n Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale, Chauntecleer jokes in Latin, "In principio, Mulier est hominis confusio, - " "In the beginning, Woman is man's confounding"; then he deliberately mistranslates that passage into English for Pertelote's edification: "Madam, the sentence of this Latyn is, 'womman is mannes joye and al his blis'" (VI.3162-7). Chauntecleer is able to confound Pertelote with his Babel of languages and lies because women, denied a university education, would have less exposure to the language of power in the Middle Ages, that language being Latin.\1 Chauntecleer's joke is a cruel one - but it also demonstrates that rather than women being men's confounding, it is the other way round, it is "homo qui est mulieris confusio," that men delight in muddling women while unfairly claiming that women solely created those muddles.

Gail McMurray Gibson's essay notes that the medieval paradigm changed in the early thirteenth century - from the Virgin as spinner to the Virgin as reader. That coincides with the introduction of the universities - which excluded women from their doors. Women, therefore, with images, created a subliminal and subversive iconography of disobedience, an iconography honoring themselves as participants in the forbidden learning. That disobedience was to be their salvation. But, as Eileen Power noted, the prohibition against formal education in the universities for women directly affected the quality of learning in the convents. Prior to the thirteenth century, monastic women, the Paulas, the Hrotswithas, the Liobas, the Hildegards, could be learned in Latin. Heloise, whose Abelard commences the University of Paris, is the chanting swan of that movement. Then, after that time, women became convinced themselves of that projection of inferiority, no longer being able to learn Latin. Bishops now had to send their pastoral letters with instructions that these be translated into the vernacular for the abbesses and their nuns.\2

The following three essays discuss literacy in relation to women. The first notes that it was largely women who introduced Christianity, and with it the new Latin literacy, into northern Europe, teaching this to their men, crossing over from pagan blood feuding and runic magic to peace weaving and the Gospels. Jacques Lacan in Ecrits played with the parallels between writing and sexuality, the pen and the penis.\3 It is also possible to see in the Christian transformation of boxes and crosses a using of sexual imagery for sacred purposes which employ sexual symbols of women as well as of men. We can see Lacan's phallocentricity here being made eccentric by a use of sexual and linguistic politics - employed by women.

The second essay presents a woman, St. Birgitta of Sweden, and her opposition to and education of the male hierarchy of the Church, in which she elected the role of prophet, being denied that of the priest, using visions for sermons. Indeed her manuscripts proliferated in Europe, her Rule found its way to England,\4 an account of her encounter with Niccolo Acciaiolo is given in a Florentine manuscript by his son,\5 her letters were copied out in Humanist epistolaria along with those of Boccaccio and Bruni and Salutati. Even though much of this material is second hand, being largely culled from the official texts written to justify her canonization, it demonstrates her strong penetration into the male textual communities as well as the female one of her own Order. She had herself stressed the importance of Latin literacy, stating that she was taught by St. Agnes - one of the early Roman saints who thus represented that time when women could be literate. We remember Paulo Freire recording the comment made by an illiterate person: "I want to learn to read and write . . . so that I can stop being the shadow of other people."\6 St. Birgitta gave to women, even to illiterate Margery Kempe, the possibility of coming out of the shadows.

The third essay gives us a lay woman who succeeded in becoming learned in the classics and who rewrote these, revisioned these for women, in a brilliant intertextuality with the received canon. Fifteenth-century Christine de Pizan, who read manuscripts of Virgil's Aeneid, Brunetto Latino's Tresor and Dante's Commedia, all of which were works written for political pedagogy, recast their works within her own feminist one, taking as her teacher the Aeneid's female Sibyl, whom she addresses with the polite plural while the Sibyl uses the familiar "tu" with Christine. Though Dante had Virgil use the "tu" form in solidarity with himself, when he met his former teacher, Brunetto Latino, we find the paradigm of the student addressing the teacher with the polite plural "voi," "you," only the teacher using the affectionate, familiar "tu," with the student. Christine, imitating Inferno XV, has discovered a way to borrow the conventions of the lecture hall forbidden to women and becomes herself a former student who has graduated from the Sibyl's lectures in wisdom and who can now convey her "mastery" of those lectures in turn to further generations of students, both female and male.


