - Dutch, Language and Literature - Middle English, Religious Life
Abstract

Paper -a:
In his soliloquies, Augustine pleads for conversion into God, and to be granted safe passage to God. What he desires transformation into, and seeks to journey toward are clear, and characteristic of the introspective piety found throughout medieval lay and religious writings. Less explicit is what conversion and distance are desired from, which is arguably a rejected past-self now so despised to the reformed viator that it is perceived as an alien ‘other’. Constructing perceptions of selfhood as movement along a spectrum from corrupt past acts and mentalities towards a desired normative self, introspection and penance function as tools for conversion from other into self.

Paper -b:
Although smashing pagan idols was no longer an option, late-medieval readers liked their contemporary holy women to experience similarly radical conversions as the saints in the Legenda Aurea. The Book of Margery Kempe and the Sisterbook of the Modern Devout convent at Diepenveen, a Middle English and a Middle Dutch text from the 15th century, offer such dramatic spiritual turning points: Margery and many sisters first live a life filled with fashion, riches, and prestige, until a supernatural experience or a confessor makes them see the error of their worldly ways, after which they turn to a monasticism-inspired life.

Like the saints’ lives these vitae evoke, these texts encourage the reader to remember both the works themselves and the women. The Diepenveen Sisterbook was intended to prompt the Devotio Moderna sisters to ‘imitate the virtues and example’ of their predecessors. Similarly, one of the Book‘s scribes stresses in the proem that Margery’s life is ‘ower exampyl and instruccyon’. In this paper, I therefore read these conversion scenes – in their original vernaculars – through the lens of memoria, the craft and art of memory. Tracing how these moments appropriate familiar hagiographic loci, I examine how these texts seek to imprint these events indelibly on the readers’ mind. The mnemonic impressions thus promoted I bring into dialogue with each text’s understanding of sainthood, revealing different (auto)-hagiographic strategies and different conceptions of the secular and the deceased Other. Ultimately, I illuminate how both works – by means of these accounts of spiritual transformation – create transcendent memorial communities: the Book makes Margery join the ranks of her favorite saints, while the Sisterbook unites the implied reader with the saintly sisters gone before her, fashionistas once more in the afterlife.