Catherine of Siena || Christina of Markyate || Angela of Foligno || Umiltą of Faenza || Margaret Kirkeby || Margaret Heslyngton || Emma Stapleton || Birgitta of Sweden || Chiara Gambacorta || Julian of Norwich || Francesca Romana || Elizabeth Barton

A Cell of Self-Knowledge: St Catherine of Siena

he young Catherine of Siena immured herself in her room in prayer - and later wrote or rather, dictated, of that time as her 'Cell of Self-Knowledge'. The Middle English Orcherd of Syon translating her Revelation, her Dialogo, states that such a soul

This essay will discuss women and their cells, of the knowing of self and of God, in England and in Italy, though recognizing also that Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle is part of this genre. I. Christina of Markyate (+1156?)

A manuscript now in the British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius E.1, its edges charred in the Cotton Library fire in 1731, tells us in Latin the story of a remarkable young woman of the twelfth century, Theodora, who came to be named Christina, Anchoress, then Prioress, of Markyate.

The account breaks off in the year 1142, but we know she was still living, 1155-6. The very fine St Albans Psalter, together with the Vita St Alexis, is also associated with Christina of Markyate, making its way sometime after the Dissolution of the Monasteries to the English Benedictine monks at Lambspring (whose Abbot was to fund the publication of the first edition of Julian of Norwich's Revelations), following that, to St Godeharskirche at Hildesheim. Christina had made her Vow of Virginity as a child at St Albans and preserved that Vow with the famous reading of the story of St Cecilia's wedding on her own wedding night. Her Latin Vita retells the tales of St Cecilia, St Alexis and St Mary of Egypt, giving them a local habitation and a name, reliving the Thebaid in England. Following family and ecclesial abuse Christina fled to the inner cell of the hermit monk of St Albans, Roger. Roger was under obedience to the Abbot, though living where three angels led him from Windsor, on his return from Jerusalem, to Markyate, on the right of Watling Road from St Albans Abbey towards Dunstable, the Latin text very precisely tells us, - peopling England with angels. Likewise the Latin text presents its protagonists, Christina and Roger, forever speaking lines out of the Holy Book, lines from the liturgical psalms. Indeed it is the lines from psalms recited by Christina that dispel evil toads, who are devils, from her cell.

She tells Roger of her vision of Christ giving her his Cross to hold and Roger speaks amidst the Latin in Old English:

Soon after Burthred, her husband, arrives, releasing her from her Marriage Vows, and Roger decides to leave her his hermitage.

That decision is preceded by a vision, one that looks back to Gregory's Dialogues on Benedict and forward to Julian of Norwich and Catherine of Siena. In the Dialogue following that concerning Scholastica and Benedict in loving discourse upon heavenly matters all night, Benedict is seen one night in prayer, and at the same instant the whole world to shrink as into one beam of light. Here Christina sees the Queen of Heaven and all the angels.

But above all else she turned her eyes towards Roger's cell and chapel and she said From having been a willing prisoner in a cramped narrow cell, seated on stone, in silence and in illness / Pp. 102-105/, Christina now becomes officially its anchoress and soon prioress with a growing Benedictine community of nuns about her, closely associated with the Benedictine Abbey of St Albans, and advising its Abbot, Geoffrey. Their relationship is compared to that of Jerome and Paula/ Pp. 172-173/ . Her years of solitude, trial, temptation and illness had brought her wisdom, concerning herself and God. For Christina of Markyate's St Albans Psalter with its Vie de St Alexis, searching Google to find the Aberdeen website which completely replicates the exquisite manuscript: www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter/§

II. Angela of Foligno (+1309)

ngela of Foligno, a Franciscan tertiary, who did not really choose to live in a physical cloister or a physical cell, spoke of the fruits of contemplation as being where one's soul becomes a room, a cell, in which one finds the All Good, finds the entire Creation. This account, written down at her dictation by Fra Arnaldo, her confessor and spiritual director, often clandestinely, gives: ' anima mea est una camera . . . est ibi . . . omne bonum'.