1 French was to increasingly take its place in international discourse, through the use of that language by Viking/Norman Conquest.
2 Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries (Cambridge: University Press, 1922); Medieval Women, ed. M.M. Postan (Cambridge: University Press, 1975).
3 Jacques Lacan, Ecrits I, Ecrits II (Paris: Seuil, 1966, 1971); Livre XX Encore, 1972-1977: Le Seminaire de Jacques Lacan, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Seuil, 1975).
4 Then even to Princeton where that manuscript, in the English vernacular, is today in the Garrett Collection; The Revelations of St. Birgitta, from Garrett MS, Princeton University, ed. W.P. Cumming (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), EETS OS 178; The Liber Celestis of St. Bridget of Sweden: The Middle English Version in British Library MS Claudius B I, Together with a Life of the Saint from the Same Manuscript, ed. Roger Ellis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), EETS 291; see Julia Bolton Holloway, St. Bride and her Book: Birgitta of Sweden's Revelations.
5 Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale, Magl. II.II.90, folio 47, gives autograph account by son of his father's 1366 presentation of St. Birgitta to King Robert of Sicily: "Obiit dominus Nichola acciouli de acciaiolis de florentia . regni sicilie magnus seneschallus in civitate neapolis presente sancta brigida principessa verite de regno sueçie."
6 Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness (New York: Seabury Press, 1970, 1974), p. 50.

Crosses and Boxes: Latin and Vernacular\1

Julia Bolton Holloway

This essay will discuss the vernacular languages, the "mother tongues," as associated with women and the body, Latin, as the "Vatersprache," with men and the book, in the common male and received perception and opinion of the Middle Ages. But it will also show how it was often the women among barbarian and pagan nations who had prompted their people's conversion to Christianity and with it Latin learning and literacy, that is, Latin speaking, singing, reading and writing, the world of the book.\2 This "bad faith" doublespeak, this faulty premise, was to go beyond mere words and to function in praxis, the premise itself being made true, women coming to be the outsiders from the Latin education for literacy for which they had once been the enablers.\3

To discuss these facets this essay will resort to symbolic anthropology. It will examine cultural artifacts, specifically boxes and crosses, which in Christian culture functioned much as had D.H. Lawrence observed to be true of the stone houses and stele upon Etruscan female and male tombs.\4 It will discuss the images and texts inscribed upon these boxes and crosses, such as on the whale ivory Franks Casket, St. Cuthbert's wooden coffin, and the stone Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses, thereby centering squarely upon the earliest written/inscribed literature in the English language. It will seek out the binary aspects of these artifacts: pagan and Christian; male and female; vernacular and Latin. It will discuss these relationships as they are seen on these inscribed objects and in such dramas as the Visitatio Sepulchri and the Resuscitatio Lazari.

Pagan and Christian messages inscribed on ivory, stone, wood and parchment were written with an awareness of these materials and the doubleness of their meanings. Ivory was used in Homeric texts with the knowledge that the word punned in Greek with the verb to deceive: elephas/ elephàiromai. Virgil borrowed his gates of ivory and horn from Homer's Odyssey and transmitted to the medieval world the sense of ivory as mendacious, horn as true. Later, Gothic de luxe ivories were to medievalize Alexandrian poetic conventions and to show men and women exchanging wreaths of roses, cupids shooting arrows from their bows aimed at lovers, and women stealing ivory chess pieces as they play with men.\5 In these examples ivory was not only associated with mendacity; it was associated with cupidity, with the world of procreation, with women's sexuality. Yet medieval Gospel book covers and pyxes were also fashioned from ivory. Stone was used upon which to inscribe God's Laws; wood was used for the cross; papyrus, parchment or lead for the Latin titulus upon the cross which Pilate had had inscribed: "IESVS, REX IVDAEORVM." Drama itself could be profane or sacred, pagan or Christian - or both. All these substances and forms could be seen self-referentialy and ambiguously being both negative and positive, both secular and sacred, both feminine and masculine.

