Reading: Caroline Walker Bynum — Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages

The third of seven. I am reading Caroline Walker Bynum the way I read Iain M. Banks. Of the remaining four, one is decidedly unaffordable, so let’s pretend I’m half-way through her opus with Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages.

As with Fragmentation and Redemption, this is a collection of essays, and was published in the same year: 1992. I’m reading it disorderly, in part because I have an agenda, in part because it surpasses my limits of comprehension. Bynum became a phenomenally better writer over the two-ish decades between these two collections of essays (some of which in Jesus as Mother go back even further to the 1970s), starting as she did from quite celestial heights; she also reveals her true abilities in longer works, where she can cut loose with ideas developed and returned to over hundreds of pages.

I realised I was out of my depth when I inadvertently returned to reading the first essay, The Spirituality of Regular Canons in the Twelfth Century and had entirely no idea what she was talking about. No. Idea. Word porridge. I was being sneaky anyway, and jumping forward to the last essay, Women Mystics in the Thirteenth Century: The Case of the Nuns of Helfta.

(I also intend to read Did the Twelfth Century Discover the Individual? and the other two, maybe returning to that first one later.)

There should be one of those brooding, shirtless highland miniseries about the nuns of Helfta. Gertrude the Great of Helfta, Mechtild of Hackeborn, and my favourite, Mechtild of Magdeburg. The others around or near them like Gertrude of Hackeborn, or preceding them like Hildegard of Bingen. There is no way I can do these incredible women any service in writing anything here, but wow are they impressive.

I wish I had more focus at the moment for reading, mostly it’s a couple of pages over breakfast, very much out of rhythm. This isn’t my favourite of Bynum’s which might by why I’m trudging through, but the detail and care—and joy—in her research and writing, and the beauty of the subjects, definitely I’ve turned mediæval in the past year because of her and people like Mechtild of Magdeburg.