Spirituality and Self-Representation in The Life of Christina Mirabilis

Spirituality and Self-Representation in The Life of Christina Mirabilis

Giglio, Katheryn M.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 15 (1998)


In her introduction to The Life of Christina Mirabilis, translator Margot King acknowledges the personal fascination that lay between the lines of her scrupulous scholarship. In a brief autobiographical gesture, King notes:

I must confess that it was not only Christina’s dendrite practices which first attracted me [to the work]. I have always been more than a little attracted to outrageous behaviors and certainly the life abounds with bizarre episodes.

After reading King’s confession, I began to examine more closely the textual elements that pulled me, without the context of a classroom, back to Christina’s life. I am usually neither drawn to nor at home with the excessive behavior of others: the first thing I mastered upon moving to Chicago was how to deftly slide away from any people cackling to themselves on the train. After all, I have been successfully socialized into a process of erasure. My aunt Helen, for example, had only three fingers on her right hand and was institutionalized most of her life for something my family called “nervousness.” I don’t know if her lack of fingers, bad nerves, and hospitalization are connected: I would guess and hope not, but that is the point: I don’t know. Hidden away, Helen was seldom discussed. I grew up fearful of her, or rather, of the difference that she had come to represent. Whenever my brothers or I exhibited childishly odd behavior such as climbing trees while shouting Monkees lyrics, the name of Helen became a threat. “You’ll be just like Helen,” warned my mother, going suddenly tight-lipped, “if you’re all not careful!” Reading Christina’s biography was at first a luxury, offering me an encounter with difference tempered by safe, critical distance.

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