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Body and Soul

Essays on Medieval Women and Mysticism

Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff

Publication Date - April 1994

ISBN: 9780195084559

256 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock


Opening a window onto a long-neglected world of women's experience, this text features eleven essays that examine the writings of medieval women mystics from England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Low Countries, providing close readings of a number of important texts from the viewpoint of different literary theories. Surveying various styles of hagiographical writing, the author offers ground-breaking scholarship on a broad range of topics such as how medieval holy women may have appeared to their contemporaries, medieval antifeminism, comparisons between earlier and later Christian mystical writing, the relationship between male confessors and female penitents in the Middle Ages, and the process by which these extraordinary women produced their work. For courses in religious, medieval, or women's studies, this unique text fills a conspicuous gap in an important and fascinating field of literature.


"[T]he strength of this volume lies in its close readings....The author has carefully marshalled evidence for claims that have been made elsewhere, less persuasively, in the abstract. Her essays are prefaced by three introductory chapters which, together with her clear and unpretentious style, should make her book accessible to undergraduates without sacrificing its value to scholars....A valuable and very readable collection, proving that the new scholarship on medieval religious women has now reached full maturity." --Barbara Newman, Northwestern University, in The Journal of Religion

"Fills a void--the sprightly and mothering spirituality of our medieval women mystics recovers an essential component of love in the Western World." --John Glanville, San Francisco State University

"This collection of essays furthers our understanding of female saints in their historical context and an appreciation for the considerable risk they faced in becoming visible, in daring to write of their experience of God....It is an important contribution to our understanding of female mystics..." --Theological Studies

"...none will fail to profit from a book that grows so sturdily out of [Petroff's] long and intimate study of the sources." --Albion

"[A] book which promises to do as much to increase awareness of the mystical world of medieval women as her anthology Medieval Women's Visionary Literature did almost a decade ago. For a reader who knows nothing of this world, Body and Soul gives a thorough introduction to its main characters and issues....[I]t is a great pleasure to see a collection of essays by Elizabeth Petroff and to gauge her thinking at this point of the development of the field of medieval women's spirituality....[A] collection of thoughtful essays that will provoke further thinking in any reader who cares about the history of Christian women's spiritual experience. Elizabeth Petroff has done more to make the remarkable spiritual writings of medieval women accessible to modern English-speaking readers than any other scholar." --E. Ann Mater (University of Pennsylvania) in Christian Spirituality Bulletin

"The arguments are articulately expressed and generously supported by medieval texts, making it at once a thought-provoking book for specialists and an intelligent introduction for newcomers to the field of medieval religious women....Petroff is an original thinker...[she] goes further than most scholars in pressing for clarity not just about women...but about the more elusive question of gender....[T]his book stands as a significant contribution." --Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

"A clear and cogent survey of the female mystical and hagiographical tradition in the Middle Ages, especially in Italy." --Jane Chance, Rice University

"An excellent collection of essays which expands our understanding of the role of women mystics in medieval society. The essays are well researched and documented; contains a very useful bibliography." --Elizabeth Walsh, University of San Diego

"A well crafted attack on a complex subject. The text is filled with ideas and analysis, and all is presented in an extremely clean writing style." --Anne M. Butler, Utah State University

"A much needed examination of the role of medieval women in mysticism and therefore their contribution to Christianity." --Carolyn D. Belvins, Carson-Newman College

Table of Contents

    I. Backgrounds
    1. Women and Mysticism in the Medieval World
    2. Unmasking Women: Medieval Responses to the Unknowability of the Lady
    3. A New Feminine Spirituality: The Beguines and Their Writings in Medieval Europe
    4. A Medieval Woman's Utopian Vision: The Rule of St. Clare of Assisi
    II. The Tradition of Holy Women: Change and Continuity
    5. Eloquence and Heroic Virginity in Hrotsvit's Verse Legends
    6. Transforming the World: The Serpent-Dragon and the Virgin Saint
    7. "She Seemed to Have Come from the Desert": Italian Women Saints and the Vitae Patrum Cycle
    III. Women Mystics and the Acquisition of Authority
    8. Male Confessors and Female Penitents: Possibilities for Dialogue
    9. The Rhetoric of Transgression in the Lives of Italian Women Saints
    10. Gender, Knowledge, and Power in Hadewijch Strophische Gedichten
    11. Writing the Body: Male and Female in the Writings of Marguerite d'Oingt, Angela of Foligno, and Umilta of Faenza