ReVISION: Re-assessing St. Birgitta and her Revelations in Medieval England: Circulation and Influence, 1380-1530
Young Research Talents Grant, 2019-2024 (7,500,000 NOK)
Norwegian Research Council
Holy woman Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73) was well-known across the Continent and in England through her huge collection of divine visions, the Latin Revelations, which was translated into many vernaculars. However, our understanding of Birgitta’s influence in England is uneven because most of her English texts have not been edited, and her influence on literature and religion remains understudied.
This project proposes the first comprehensive study of the full impact of Birgitta and her Revelations on medieval England. How were her texts received and circulated, and what was the extent of her influence? A bold overarching hypothesis will be tested: that from around 1380 until the English Reformation in the 1530s, Birgitta was in fact the most influential female author in medieval England, indelibly shaping English society - and, at the same time, the English also shaped Birgitta and her texts to fit their own needs and tastes, sometimes through dramatic adaptation.
In order to test this hypothesis, the project combines three innovative methodologies. First, we will create a multi-faceted, open-access database of English manuscripts and other evidence related to Birgitta. Second, select Middle English versions of Birgitta’s Revelations will be edited for the first time, in both print and digital editions. Third, we will produce network graphs that can illuminate how Birgitta’s texts circulated in England, and how her influence spread. Finally, with all this knowledge combined, our analysis will enable us to suggest a new narrative of women’s writing in England, centered on Birgitta of Sweden as the most influential female author. Altogether, the project will advance our understanding of how gender, authorship, and religious literature functioned in late medieval England.
Richard Methley, O. Carth. (d. 1527/8)
A Carthusian monk's neglected, idiosyncratic mystical treatises
Richard Methley was a monk of the contemplative Carthusian Order, at the charterhouse of Mount Grace, in the decades just before the Dissolution. He wrote down many of his mystical and visionary experiences in Latin treatises that have previously been very hard to access. Now Barbara Newman has translated them for the first time, and I have written a 15,000 word “Introduction” to the translation volume, coming out with Cistercian Publications (Liturgical Press) in January 2021. I also supply the translation of his Middle English work "To Hugh Hermit: An Epistle on Solitary Life Nowadays."
Also, I have a related journal article forthcoming: “‘Writing—to the Moment:’ Narrative Immediacy, Mystical Theology, and the Sanctification of Time in Richard Methley’s Refectorium Salutis,” Viator 51 No. 2 (2021 for 2020): 297-333.
The Works of Richard Methley, trans. Barbara Newman,
intro. Laura Saetveit Miles
(Cistercian Publications, Jan 2021)
Advance critical acclaim
“This book makes available in modern English one of the most significant contributions to the contemplative tradition of fifteenth-century England. By fusing in such a sophisticated way the apophatic and the cataphatic approaches to the contemplative life as part of his experience, Methley’s writings challenge our contemporary desire for categorization and division. The excellent translations by Barbara Newman bring to light the daily mystical experiences and the pastoral concerns of a Carthusian monk following a strict monastic life. Her notes and the outstanding general introduction by Laura Saetveit Miles provide a wealth of information about the rich religious tradition from which Methley’s corpus emerged.” Denis Renevey, Professor of Medieval English Language and Literature, University of Lausanne
“This lucid new translation of the writings of Richard Methley offers an intoxicating, not to say spiritually inebriated account of his search for union with God. An assiduous reader and translator of earlier contemplative texts, he blends together the languor of Richard Rolle, the apophatic austerity of the Cloud-author, the theological intensity of Heinrich Suso and the devotio moderna, and the liquefying ardour of Marguerite Porete. The resulting synthesis produces a new, urgently prophetic voice of meltingly eloquent spiritual longing existing in transcendent tension with the structures of his daily life as a Carthusian.” Vincent Gillespie, J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English, University of Oxford
“Barbara Newman's translation of Richard Methley’s original Latin and Middle English works brings this important but little-known mystical writer to wider attention. Compared to Margery Kempe by the ‘red-ink annotator’ of her Book, Methley offers essential perspective on late-medieval Carthusian spirituality, affective devotion, and visionary experience—all helpfully contextualized here in an introduction by Laura Saetveit Miles. Scholars of late-medieval religion will be grateful for this excellent and essential volume.” Jessica Brantley, Professor of English, Yale University
"Women's Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon"
Member, Leverhulme International Network (2014-17)
PI: Professor Diane Watt, University of Surrey
For more on the network, see its website.
Forthcoming publications originating in the network:
Laura Saetveit Miles and Diane Watt, eds., Studies in the Age of Chaucer special colloquium: “Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon.” December 2020.
Laura Saetveit Miles and Diane Watt, “Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon,” introduction to Studies in the Age of Chaucer special colloquium. December 2020.
Laura Saetveit Miles, “Canon, Anon., a Nun: Queering the Medieval Canon.” Article in Studies in the Age of Chaucer. December 2020.