She also speaks of this state of welcoming Christ in the Eucharist within the soul with his heavenly host as being both 'thrones' and 'cities', concepts Julian repeats in her own writing, in the First, Long and Short Texts, and in reported discourse in Margery's writing, the Oral Text. Angela will even, in the Instructions, use the same image as had Christina of Markyate, of Christ as Pilgrim, coming to one's soul, one cell of self knowledge. Yet in her Instructions she also claims that she hypocritically enclosed herself in her room in Lent to impress people and win esteem, and that in her cell and her soul the devil lurked. Though following that introduction, not merely of humility, but humiliation, not merely of contempt but vituperation, she then speaks of truth and wisdom seated in her soul, a passage Julian of Norwich will echo: And then in Instruction XIV, she writes to her Franciscan disciples that ' There are only two things in the world that I find pleasure in speaking about, namely, knowledge of God and self, and remaining continually in one's cell. . . . I believe that anyone who does not know how to stay put and remain in a cell ought not to go anywhere.' In Instruction XXIX, the material crescendoes with an entire Chapter on the Knowledge of God and Oneself, exactly as in Julian's texts: Finally, the Franciscans preparing her Book of Angela of Foligno following her death conclude with noting that the apostles, who preached Christ's life, learned from a woman that he was raised from the dead to life, and that St Jerome had cited the Prophetess Huldah, to whom crowds ran, that the gift of prophecy had been transmitted to the female sex to shame men who are doctors of the Law but who transgress God's commandments. Mechtild of Magdebourg's Flowing Light of the Godhead was similarly defended by Dominican Heinrich von Halle writing of Deborah's practice of solitary contemplation from which to prophesy to the people of Israel and of Huldah's prophecy to the king Josias.

Perhaps Franciscan Angela of Foligno helped shaped Dominican Catherine of Siena's and Benedictine Julian of Norwich's concept of a 'Cell of Self-Knowledge'. Certainly the English Benedictine nuns in exile at Cambrai and Paris were copying out her text as well as Julian's. A small manuscript by them, Bibliothčque Mazarine 1202, titled 'Colections', finished 23 July 1724, on pages 21-22, gives:

And a manuscript at the Bodleian Library, Laud 46, at folios 70 verso and 72 recto, brings together excerpts from Marguerite Porete's Liber speculum animarum simplicium, her Mirror of Simple Souls, and the Libellus de vita et doctrina Angelae de Fulgineo , The Book of Angela of Foligno.

See http://www.sismelfirenze.it/mistica/ita/TestiStrumenti/fullTextAngela.htm

III. Umilta` of Faenza (+1310)

e know a great deal, through historical documents, through paintings, through sculpture, about Beata Umiltą, Blessed Humility, of Faenza, who was in turn a wife, mother, nun, anchoress and abbess, who died in Florence in 1310.

Rosanesa Negusanti was born in Faenza to noble parents named Elimonte and Richilda in 1226. At fifteen she was married to Ugolotto Caccianemici, bearing him two sons who both died following their baptisms. She begged her husband to make a reciprocal vow of chastity. At first he drowned his sorrows in fun, then fell ill and consented, becoming himself a monk, while she became a nun, both of the double Monastery of St Perpetua, in 1250. Rosanesa thus went from freedom to unconditional obedience, from an abundance of wealth to monastic poverty, from marriage to total consecration to God. She mortified herself by taking on the most humble and servile jobs. The other Sisters thought this was a passing phase but the Prior of the two monasteries understood her virtue and named her anew as 'Humility', Umiltą.

Rosanesa persuades her husband Ugolotto to their vows of chastity

The nuns would eat in silence, one of their number reading to them from a book. Umiltą, though from a rich and noble family, was illiterate. One day, in fun, the other Sisters asked her to read. She obeyed humbly and from her mouth came words of the highest things, yet none of which were to be found written in the book from which she supposedly read. What she said was,

Was she inspired? She was taught, humbly, to read and to write in Latin by her sisters, and her Sermons testify to the richness of her mind. It is said that when she dictated her sermons, the whitest of doves, with golden feet and beak, would appear at her ears, and that when it rained while she dictated, her shoulder remained dry.