William S. Hecksher and Erwin Panofsky have done much work with the relationship between pagan and Christian attitudes in medieval and Renaissance art. They discovered that the Middle Ages were well aware of pagan practices with "idols" as mounted on pillars, statues of gods and emperors to be worshipped in the state's religion; while the Renaissance downplayed that knowledge.\6 Jews and Christians had refused to comply with these pagan practices. Pilate's action with the titulus upon the cross was to mockingly have Christ be worshipped as an idol; thereby breaking Moses' commandment against graven images, itself graven upon stone and placed in the Ark, or box, as that word, arcus, means in Latin. Thus the inscribed and official language itself ran counter to Christianity, the "religion of women and slaves." This power of the official language, which oppressed, versus the revolt of the vernacular languages, which frees, will be a theme throughout this essay. Women, in stooping to include and conquer Latin, were to be cruelly conquered and excluded by its arrogance.\7 Mikhail Bakhtin in Rabelais and his World noted that the Renaissance is the only period in the history of European literature which marked the end of bilinguality, for the Middle Ages had used both Latin and vernaculars as living languages. He analyzed medieval culture as actually of "Two Worlds," of two concurrent cultures, "the official and the popular drawn along the line dividing Latin from the vernacular."\8 This led to the quality of "Carnival," which served not to negate the co-opted and now sacred Latin, though it mocked it; instead Carnival and Lent, vernacular and Latin, were both emphasized by their juxtaposion, the two existing in a rich dialectic with each other. The "Two Worlds" quality allowed for the joca monacorum, the monks' joking playfulness, such as manuscript marginalia and cathedral gargoyles which could exist on the same page and the same structure with sacred scenes.\9 Bakhtin saw this "Two World" culture as representing both the official Latin world and the folk vernacular world. He noted that when the living Latin medieval culture, existing side by side with the secular and vernacular one, came to an end, so did medieval humor. He did not note the relationship of the two languages to the two genders.

Wolfram von den Steinem in "Das Mittelalterliche Latein als Historisches Phänomen" argued further, though without a knowledge of Bakhtin's observations, that medieval Latin was the "Vatersprache," the "father speech," the language of the male elite.\10 It was "Grammar," as Dante noted in De vulgari eloquentia, to be acquired with difficulty by the elite few, while all, even women and children, quite naturally knew their "mother tongue."\11 Latin as the "Vatersprache" of medieval culture was acquired at great cost as well as with great labor. Not only did selected young boys study Latin "Grammar," being whipped if they erred or failed to learn, but also to do so they were expected to sacrifice the normal life of procreativity, the life of sexuality and the family in exchange for that learning. Their monastic mode of life exemplified to the utmost the severity of Culture. They were the literate clergy, set apart by their distinctive tonsure and often making vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Traugott Lawler in his research for the Varorium Chaucer edition of Jankyn's 'Book of Wicked Wives' found that the misogynist texts against women were culled from classical examples and specifically used in the inculcating of Latin to young boys, destined for the clergy and celibacy.\12 Latin was imposed as the international, liturgical language, unifying diversity. Christianity, by its means, became imperial and male and no longer the religion of women and slaves. Women, who had introduced Latin Christianity into their northern countries, because they were prohibited from administering the sacraments, and later even from receiving them, came to be excluded by it. The vernacular languages, on the other hand, were associated with nature, with sexuality and the world of motherhood and childhood.

Latin itself has two aspects: one sacred, liturgical and Jerusalem-centered, conveying Hebrew culture; the other profane, literary and Rome-centered, shadowing behind that the culture of Greece. The one became associated with the Soul; the other with the Body. The Benedictine Rule, itself written in Latin, required Latin of its practitioners.\13 The monasteries preserved both cultures, the Judaeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman, the Hebraic and the Hellenic. They also preserved the polarities of the "Two Worlds," of Nature and Culture, though treating the natural one jokingly, the cultural one seriously. Nor, despite Wolfram von den Steinem's observations, was Latin only the language of the male, for women too could join the ranks of the celibate elite as chaste nuns and abbesses.

