Miles, Laura Saetveit. The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England (Woodbridge, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2020), 312 pp.
An exploration of the Annunciation scene (Luke 1:26-38) in the literature and art of the Middle Ages, this monograph presents the first full-length analysis of the motif of Mary’s book and argues that her reading offered one of the most powerful models of reading and devotion for medieval readers – particularly enclosed religious women and female visionaries.
2022 WINNER Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship First Book Prize
2021 WINNER American Society of Church History Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize, for outstanding scholarship in the history of Christianity by a first-time author
2022 MAY Now available in paperback!
Video recording of Book Launch Webinar 25 March 2020
Boydell & Brewer 'Proofed' Blog Post 25 March 2020
The Introduction and Chapter 4 (on visionary women) are now available Open Access, available via Boydell & Brewer's new OA platform here.
"This is a brilliantly conceived volume. [...] In making her case for various forms of imitatio Mariae, Miles both corrects some scholarly views of Mary as primarily a tool for medieval women’s subjection and recovers an underexplored locus for women’s subjectivity and spirituality." AMY-JILL LEVINE, Choice Reviews
"Tout au long du livre, chaque aspect de l’Annonciation est minutieusement examiné à partir d’un corpus de textes dont le choix, systématiquement justifié par Miles, révèle le travail d’une cher- cheuse avertie. [...] L’apport de The Virgin Mary Book at the Annunciation est, par conséquent, indéniable."
(Throughout the book, each aspect of the Annunciation is carefully examined from a body of texts whose choice, systematically justified by Miles, reveals the work of an informed researcher. [...] The contribution of The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation is, therefore, undeniable.) Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique
"Miles’ methodology is genuinely exciting, and this book demonstrates what a historically and theologically literate literary criticism can achieve." International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church
"The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation is a thoughtful, well-written monograph, and it offers much to its readers. Both wide ranging in scope of materials and narrow in its focus, this book will be extremely useful for scholars of medieval devotional thought, literacy, art, and texts." The Medieval Review
"Beautifully written and impeccably produced, this volume will appeal across disciplines and medievalist fields and both to scholars and (advanced) students. The prose zings and sings. [...] Readers interested in medieval spirituality, literature, art, and Mariology will find much of worth in this attractive, compelling work. Like sunlight through glass, to borrow a medieval Incarnation metaphor, it fruitfully illuminates our knowledge of medieval devotion, interpretation, and literature." Medieval Feminist Forum
"An important and innovative contribution to scholarship, this monograph demonstrates that Mary’s book – and also her exemplarity as a reader who conceived Christ in her own soul – offered the Middle Ages a very particular kind of radical potential for dislocating, relocating and re-gendering masculinist power – a potential that could be (and was) made actuality in textual and devotional practice." IAN JOHNSON, Professor of English literature, University of St. Andrews, UK
"As Miles’ book has proven—with a granular detail and an always-impressively-wide range of reference—the idea of the Virgin Mary as reader was also a subtle but insistent method for celebrating female literacy and its possibilities, and, in that way, a powerful strategy for showing how women could authoritatively interpret (in this sense, Miles shows, Christ was a book that Mary read into existence). In all her work, Miles offers her own fine readings of texts both obscure and canonical, finding in each and all of them a story as crucial to literary and intellectual history as it is, in her own words, so compellingly told." CHRISTOPHER CANNON, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of English and Classics, Johns Hopkins University
"In several places Miles shows a special mastery in keeping important concepts and histories in play; the opening of Chapter 5 particularly stands out for its commanding synthesis of what has gone before and its movement into original territory. The history of Mary's reading at the Annunciation comes through so clearly, and I learned so much." GEORGIANA DONAVIN, Professor of English, Westminster College
"The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation is a model of innovative and serious scholarship, presented in beautiful prose. She combines literary analysis with art history and manuscript studies to shed new light on the figure of the Virgin Mary in the period. Studying depictions of Mary reading, Miles persuasively interprets her as the model female reader, an active topic in the field and one that Miles has done more than anyone to bring to prominence." MICHELLE KARNES, Associate professor of English, Notre Dame University
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Syon Abbey and the Birgittines” in Women and Medieval Literary Culture from the Early Middle Ages to the Fifteenth Century, ed. Corinne Saunders and Diane Watt (Cambridge University Press, 2023), pp. 104-123.
This essay explores the rich textual history of Syon Abbey, the only English house of St Birgitta of Sweden's Order of St Saviour, its community of nuns and brothers. While the significance of Syon within the late medieval English cultural landscape cannot be overemphasised, its textual community is also representative of the intricacies of women's literary culture. Syon women, including superiors as well as aristocratic lay women with close ties to the abbey, were engaged in the commissioning and dissemination of texts. The Syon community and its abbesses were quick to exploit the new technology of printing, and also supported by the patronage of wealthy noble women, such as Lady Margaret Beaufort. However, the textuality of the abbey expanded beyond these powerful women to include the wider community of Syon nuns, and beyond England into continental Europe.