Umiltą's inspired reading in the refectory, Faenza

Umiltą became ill with cancer of the kidneys, causing a nauseous smell from her rotting flesh. She begged God that, if it were his will, he would not inflict such disturbance upon the nursing Sisters. Immediately the Infirmarian Sister saw that the wound had healed. In her four years at St Perpetua she gained esteem and admiration. She felt the need for more isolation, for the life of a hermit. In the night a mysterious voice whispered,

She did not ask Instead, quickly, she made the sign of the cross and dressed for travel, taking her Office book and leaving it on the high wall of the monastery, where it was found the next day in evidence of this impossible and mysterious flight. The doors had remained locked all night. Yet Umiltą, crossing the river Lamone, had remained dry.

Umiltą leaves her convent

She came to the island of St Martin where the Clarissan Sister Philippa, a wise and severe woman, opened the door to her and gave her shelter for the night. In the morning the Prior and her uncle Niccolo learned about the locked door and the Psalter left on the wall. They gave permission for Umiltą to live in a secret and sealed room. Prayer and penance, bread and water, and bitter herbs, were to be her life

The city spoke of her as a saint.

A Vallombrosan monk of Saint Apollinare was about to have his feet amputated, but desired instead to be brought to Umiltą. She signed his feet with the sign of the cross and he was healed. The Vallombrosans built her a cell next to the church of St Apollinarius, into which she was sealed, and which had a small window looking onto the church through which she could see and receive the Sacrament,

and another looking onto the street, through which she could receive food and give counsel.  One day a ferret came to join her, keeping her company. Her husband, hearing that she had become Vallombrosan, himself became a monk of that order, then died.

Umiltą's little cell attracted a great company, other young women wishing to imitate her, such that the cells multiplied like those in a beehive and the prayers and psalms could be heard in unity ascending into heaven. We are reminded of the growth of Christina's Priory at Markyate. But the Abbot of Vallombrosa now decided that women could join the Order, and that Umiltą should be their Abbess. Umiltą's pet ferret fled at the news. Umiltą cried at being unsealed from her cell, but obeyed her Abbot, following twelve years of self-imposed imprisonment, stepping out again into the world. In 1266 she was made Abbess of the first Vallombrosan convent for nuns. She was stern with both nuns and priests, insisting that they confess their faults before their deaths or before celebrating Mass, for the sake of their souls. One day the cellarer was given a fish to prepare and, thinking it was only enough for the Abbess, served it to her in a delicious sauce. Umiltą flung it into the midst of the refectory floor. The cellarer retrieved it and found it was miraculously large enough to serve all the Sisters.

Fifteen years later, in 1281, Faenza was torn apart by the strife between Guelf and Ghibelline and Umiltą's convent was sacked, though she and her Sisters were respected by the soldiers, because of her sanctity. It was time to leave. At first it was planned to move to Venice. But Umiltą was inspired by St John the Evangelist instead to go to Florence, even though in 1258 the Guelfs there had decapitated the Abbot Tesoro of Vallombrosa. She chose to go to make peace between the warring factions. She arrived in the midst of the Peace of the Cardinal Latino, when Guelf and Ghibelline kissed and made up for their bitter bloodshed. In that year Dante Alighieri was seventeen and writing his early sonnets.

Umiltą building her convent, Florence

Umiltą herself gathered the stones, loading them onto a donkey, to begin building her monastery dedicated to St John the Evangelist in Florence. One day, while she was doing so, a nurse brought to her the dead child who was her charge. Umiltą took the boy into a nearby shrine and laid the cadaver at the feet of the image of St John the Evangelist, then with a candle made the sign of the cross over the child, who miraculously opened his eyes. The convent was founded in 1282. Umiltą wanted that convent to be simple and poor. The Florentine authorities decided otherwise and it was constructed according to the design of Giovanni, son of Niccolo Pisano, and consecrated in 1297, amidst the building of Santa Croce, begun, 1295, Santa Maria del Fiore, begun 1296, and the Palazzo della Signoria, begun 1298.

