Visionary “Staycations”: Meeting God at Home in Medieval Women’s Vision Literature
By Jessica Barr
Medieval Feminist Forum, Vol.52:2 (2016)
Abstract: Medieval vision literature frequently features descriptions of supernatural travel: to Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory, or to locations that allow the visionary to receive knowledge to which she would not normally be privy. A less explored trope of this literature, however, is the travel-without-travel that occurs when the visionary’s physical location is overlaid with a transcendent mode of perception.
This essay will analyze such moments of spatial transformation in late medieval visionary and hagiographic narratives. In the vitae of many medieval holy women, visions that transform the domestic sphere figure as evidence of their sanctity; in first-person visionary accounts, on the other hand, they are signifiers of divine intimacy, presenting the immediately inhabited, physical world as a potential point of access to God.
Whereas hagiographies use the transformation of inhabited space to distinguish their saintly subjects from their sister nuns, women’s first-person visionary accounts are more concerned with conveying to their audiences a transformed understanding of the physical world, thereby bringing their audiences into intimacy with God.
Top Image: Saint Gertrude of Helfta on a stained-glass window at the Ballymote Church of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert / Wikimedia Commons