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Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Birgittine Borrowings in the Middle English devotional compilation Meditaciones domini nostri,” in Birgittine Circles: People and Saints in the Medieval World, ed. Mia Åkestam, Elin Andersson & Ingela Hedström, KKHA Konfersenser no. 110 (Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien, 2023), pp. 11-37.
Birgitta's Revelations were frequently borrowed into Middle English devotional compilations, vastly expanding her influence. This chapter examines the compilation with the most and longest Birgittine borrowings, Meditaciones domini nostri. It argues that the borrowings strategically elevate the Virgin Mary’s position in the biblical narrative in a way that validates women’s power among and over men, providing a remarkable model for its possible audience, the nuns at Syon Abbey.
Volume website with order option and Open Access for full volume
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “‘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.
Richard Methley (d. 1527/8), a Carthusian monk in the north of England, wrote a series of mystical treatises in Latin that have received minimal attention from modern scholars. For that reason it has gone unnoticed that in his diary-like work Refectorium salutis (The Refectory of Salvation) Methley employs a quite unusual narrative strategy: he writes down his visionary experiences as they are happening, giving an immediacy to his text that the British literary tradition does not see the likes of until hundreds of years later with the development of the novel and Samuel Richardson’s experimentations with “writing-to the moment.” This essay sets Methley’s own precocious moments of “writing-to the moment” in the context of his text’s coherent program of temporal markers, extending from the liturgical year, to the hours of the Divine Office, to the indivisible instant and the “now” of the eternal present shared by narrator and reader-and God.
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INTRODUCTION TO TRANSLATION
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Introduction” (pp. vii-liii) and translation of “To Hugh Hermit” (pp. 149-155), in The Works of Richard Methley, trans. Barbara Newman. Cistercian Studies Series No. 286 (Liturgical Press, Jan 2021)
In this volume, late-medieval Carthusian mystical author Richard Methley’s original works in Latin are translated for the first time by Barbara Newman, and I contribute the “Introduction” and a translation of the short Middle English letter “To Hugh Hermit.” The “Introduction” offers a comprehensive overview of Methley, his works, their manuscript context, sources and traditions, audience and subsequent influence. This is the most in-depth analysis of Methley’s texts yet published and synthesizes detailed examinations of surviving manuscript evidence as well as the treatises’ content. I make the claim that these works should be seen as part of a late-medieval fluorescence of Carthusian spirituality that was remarkable for England at the time. The publication of this volume will likely jump-start a long overdue, renewed scholarly interest in Methley.
“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 & Literature, University of Lausanne
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Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Beinecke MS 317 and its New Witness to the Latin Door Verses from London Charterhouse: A Story of Carthusian and Birgittine Literary Exchange” in Manuscript Culture and Medieval Devotional Traditions: Essays in Honour of Michael G. Sargent, ed. Jennifer N. Brown and Nicole R. Rice (York Medieval Press / Boydell & Brewer, March 2021), pp. 3-24.
A previously unidentified copy of a set of monastic contemplative poetic couplets is described and analyzed for the first time in this essay. These acrostic Latin door verses once each adorned the wall over each cell door of the London charterhouse and offer an important view into the literary culture of late-medieval monastic orders. In light of this new identification, I examine the manuscript context of Beinecke MS 317 and its links to both the Birgittines of Syon Abbey and the Carthusians. I argue that the texts and annotations in MS 317 testify to the fluid literary exchange which defined the close relationship between these contemplative monastic orders in late-medieval England.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Canon, Anon., a Nun: Queering the Canon with Medieval Devotional Prose.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 42 (2020): 295-310.
Miles, Laura Saetveit and Diane Watt. “Introduction” to 'Special Colloquium: Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval English Canon: Gender and Genre.' Studies in the Age of Chaucer 42 (2020): 285-293.
Volume 42 of the annual journal Studies in the Age of Chaucer presents a Special Colloquium on 'Women's Literary Culture and the Medieval English Canon: Gender and Genre,' a gathering of six essays co-edited by myself and Prof. Diane Watt (University of Surrey). In our co-authored 'Introduction,' we explain the impetus for examining questions of gender and genre, how we see the canon working today, and the international network behind the colloquium. In my single-authored article "Canon, Anon., a Nun," I propose that the fluid anonymity of much devotional prose can be seen as a queer challenge to the modern canon of medieval literature.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. "The Living Book of Cambridge, Trinity College MS B.15.42: Compilation, Meditation, and Vision" in Late Medieval Devotional Compilations in England, ed. Marleen Cré, Diana Denissen, Denis Renevey (Brepols, 2020), pp. 363-384.