Umiltą resurrecting the dead child

Umiltą became extremely ill with a fever one August and implored her Sisters for ice, telling them to go to the well to fetch it. They found the dry well full of ice. Their obedience had taught them charity. The well today is in the Fortezza da Basso. Another time, when she was too tired to go further on foot in the Appenines a horseman took her up onto his gentle horse, comforting her almost more by his heavenly words. Another time she and her Sisters on such a journey found they could not eat the brown bread given them, when suddenly there appeared the whitest of bread for them to eat. Two women hermits had almost decided to give up their solitude, when they dreamed of Umiltą, who then visited them in reality, and whom they recognised. A knight living near Santa Felicitą in Florence was troubled about his worldly affairs and sought advice from Umiltą. Who told him that that Thursday was to be the last day of his life. Which it turned out to be.

Her Sermons are magnificent. In Sermon II she says it is the divine word which speaks, not coming from her, but from the Father and the highest God, who gives to each as much as he desires. Secretly he has taught her with questions and answers, speaking within her, but now she speaks to us with external words. The Spirit himself had taught her in silence. And she now pronounces aloud to us his divine words which she had heard. Beware therefore that you do not receive this emptily, what her tongue is moved to say, for it is moved by the Spirit. She says in Sermon III that she marvels and fears about these things which rise up within her, which she dares to write and say; for they are not in any book, nor taught to her by any human science; only the Spirit of God speaks within her, opening her mouth with these words which she must say.

And in another Sermon she says,

In Sermon VIII, she declares She also composed Laude to the Virgin which her nuns at San Salvi continued to sing for centuries and which are noted to be full of mysteries, In her cell she kept an image of the Child Jesus in swaddling bands, and used it to contemplate upon the Incarnation and Birth of Christ. The image is still preserved by the Vallombrosan Sisters in Bagno a Ripoli. She also spoke of her two guardian angels, one called Sapiel, the wisdom of God (whose name, she tells us, filled her heart suddenly with great joy), the other Emmanuel, God in us. Like Julian, she speaks of a universe in her heart, She also says, in her II Sermon, In Sermon IV, she says In 1300, the year of the Jubilee, Umiltą was seventy-four years old, and weakened by worry and penance. 13 December, 1309, St Lucy's Day, she had a stroke losing her speech and mobility. Yet her monastery experienced miracles, such as bread and money miraculously multiplying though it was a time of great famine. Umiltą had desired to die on a Friday. And so she did, on three o'clock, on Friday, 22 May, 1310. All Florence was moved at the news and came flocking. The Bishop of Florence, Antonio degli Orsi, presided at the funeral on Sunday, 24 May.

Umiltą's Funeral, Florence

She was buried in a tomb at the right of the altar dedicated to St John the Evangelist. A Vallombrosan monk was healed of a crippled arm that had prevented him from celebrating Mass. A woman who for five years had been tormented with an illness that prevented her from speaking or swallowing was healed. Another woman with a stomach tumor was likewise healed. The tomb was observed to be covered with oil, and though it was cleaned, continued that way, the monks raising the slab and finding the body of the saint incorrupt. This was checked again, 11 June, 1311, by Antonio degli Orsi, Bishop of Florence (whose own tomb, by Tino da Camaino, is in the Duomo) and other witnesses.

Pietro Lorenzetti, after 1313, painted these scenes of the life of the saint, showing her at its centre in her habit and veil, all of which is surmounted by the 'vile' sheepskin cap she was known to wear in her lifetime, and where she is shown holding forth her book and her flail, Orcagna similarly sculpting her so. Lorenzetti's polyptych is now partly in the Uffizi, partly in the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin. Orcagna's statue is now in the baptistry of the church of San Michele at San Salvi. Santa Umiltą's large body now rests at Bagno a Ripoli. 1 March, 1721, she was declared 'Beata Umiltą', 4 March 1948, Saint Humility. In 1534, the Medicis had the convent move to San Salvi, near the Campo di Marte. Later still, in 1815, the authorities suppressed that convent, the Sisters taking refuge finally, in 1972, with the body of their Saint in Bagno a Ripoli, whom I have seen there.

