The use of ritualised acts in late medieval mystical narratives
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This thesis addresses the function of the depiction of ritualised acts in late medieval mystical narratives through the use of four case studies, those of Mechthild of Magdeburg’s Flowing Light of the Godhead (c. 1260), Angela of Foligno’s Memorial (c. 1270), the Vita et Revelationes of Agnes Blannbekin (c. 1315), and the Adelhausen sister-book (1318). The rituals of the Church appear throughout these texts, for instance in the celebration of saints’ feasts and daily masses, to which these women devoted much of their time. Sacramental and liturgical practice portrayed within these accounts has been incorporated into the spiritual and mystical lives of women in various imaginative ways. Yet participation within such rites was not only a common and pious act, but also reinforced a social and religious hierarchy and offered access to the real presence of God. This discussion proposes that mystical texts are carefully constructed narratives which employ ritual acts as a strategy to frame and authorise their subjects. Positioning the mystic and their voice within, or interwoven with, both the performed rite, such as communion, or references to these rituals, for instance in the use of sacred spaces like the altar or objects such as the chalice, such texts can use such ritualised elements to embed the unusual or unstable mystical element in the familiar and orthodox. These ritual structures, which were theologically complex, are also integrated in order to explain and express aspects of the mystic’s task and message. Through close study of the placement of ritual, the way in which it is described, and how it is changed or appropriated within the narrative’s depiction, this thesis seeks to understand the ways in which rituals and references to rituals are deliberately considered and purposefully included within these spiritual texts.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2020-05-08
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 8th May 2020