Trinity College MS B.15.42 contains Richard Rolle's The Commandment, the anonymous compilations Meditaciones domini nostri and Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God, as well the purgatory visions of Tnugdal and the monk of Eynsham, among other texts. Yet it has never before been studied comprehensively. This article proposes that the manuscript draws the reader’s attention to the interconnectedness of body, contemplation, and vision, and the necessity of their juxtaposition for moral living and salvation. I weave together close readings of the individual texts with several codicological and paleographical factors: the order of the texts, their mise-en-page, the scribe’s use of rubrication, the addition of marginal drawings, and other evidence of reader use of the manuscript.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Queer Touch Between Holy Women: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Birgitta of Sweden, and the Visitation” in Touching, Devotional Practices and Visionary Experience in the Late Middle Ages, ed. David Carrillo-Rangel, Delfi I. Nieto-Isabel, and Pablo Acosta-Garcia (Palgrave, 2019), pp. 203-235.
This essay takes a new approach to the well-known meeting between two late-medieval English visionary women, Margery Kempe and the anchoress Julian of Norwich, as described in The Book of Margery Kempe. In this analysis their conversation subtly evokes a long history of women concentrating their subversive power through intimate, spiritual exchange. By examining Margery and Julian’s encounter, Luke’s Visitation passage, its depiction in a late-medieval Book of Hours, and comparing two different Middle English translations of a Visitation vision in Birgitta of Sweden’s Revelations, the full transgressive effect of queer touch between women—or even its unspoken possibility—emerges.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “‘Syon gostly’: Crafting Aesthetic Imaginaries and Stylistics of Existence in Medieval Devotional Culture,” in Emerging Aesthetic Imaginaries, ed. Lene Johannessen and Mark Ledbetter (Lexington Books, 2018), pp. 79-91.
In this essay I use Marielle Macé’s reader-response theory on how literature shapes the way we see the world, to examine how devotional texts borrow from Birgitta’s Revelations to train readers to see like her. Syon Abbey, in particular, cultivated a bespoke textual style rooted in the power of the female visionary.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “An Unnoticed Borrowing from the Treatise Of Three Workings In Man’s Soul in the Gospel Meditation Meditaciones Domini Nostri,” Journal of the Early Book Society 20 (2017): 277-284.
In this Nota bene piece, I draw attention to how an understudied Middle English life of Christ known as Meditaciones Domini Nostri borrows the long Annunciation passage from the treatise Of Three Workings in Man's Soul. This added focus on Mary's mystical prayer builds on the meditation's broader concern with women's visionary and contemplative abilities.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “The Origins and Development of Mary’s Book at the Annunciation,” Speculum 89 (2014): 1-38.
Winner, 2014-2015 Prize for Best Article, Society of Medieval Feminist Scholarship
Article of the Month, May 2015, Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index
This ground-breaking article surveys a huge range of artistic and textual sources, from the second century through the twelfth century, to pinpoint for the first time the rise of Mary’s reading in its historical context. Here I argue for its origins in monastic reforms and its later meaningful associations with enclosed religious women.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Looking in the Past for a Discourse of Motherhood: Birgitta of Sweden and Julia Kristeva,” Medieval Feminist Forum 47.1 (2011): 52-76.
Winner, 2010 Prize for Best Article by a Graduate Student,
Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship
Julia Kristeva wrote a provocative early piece, "Stabat Mater," where she invoked the Virgin Mary's long cultural history to reflect on her own motherhood. I put Kristeva in conversation with Birgitta of Sweden, and compare their parallel – but different – relationships to the Mother of God.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Richard Methley and the Translation of Vernacular Religious Writing into Latin” in After Arundel: Religious Writing in Fifteenth Century England, ed. Vincent Gillespie and Kantik Ghosh (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), pp. 449-466.
This article examines the translations of The Cloud of Unknowing and Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls from Middle English to Latin, by Carthusian monk Richard Methley (d. 1527). I argue that his exceptionally difficult Latin serves to ‘cloister’ advanced texts from both inexperienced readers and from over-sensitive clerical authorities on the look-out for heresy.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Playing Editor: Inviting Students Behind the Text,” Early Modern Cultures Online 6 (2015): 41-47.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “St Bridget of Sweden” in The History of British Women’s Writing, Vol. 1: 700-1500, ed. by Diane Watt and Liz Herbert McAvoy (London: Palgrave, 2012), pp. 207-215.
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Scribes at Syon: The Communal Usage and Production of Legislative Texts at the English Birgittine House” in Saint Birgitta, Syon and Vadstena. Papers from a Symposium in Stockholm 4-6 October 2007, ed. by C. Gejrot, S. Risberg & M. Åkestam (Stockholm: Kungl. Vitterhets Hist. och Antikv. Akademien, 2011), pp. 71-88. [read]
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Space and Enclosure in Julian of Norwich’s A Revelation of Love” in A Companion to Julian of Norwich, ed. by Liz Herbert McAvoy (Cambridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2008), pp. 154-165. [read]
Miles, Laura Saetveit. “Julian of Norwich and St. Bridget of Sweden: Creating Intimate Space with God” in Rhetoric of the Anchorhold: Space, Place and Body within the Discourses of Enclosure, ed. by Liz Herbert McAvoy (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008), pp. 127-140. [read]