Orcagna, La Beata Umiltą

IV. Margaret Kirkeby (+1405?), Margaret Heslyngton (+ after 1435), Emma Stapleton (+1442)

et us return to women contemplatives in England. It is possible to trace several in connection with Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love. The earliest surviving manuscript of that text, the British Library's Amherst Manuscript, is a florilegium compiled by a male Carthusian for a female anchorite, by Richard Misyn for Margaret Heslyngton. The manuscript opens with his translations from Latin into English of the Yorkshire Hermit Richard Rolle's texts, De Emendatio Vitae and Incendium Amoris, written for Margaret Kirkeby, a Cistercian nun at Hampole, then an Anchoress at Layton, and for another woman contemplative. The Amherst's colophon to De Emendatio Vitae gives

Followed by the preface to the Incendium Amoris, its subsequent colophon dating it 1435, We need to go backwards in time from 1435 to around 1439, from these later contemplative woman to their predecessor named in this Julian Manuscript, Margaret Kirkeby and her relationship to Richard Rolle. Richard Rolle's Office tells us of his earlier having got his sister to give him two of her kirtles, one grey, one black, and their father's rain hood, from which he improvised his hermit's garb, to her consternation. The Longleat Manuscript of Richard Rolle's writings is titled and has the colophon, Then two further Rolle texts, Ego Dormio, written for a nun of Yedingham, and The Form of Living (A132-135), a text particularly associated with Margaret Kirkeby's enclosure as an anchoress, 12 December 1348, and written shortly before Rolle's death, in 1349, appear later in the Amherst Manuscript than the section which has Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love.

Margaret, of the le Boteler family, had been a Cistercian nun at Hampole, had had a seizure, leaving her unable to speak or move, Rolle helping her by holding her head on his shoulder through the window of the anchorhold during a second attack, and promising she would have no more while he lived. On having a third attack, when a recluse a great distance away, at Layton, she sent a messenger to Hampole who found at those moments, on September 29, 1349, Rolle had died, perhaps of the plague. Later, she returned to be enclosed at Ainderby, near Hampole, eventually moving into Rolle's own cell where she died about 1405.

Let us turn back to this earliest extant version of Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love, the British Library's Amherst Manuscript written out not in Norfolk, but in Lincolnshire, dialect. The first texts in this manuscript, in separate gatherings from the rest, include translations of Richard Rolle's De emendatione vitae , and Incendium amoris, made by the Carmelite Prior Richard Misyn for the Anchoress Margaret Heslyngton in 1434 and 1435, are later than Julian of Norwich's dates. It is possible that the Lincolnshire Carmelite Richard Misyn may himself be the scribe of this manuscript, gathering material for it for women anchoresses and from women anchoresses and including there texts by women anchoresses, beguines and nuns, Julian of Norwich, Marguerite Porete and Birgitta of Sweden, over two decades.His material collected into the Amherst Manuscript may even have come from Julian's own library, called in by William Alnwick, Bishop of Norwich (1426-1436), who then became Bishop of Lincoln (1436-1449), who relentlessly persecuted Lollards, and who was one of Joan of Arc's judges condemning her at Rouen, 24 May 1431. This pairing of men and women, as with Richard Misyn, O.Carm., and Margaret Heslyngton, can be seen as well with Adam Hemlyngton, O.Carm., with a doctorate in theology from Oxford, as spiritual director to Dame Emma Stapleton, daughter of Sir Miles Stapleton, enclosed at the Carmelite friary from 1421-1442. /Ann K. Warren, Anchorites and Their Patrons in Medieval England, pp. 213-214. Agnes Stapleton wills a manuscript of Chastising of God's Children, p. 215./ Julian and Dame Emma Stapleton's father would have been acquainted with each other, Sir Miles being the executor of the Countess of Suffolk's Will, bequeathing twenty shillings to Julian, Anchoress in Norwich.