Let us begin with boxes, especially boxes that convey cultural codes through their inscriptions. Claude Lévi-Strauss described the structure of North-West Indian boxes as symptomatic of that culture's structure. He noted that these were crafted with a symmetry that differs from ours; that their craftsmen carefully draw and carve upon a piece of wood a symmetrical design of an animal or bird or fish, then at the back cut into the wood so the piece can be bent, the two halves of the design making the two halves of the box. He noted that these designs were related to the same culture's structures in myths and kinship patterns.\14 Thus he used artifacts as texts. It is possible to relate this anthropological understanding to past European artifacts.

An early Christian box of ivory, dated around the beginning of the fifth century and today in the British Museum collection, manifests a somewhat different structure. It has scenes sculpted upon its ivory surface, each surface discrete from the others, although all the scenes concern the Passion. One panel juxtaposes Judas' hanging upon the tree, at his dangling feet the bag of coins, with Christ's Crucifixion, deliberately contrasting and comparing the two deaths upon trees. The titulus upon the cross, as a text within a text, proclaims in Latin, "REX IVDAEORVM," visually and verbally punning upon "IVDAS," insisting upon the almost equivalence of the two figures (Plate IV, 1). In this instance, in Jerusalem, the Roman lettering is not seen as sacred but as profane. It is mockingly inscribed in the context of conquest. Here the Latin words engraved upon ivory manifest pagan, idolatrous and imperial aspects in contradistinction to Judaism and Christianity and their opposition to graven images, power and wealth. Another side of the box shows the scene of the Marys coming to the Sepulchre at which are sleeping Roman soldiers. Upon the door of the now empty Sepulchre in this and other early Christian ivory carvings are sculpted Christ raising Lazarus from the tomb, the one scene, the Resuscitatio Lazari, a foreshadowing of the other, the Visitatio Sepulchri.\15 Later liturgical dramas will carefully have these episodes be compared and contrasted with each other, especially through their linking with Mary Magdalene.\16 The first scene of Judas and Christ gives the two side by side, the one on the left a parody of the one on the right - like photographic negatives and positives. The second scene of the Resurrection is similar, though its shadowing is seen with its substance in the manner of a Chinese box, the one chiastically within the other. It gives the Raising of Lazarus as sculpted upon the door of the Sepulchre around which occurs the Resurrection of Christ. In both scenes women are present, importantly interacting with men.

Lévi-Strauss spoke of myth and art manifesting the binary qualities of culture. Victor Turner noted that in ritual and liturgy such binary oppositions are paradoxically mediated and reconciled.\17 That will be shown especially to be so with these objects from the Middle Ages whose matrix is the Christian liturgy. Such objects - which are monuments and which are texts - may manifest culturally pluralistic contrasted comparisons, yoked oppositions and dissimilar symmetries. (We recall St. Bernard's Cistercian condemnation/ admiration of Benedictine cloister sculpture described and inscribed in a manner that matched their form of harmonious discords.) Languages, especially the juxtaposition of Latin and vernacular, at times were used to convey these transformational and chiastic patternings. At their core they spoke of culture's celibacy, Nature's procreation, of male clerics versus sexual women, of purity and danger.

Four medieval artifacts, two of them boxes, two of them crosses, have Anglo-Saxon runes and, in three cases, Latin letters upon them. The first is the Franks Casket (Figure 1); the second, St. Cuthbert's Coffin (Figure 2); the third, the Bewcastle Cross; the fourth, the Ruthwell Cross (Figure 3). These boxes and crosses reconcile opposites and yoke together the pagan vernacular culture of their past, whose writing was runic and magical, to the Latin Christian culture of their present, whose writing was theological and liturgical. They "cross over" from one of the "Two Worlds" to the other, participating in both by means of translation, transformation and conversion. This yoking of Christian and pagan in the two chests and the two crosses had its counterparts in the scriptures. In Exodus the Ark (arcus in Latin meaning chest) contained within itself sacred Hebrew writings, the Ten Commandments, including the graven one against graven objects, but on the outside it was richly adorned with pagan and idolatrous gold, pluralistically "borrowed" from the Egyptians (Exodus 2.2) and which had been shaped as such graven idolatrous objects, including Aaron's Golden Calf. In the Gospels the titulus of papyrus was placed upon the cross stating in imperial Latin, "REX IVDAEORVM," as can be seen upon the ivory box in the British Museum. That cross, in turn, was similarly to be adorned with pagan and imperial gold. For medieval culture, the Roman Empire and its inscribed monuments were to be seen as idolatrous, whose letters, if transcribed, were to be prefixed with a cross to ward off their magic. Examples of this are the transcriptions of the inscription on Titus' Arch, itself called the arcus cum arca.\18 Even Elizabethan schoolboys' hornbook abecadariae commenced with this counter spell of the "criss cross" or Christ's cross against the Roman letters' evil. Medieval Christians preferred to think that the equestrian statue of the pagan philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius, was of the converted Christian Emperor Constantine. Otherwise they would have had to destroy it. It was known that pagan Roman citizens had been required to demonstrate their loyalty to the state by performing blood sacrifices at the bases of tall phallic columns on top of which were set idols of gods and emperors.\19

