Monastic Vernacularities – Syon Abbey Society session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies

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 Here are the three papers given at ‘Monastic Vernacularities’ a session organized by the Syon Abbey Society, given at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, held at Western Michigan University, on May 11, 2012

The papers given at this session are:

“Reading Chaucer and Lydgate at Syon: Politics, Aesthetics, and the Roles of Vernacular Literature in English Brigittine Culture”, by Nancy Bradley Warren, Texas A & M University

This paper examines two manuscripts containing texts by Chaucer and Lydgate owned by the nuns of Syon to explore the political and spiritual dimensions of Brigittine nuns’ reading fourteenth- and fifteenth-century texts that might seem to fall toward the more “secular” end of a spectrum of medieval English writing. The presence of such material in the nuns’ library suggests that the Syon sisters seem to have seen themselves, and to have been seen by others, as able to learn lessons of good government and right rule from the Chaucerian / Lydgatean tradition—possibly not the first source that might come to mind to instruct nuns on these topics, and possibly not lessons we imagine nuns wanting or needing to learn in the first place. Examination of these manuscripts also demonstrates that for the Syon nuns such texts had a place, if perhaps not precisely in the camp of vernacular theology, then at least in the camp of works of spiritual instruction, and the spiritual value of the Chaucerian / Lydgatean tradition is linked as much to literary aesthetics as it is to the textual content itself.

“Rolle Three Ways: BL Add. 37790, BL Add. 37049, TCC O.2.56 and Carthusian Vernacularities”, by Katherine Zieman, University of Notre Dame

This paper will examine three appropriations of the works of Richard Rolle in Carthusian manuscripts: first, the situating of Richard Misyn’s translation of the Emendatio vitae and Incendium amoris, along with excerpts of Rolle’s English writings in the Amherst Manuscript, alongside the the visionary works of Julian and Marguerite Porete; second, Rolle’s lyric presence in BL Add. 37049; and finally, Richard Methley’s imitation of Rolle in the spiritual diaries of Trinity College Cambridge MS O.2.56. Though only the first two manuscripts are in English, I argue that all three represent facets of “vernacular” practice in ways that prompt us to question both the parameters of what we mean by “vernacular” as well as the kind of interchange between lay and monastic spheres that these Carthusian vernacularities represent.

“Dreaming the Vernacular: Liturgy (just) after Becket”, by Bruce Holsinger, University of Virginia

This paper will investigate the role of liturgical ritual in shaping the history of Middle English lyric and vernacular lyricism more broadly, from the late twelfth century through the fifteenth. Beginning with the liturgical aftereffects of Thomas à Becket’s assassination, I will examine a number of poems and collections that exemplify in various ways the formal and institutional pressures of liturgy on vernacular making. The paper will conclude with a brief look at The Myroure of Oure Ladye for its lyrical approach to liturgical genre and form.

The Organizer and Chair of this session was Laura Saetveit Miles

The Syon Abbey Society is a scholarly society, founded in 2009, that aims to promote the study of the history and literature of Syon Abbey, a monastic house founded in 1415 under the Birgittine Rule. Please visit their website to learn more about their academic activities.

Sharan Newman