A further such pairing is with Master Alan of Lynn, O.Carm., indicer to Birgitta of Sweden's Revelationes /Oxford, Lincoln College, Lat. 69./, Margery Kempe's great friend and director. She speaks of him as 'A worschepful doctour of dyuynite whych hygth Maysyr Aleyn, a Whyte Frer', that is a Carmelite. So also was William Southfield, O.Carm., a White Friar, a Carmelite, who was visited by Margery in Norwich at the same time she encountered Julian in her Anchorhold there.

Although most scholarship on the Amherst Manuscript's florilegium views it through Carthusian spectacles, for it came into the ownership of Carthusian Sheen and Brigittine Syon, it clearly had Carmelite origins and likely was transmitted along the Norfolk/Lincolnshire axis by these Carmelites, and thus is deserving of further study in the context of Norwich and Lincoln White Friars, themselves living in 'cells of self knowledge' in their ministry to enclosed women contemplatives in their 'anchorholds of self knowledge'.

V. Birgitta of Sweden and Chiara Gambacorta

irgitta of Sweden was the mother of eight children, an indefatigable pilgrim, who when left a widow journeyed to Rome for the Jubilee Year of 1300. There she found lodging in a Cardinal's Palace with a window, a hagioscope looking upon the altar of San Lorenzo in Damaso, where she would pray and write. This period of intense anachoritic contemplation prompted her composition of the Sermo Angelicus, the dictation to her of the Offices for the nuns to recite of the Brigittine Order she founded. Later, she was evicted from that palace and moved to that of Francesca Papazuri in the Piazza Farnese.

In Birgitta's seventieth year, when dying, she journeyed to Jerusalem and Bethlehem on pilgrimage, writing every day about her visions, her prophecies. She was accompanied on that pilgrimage by the ruler of Pisa, Pietro Gambacorti, and by Bishop Hermit Alfonso of Jačn, who had become her spiritual director and the editor of her massive Revelationes . Her models are St Helena and St Jerome's St Paula who similarly journeyed to the Holy Places having visions there.

The Gambacorti had a young daughter, who was friends with Catherine of Siena and who insisted, despite her parents' opposition, on becoming a Dominican nun, taking the name in religion of Chiara. Bishop Hermit Alfonso of Jačn, who was both Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena's spiritual director, strongly supported Chiara Gambacorta and gave her a copy of the Revelationes. She succeeded in founding a monastery in Pisa, living a contemplative life, and she filled her convent with paintings about St Catherine of Siena and St Birgitta of Sweden. Especially these paintings dwell on the scenes of St Birgitta in the act of contemplation and in contemplative writing. The cells of self knowledge of Saints Catherine and Birgitta become her own. Today, her tiny body, like St Umilta`'s large one at Bagni a Ripoli, lies in a glass coffin beneath the altar of her convent's church in Pisa.

VI. Julian of Norwich

ulian's context, even if only gauged from the manuscripts containing her work, is fairly and squarely in the midst of such contemplative 'cells of self-knowledge'.

Julian in the Westminster Manuscript, which seems to replicate the earliest version of her Showing of Love , states it is

is readier to us and more easy to come to the knowing of God than to knowing of our own soul. For our soul is so deep grounded /Ephesians 3.17./ in God and so endlessly treasured that we may not come to the knowing thereof until we have first knowing of God which is the maker to whom it is oned. But, notwithstanding, I saw that we have naturally of fullness to desire wisely and truly to know our own soul, whereby we are taught to seek it where it is, and that is in God, and thus by the gracious leading of the holy Spirit, we should know them both in one. Whether we be guided to know God, or our own soul, both are good and true.

God is nearer to us than our own soul, for he is ground in whom our soul stands, and he is the means that keeps the substance and the sensuality together so that it shall never depart.

For our soul sits in God, in true rest, and our soul stands in God in sure strength, and our soul is naturally rooted in God, in endless love. /Ephesians 3.17./ And therefore if we will have knowing of our soul, and communing and da- liance therewith, it is right to seek into our lord God in whom it is enclosed.