In time, Christians in both Italy and Ireland altered the form of the Latin alphabet. In doing so they deflected it from its pagan form upon imperial monuments. Their new lettering became in turn Insular and Carolingian; today it is our more humble lower-case type juxtaposed in the hierarchy of scripts and print with the Latin capitals of imperial inscriptions upon marble and stone. Our modern books, including this one, combine and reconcile Christian and Classic letters, wedding the two. Gregory of Rome had told Augustine of Canterbury that it was appropriate to adopt pagan culture to Christian purposes.\20 Similarly the other, and earlier, Augustine, of Carthage, rather than of Canterbury, had taught that Christian clergy could use Egyptian gold to adorn Christian teaching, a reference to the adorning of the Ark containing the Ten Commandments, and that they could therefore quote Latin poetry in Christian sermons.\21 Certainly Paul had quoted Greek pagan poetry in his Christian sermon in Greek on Mount Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17.28). The Sutton Hoo ship burial contained, among other treasures, two nearly identical spoons, one stating in Greek letters: SAVLOS, "Saul"; the other: PAVLOS, "Paul."\22 The Old English Elene, lines 495-510, retells the tale of Saul/Paul's conversion, and does so in the context of Constantine's conversion through Elene, Helena.\23

This ability to combine the "Two Worlds" continued through time, both in the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Green was the color of the pagan May kalends, dedicated to Venus; blue was the color of the Christian Virgin. So Chaucer's Squire speaks of a box, the outside being green and representing infidelity, the inside, blue for truth (V.643-650). The shield the Gawain poet gives to his hero has the pagan magic pentangle of Solomon, a worshipper of idols, upon its outside, the Virgin and Child painted on its inside surface.\24 Quentin Massys' "Money Changer and Wife," juxtaposes the man's idolatry of money with the woman's Book of Hours open to the illumination of the Virgin and Child.\25

Rabelais spoke of his book of Gargantua as a "Silenus box," an ivory box with centaurs on the outside from the world of paganism while inside it contained truth and health. He borrowed that image from Plato's Symposium. There is a twelfth-century ivory box from St. Albans, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, that has centaur figures carved upon its outside and which may have been a pyx.\26 In Greek pagan thought centaurs represented man's sexual lust. The cross-dressed priest, celibate and male, acting the female whore, Mary Magdalene, carried a pyx in the liturgical dramas featuring her for the box of precious ointment with which she had anointed the Christ. For such a pyx to have been ornamented in such a way with pagan centaurs would have been appropriate. St. Jerome wrote a charming tale in which the centaurs and satyrs of lying pagan poetry proclaim to the hermit St. Anthony (who had fled from women) that they had converted to Christ, the Truth.\27 The St. Albans' box could be such a Silenus box, using pagan lies to contain salus, healing and salvation, salus being a Latin "portmanteau" (again a chest) word containing both. The two ivory boxes, of St. Albans and the Franks Casket, and the two stone crosses, of Ruthwell and Bewcastle, may similarly be combining pagan and Christian cultures.

