A few years ago I wrote a paper comparing the indie film Anchoress with what medieval scholars and theologians really think about real anchoresses and female mystics, based on medieval texts. Anchoress is a visually-striking film, and rather useful for illustrating the enclosure and giving some indication of an anchoress’s daily life. But in the end, it goes off with a stereotypical 20th-century, new-age agenda.

Now First ThingsMatthew Millner notes that “more sophisticated readings” of medieval mystics are turning up all over—and about time, too, say I. After pointing to several recent essays by top scholars, Millner writes:

Historians who understand that sex is not everything have set themselves a more complicated task than the “psychoanalysis of visions.” Their appointments at leading institutions testify that the results have been more satisfying. Good historiography, however, is no end in itself; its purpose is to facilitate encounter with medieval mystics, one that we moderns would do well to pursue.

Having just discovered that the 8th edition of the Norton Anthology cut large chunks of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe in order to shoehorn these two mystical yet very different 14th century women into a unit on “Christ’s Humanity,” AND has yet to make those materials available online, I was feeling cranky about the perception and interpretation of medieval mysticism, but after reading Millner’s column, I feel slightly better.

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