And then our substance may rightfully be called our soul, and then our sensuality may rightfully be called our soul, and that is by the oneing that it has in God. That worshipful city

that our lord Jesus sits in, it is our sensuality, in which he is enclosed, and our natural substance is beclosed in Jesus Christ, with the blessed soul of Christ sitting in rest in the Godhead. And I saw full surely that it is right that we shall be in longing and in penance, until the time that we be led so deep in to God that we may verily and truly know our own soul. And truly I saw that into this great deepness our Lord himself leads us in the same love that he made us, and in the same love that he bought us, by his mercy and grace through virtue of his blessed Passion. And notwithstanding all this we may never come to the full knowing of God, until we first know clearly our own soul. For until the time that it be in the

full strength we may not be all fully holy.

Julian's editor, who is likely Cardinal Adam Easton, the Norwich Benedictine and colleague of Bishop Hermit Alfonso of Jačn, director of Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Chiara Gambacorta, describes the contents of the Forty-Sixth Chapter of the Long Text:

While Julian's text reads: Julian, like Socrates, if it is she who writes the Norwich Castle Manuscript which includes Pelagius/Jerome's Letter to the Maid Demetriade who had Vowed Virginity, again says there ' Also it is nedful to make man and woman to know himself '. For each of these there has been the need to withdraw, like Christ in the Wilderness, into themselves, confronting themselves and evil and God, to then advise others in their spiritual combat.

We recall how Julian's texts oscillate between Annunciation and Crucifixion, mirroring the 'Book of Life of Christ' within her own 'Book of Julian of Norwich', as Angela of Foligno had counselled we ourselves do. Julian's anchorhold may mirror less the Crucifixion than it does the knitting and weaving of the life of Christ within herself, as in Psalm 139, within her body, her mind, her soul /Angelo of Foligno, Instructions XXII: pp. 293-299, XXXIV: p. 302/ , Julian's anchorhold becoming like that cave at Bethlehem (meaning House of Bread) where Christ was born, that cave at Bethlehem where Paula, Eustochium and Jerome laboured anew to give birth to the Word as the Biblia Vulgata, in their Latin tongue, the caves at Bethlehem to which St Birgitta of Sweden, Margery Kempe of Lynn and John Paul II of Rome, journeyed on their pilgrimages. In this Norwich anchorhold Julian labours in her English tongue to similarly give birth to the Word as prophecy of ourselves and God. But she does so in a pilgrimage within, not journeying to distant shrines.

Turino Vanni, Birgitta's Vision at Bethlehem . Commissioned by Chiara Gambacorta for her convent of San Domenico, now in Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa.

VII. Francesca Romana (+1440)

rancesca Romana in the following century, a married woman with children, founded an order of oblates, creating for them a monastery, her own cell by the chapel, where later where frescoed horrendous scenes of the temptations that beseiged her in prayer. Yet she was able to emerge from these images of terror, capable of miracles of healing to all those about her.

See Santa Francesca Romana and the Torre de' Specchi, Trauma and Healing: Santa Francesca Romana General/Contemplative/Scholar

These Christian women underwent something similar to a Shaman's Spirit Quest, or a Freudian analyst's psychoanalysis. They withdrew to learn themselves and God, like Mary pondering on all these things in her heart; then, when the world sought them out as divine prophets and messianic healers, they were capable of the tasks laid upon them, for instance advising a Margery Kempe to undertake her pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the writing of a book about it as therapy for what ailed her.

VIII. Elizabeth Barton

ut in 1534 storm clouds were gathering, due to Elizabeth Barton of Kent's writing a 'greate boke' of Revelations modeled on those of St Birgitta of Sweden and St Catherine of Siena, made available to her at Syon Abbey. Her spiritual director was Dr Edward Bocking, a Canterbury Benedictine. Already Robert Redman had printed a pamphlet on Elizabeth Barton's miraculous cure from an illness in Kent. Then 'Thomas Laurence of Canturbury being regester to the Archidecon of Canturbury, at the instance and desyre of the seid Edwarde Bockyng wrott a greate boke of the seid falce and feyned myracles and revelations of the seid Elizabeth in a fayre hande redy to be a copye to the prynter when the seid booke shulde be put to stampe', and that book was printed in seven hundred copies by John Skot in 1530, one copy even reaching Tyndale in exile in Antwerp.

