Continental Women Mystics and English Readers

Julian of Norwich - Statue of Julian on the front of Norwich Cathedral, holding the book Revelations of Divine Love

Julian of Norwich – Statue of Julian on the front of Norwich Cathedral, holding the book Revelations of Divine Love

Continental women mystics and English readers

Alexandra Barratt

The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing: eds.  Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace (Cambridge University Press, 2003)


In 1406 Sir Henry later Lord Fitzhugh, trusted servant of King Henry IV, visited Vadstena, the Bridgettine monastery for men and women in Sweden. Vadstena was the mother-house of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour and had been founded by the controversial continental mystic St Bridget of Sweden, who had died in 1373 and had been canonized in Fitzhugh was so impressed by what he saw that he gave one of his manors near Cambridge as the future site for an English Bridgettine foundation.

It was not until 1415 that Henry V, son of Henry IV, laid the foundation-stone of Syon Abbey at Twickenham in Middlesex and Fitzhugh’s dream became a reality. But Fitzhugh’s generous gesture is an indication of the degree of pious and aristocratic interest in the Swedish visionary and prophet in early fifteenth-century England.

Margery of Lynn; Julian of Norwich
Two years earlier, in 1413, Margery Kempe of Lynn in East Anglia had been granted an interview by Philip Repingdon, Bishop of Lincoln. His visitor intrigued him; he listened sympathetically to her account of her spiritual experiences and then made an unusual suggestion:

sche schewyd hym hyr meditacyons and hy [high] contemplacyons and other secret thyngys bothe of qwylc [living] and ded as Owyr Lord schewyd [revealed] tohiresowle.Hewasrygthgladtoherynhem[them] . cowriselyng[advising] hire sadly [seriouslyl that hire felyngys [thoughtsl schuld be wretyn [written
downl .

To Margery the idea that she should have her spiritual experiences set down in writing had the shock of the new, and she refused, saying that this was not God’s will. But to Repingdon Margery must have seemed a fascinating home-grown variety of a species with which he, as a late medieval Latinate and cosmopolitan cleric, would have been familiar: the European woman mystic.

Click here to read this article from the The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing

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