Prof. Lisa Wolverton                                                                                                                                               Spring 2014

325 McKenzie Hall

Office Hours:  Mon 10-noon


HIST 407

Late Medieval Holy Women


This course explores the intersection of gender and spirituality in Western Europe from, roughly, 1200 to 1450.  We will focus in particular on women living in two distinct geographic regions:  Northern Europe and Italy.  In the Rhineland, Netherlands, and Northeastern France we will consider the goals of lay women living in religious community (called beguines) and the place of these women in the so-called mystical tradition of Christian spirituality.  Turning to Italy, we will devote particular attention to the ascetic practices and charitable activities of women like Catherine of Siena and Angela of Foligno, their interactions with clerical authorities, and their relationships to the men who would become their hagiographers.

Our discussions will revolve mostly around five key issues:  

Š          whether medieval women developed a distinctively feminine spirituality;

Š          the relationship between radical asceticism and spiritual authority;

Š          how spiritual expression and practice acted as a means of self- or social empowerment;

Š          the special, often contested, relationship between holy women and their male confessors; and

Š          the rhetorical techniques male biographers used to shape the meaning of women’s lives and reputations, for themselves and for posterity.

To ground our exploration in its social context, we begin with a discussion of holiness and sanctity in the late Middle Ages per se, reading Aviad Kleinberg’s Living Saints and the Making of Sainthood.  In the fourth week we will focus closely on the writing and spiritual teaching of just one of these exceptional women, Angela of Foligno.

These two are the only books required for undergraduates; they are available for purchase at the UO Bookstore.  The books for Week 5, by Kieckhefer and Bynum, are on reserve at Knight Library.  All other required reading is available electronically via Blackboard.

Course Objectives

Learn to read and evaluate primary source texts in light both of contemporary norms and expectations, and of modern scholarly insights.   

Analyze primary sources and write an historical research paper.


Assignments and Evaluation

This course is a research seminar for senior history, medieval studies, and women’s studies majors.  The main requirement for the course is a research paper of approximately 15 pages, based on primary sources, preferably writings by or about a particular religious woman.  (To begin identifying a woman to study, the following list might be useful:  Holy Women.) 

Students will also be required to give an in-class presentation:  Each student will choose a section of the primary source upon which his or her paper will be based, circulate it to other students before class, and lead class discussion.  Together we will talk about interpretation, and compare.

The grade distribution for undergraduates is as follows:


20%      participation in class discussions

30%      class presentation

50%      final paper


This course is simultaneously a graduate-level seminar (Hist 507).  Graduate students will not be expected to present final in-class presentations, and may choose research paper topics more freely.  Graduate research papers should still, however, reflect close work with primary sources, in the original languages when possible.  Papers should be 25-30 pages long (and no longer).  Additional reading will also be assigned to be discussed at extra class meetings (usually four monographs in their entirety).


The grade distribution for graduate students is as follows:


30%   participation in regular and separate class discussions

70%   final paper





Apr 1                     Introduction to the Course

                                    In-class reading:         Hadewijch, poems and visions of Love

                                                                                          Jacques de Vitry on the beguines


Apr 8                    Living Saints

Aviad M. Kleinberg, Prophets in their Own Country:  Living Saints and the Making of Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages (Chicago, 1992).


Apr 15                   Visionary Experience

Barbara Newman, “What Did It Mean to Say ‘I Saw’?  The Clash Between Theory and Practice in Medieval Visionary Culture,” Speculum 80 (2005):  1-43.

Sara Lipton, “’The Sweet Lean of His Head’:  Writing about Looking at the Crucifix in the High Middle Ages,” Speculum 80 (2005):  1172-1208.

Jeffrey Hamburger, “The Visual and the Visionary:  The Image in Late Medieval Monastic Devotion,” in The Visual and the Visionary:  Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (New York, 1998), pp. 111-48.


Apr 22                  A Woman’s Teaching

Angela of Foligno, Memorial, ed. Cristina Mazzoni, trans. John Cirignano (Rochester, NY, 1999), pp. 23-78.    QUESTIONS


Plus, choose one of the following:

a) Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. Frank Tobin (New York, 1998), pp. 84-98.

b) Marguerite Porette, The Mirror of Simple Souls, trans. E. Colledge, J.C. Marler, and Judith Grant (Notre Dame, 1999), pp. 9-21.

c) The Letters of Catherine of Siena, trans. Suzanne Noffke (Tempe, 2000 & 2001), vol. I, pp. 57-8; vol. II, pp. 5-12.

d) Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, trans. Elizabeth Spearing (Penguin Classics, 1998), pp. 3-13.


                                    submit tentative paper topics and bibliography


Apr 29                  Radical Asceticism

Richard Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls:  Fourteenth-century Saints and Their Religious Milieu (Chicago, 1984), pp. 21-49 (all); and Chapter 3, 4, or 5 (subgroups, with class presentations).

Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast, Holy Fast (Berkeley/Los Angeles, 1987), Chapters 3 or 4 (all); and Chapter 6, 7, 8, or 9 (subgroups, with class presentations)


May 6                   Women Visionaries/Male Confessors; Women Saints/Male Hagiographers

Raymond of Capua, Life of Catherine of Siena, trans. Conleth Kearns (Wilmington, Del.: Glazier, 1980), pp. 113-57.


John Coakley, “Gender and the Authority of Friars:  The Significance of Holy Women for Thirteenth-Century Franciscans and Dominicans,” Church History 60 (1991):  445-60.

Catherine M. Mooney, “The Authorial Role of Brother A. in the Composition of Angela of Foligno’s Revelations,” in Creative Women in Medieval and Early Modern Italy, ed. E. Ann Matter and John Coakley (Philadephia, 1994), pp. 34-63.

Dyan Elliott, “Authorizing a Life:  The Collaboration of Dorothea of Montau and John Marienwerder,” in Gendered Voices, ed. Catherine M. Mooney (Philadelphia, 1999), pp. 168-91.


May 13                 no class – meet with instructor

submit revised paper topics, bibliography, and primary text selection for presentations


May 20                student-led source readings


May 27                 no class – writing time


June 3                  exchange of rough drafts



Final papers are due Monday June 9  at 1 pm (our officially scheduled exam time) in my office, 325 McKenzie

Unexcused late papers will be penalized.