The Holy Maid of Kent, Elizabeth Barton, had fearlessly spoken out against Henry VIII's divorcing Katharine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn, Bishop John Fisher and Cardinal Wolsey being swayed by her, though Thomas More, who spoke with her at Syon Abbey, expressed scepticism. Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer on behalf of the King had all copies of these books seized and destroyed and, on the 20th of April, 1534, Elizabeth Barton, Benedictine nun of St Sepulchre's Canterbury and Dr Edward Bocking, Benedictine monk of Canterbury Cathedral, were drawn from the Tower to Tyburn, hanged and quartered. Thus the Reformation began, and with it ended the 'cells of self-knowledge' of English anchoresses.

Two women, Marguerite Porete, in 1310, Elizabeth Barton, in 1534, were both executed for their theological books, the first perhaps influencing Julian, and with her text in the earliest extant manuscript, the Amherst, with ties to Syon Abbey, the second woman certainly influenced by Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and likely also by Julian of Norwich, whose manuscripts, and in the case of Catharina, the printed book, The Orcherd of Syon, were present at Syon Abbey in English versions where she worked on her 'greate boke' of Revelations. The encouragement by the Canterbury Benedictine, Dr Edward Bocking, of the Maid of Kent, Elizabeth Barton, was modelled on that of Magister Mathias and Bishop Hermit Alfonso of Jaen collaborating with Birgitta of Sweden on her Revelationes , and could have also been drawn from the Norwich Benedictine, Cardinal Adam Easton, collaborating with the Anchoress, Dame Julian of Norwich, on her Showing of Love, and from the learned Carmelite Doctor of Theology, Adam Hemlyngton, and the Anchoress, Dame Emma Stapleton of Norwich, /Ann K. Warren, Anchorites and Their Patrons in Medieval England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 213-214./ even shown in the more homely version of the various scribes assisting in the writing of The Book of Margery Kempe in nearby Lynn.

Indeed we need to look at a series of books, all of which are couched about with prefaces and/or colophons, with editorial voices as well as authorial ones, Jerome enveloping Paula and Eustochium in their Bethelehem cave with careful prefaces and epistles, Gregory writing the Dialogue in which we hear the voices of Scholastica and Benedict dialogue, the Benedictine hagiographer of the Vita of Christina of Markyate, Cardinal Jacques de Vitry's hagiography of the Beguine Marie d'Oignes, Fra Arnaldo's Memorials of the Book of Angela of Foligno , Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls, The Cloud of Unknowing's colophon likely to a contemplative woman of 24, knowing no Latin, Birgitta of Sweden's Revelationes and its Epistola Solitarii penned by Alfonso of Jačn, Catherine of Siena's Dialogo, dictated to her male disciples, Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love in the Sloane Manuscripts with chapter headings and colophon likely penned by Alfonso's colleague, Cardinal Adam Easton, O.S.B., the Book of Margery Kempe , whose second scribe is Alan of Lynn, O.Carm., indexer of Birgitta's Revelationes, the lost Revelations of Elizabeth Barton, organized by Dr Edward Bocking, O.S.B. Women become authors of and in their enclosed lives through enclosure within men's prefaces, epistles, colophons. Men and women together build cells of self-knowledge, within both silence and in dialogue.

For there are so many echoes between the writings of these different women, from the twelfth- through the sixteenth centuries, that one queries whether this is the result of inner contemplation, within one's cell of self knowledge, or whether they have been told of the contents of their predecessors' books. Are we dealing with spiritual resemblances, or intellectual borrowings? As a scholar I continue to sift the evidence, checking as to what manuscripts of what texts are available where. As a contemplative I find myself responding to these texts in their own right, as cells not only of their knowledge, but of ours, that paradox in which a cell becomes the boundless universe, and more, God's presence.

Mount Grace Priory Charterhouse


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