The Franks Casket is a chest carved out of whale bone ivory. Its scenes sculpted on the four sides and the lid often allude, self-referentially, to treasure. The Casket itself was probably a worldly treasure chest and some of its runic lines mention self-referentially that it is made of the ivory treasure found washed up on the shore. It is fashioned from a whale, a leviathan, an image for the world, the flesh and the devil, capable of swallowing up sinning man within its deadly maw. One scene, on the front of the box and to the right, shows the three Magi bringing treasure to the Virgin and Child. To the left of that scene is another in which Weland the Smith, creator of treasure, is shown making a cup from a slaughtered man's skull. This juxtaposiiton of scenes is not unlike the British Museum's fifth-century ivory box showing the Crucifixion on the right mocked and parodied by Judas' suicide and the money bags with coins on the left (Plate IV, 1). Similarly, though much later, the Fra Angelico in the Prado shows the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise on the left, the Annunciation to the Virgin on the right (Plate I).

Other scenes on the Franks Casket show the Ark in the Temple amidst Titus' Sack of Jerusalem (and here the runes macaronically convert into Latin lettering, then runes spell out a Latin word), Romulus and Remus being suckled by the wolf, and two further scenes from Germanic and Classic mythology (Figure 1). Several scholars have argued that the scene on the lid refers to the Trojan war, its runes giving Achilles' name (Dictys' account of that war states, self-referentially, that its text was discovered in a box). Other scholars, less convincingly, consider that this scene refers to the Germanic hero, Egil.\28 The Casket represents a knowledge of northern pagan cultures as well as those of the Mediterranean, of Hellenism, Judaism, and Christianity, of Troy, Rome and Jerusalem. It is truly a portmanteau, packing together many opposing cultures. But it emphasizes pagan magic, myth and murder more than it does Christian mercy, being like an Icelandic saga, filled with blood feud until the last pages of conversion to Christianity and pilgrimage to far places.\29 One grim scene upon the Casket, to which we shall return, presents the Three Norns, the three Germanic Fates.

St. Cuthbert's Coffin similarly combines vernacular runes and Latin letters. St. Cuthbert was the saintly abbot of the monastery founded by Iona, Lindisfarne. He died on Farne Island in 687 A.D. In 689, his monks placed his mummified body in a wooden coffin above the church floor on Lindisfarne Island so that pilgrims might approach it more closely. This seventh-century artifact has incised calligraphic drawings of Christian scenes, with Greco-Roman, as well as runic, lettering. The wooden lid shows Christ in Majesty with the Angel, Lion and Eagle, the Evangelists Matthew, Mark and John, with runic inscriptions giving their names, while the Bull of Luke is labeled with Latin letters and with a Greek word: LVCAS. On one side the Apostles are sculpted, on the other, Angels. These are named in Roman script. At one end is shown the Virgin and Child, much in the same style as they are shown on the Franks Casket and the Book of Kells. The name of the child JESUS is given in runes (Figure 2).\30 It is probable that the runic naming of the child in the mother's arms is symptomatic of the association of the vernacular with the "mother tongue," with birth, marriage and death (though Anglo-Saxon women had been most responsible for the conversion of their people to Latin Christianity and its celibate learning); that of the Apostles and Angels on the two sides of the coffin, in Latin lettering, with the priestly, eternal "Vatersprache." It is also probable that while the Angel, Lion and Eagle are labeled in runic writing, the Bull of Luke is uncomfortably close to the pagan idol of the Golden Calf, therefore it may have required the official Roman lettering and the Greek word form, now associated with Christ's teaching, rather than the runes which were associated with pagan magic and idolatry. The combination of angels, evangels (the one literally meaning "messenger," the other, "good messenger") and apostles, and of runic and Latin writing, may also be stressing both the immortal and mortal aspects of Christ and Saint Cuthbert; of heaven and of earth; of saints and of sinning man, born of woman. This coffin enshrined not only the mortal remains of St. Cuthbert, splendidly garbed in precious silks, including silks imported from outlandish realms, from Islam and Byzantium, but also the skull of the saintly King Oswald, who erected a cross, in Constantine's manner, at the Battle of Heavenfield, and the Lindisfarne Gospels whose Latin text has an Old English interlinear translation. This coffin and its contents may be as much a cultural statement about Christianity in England as was the Ark and its contents a statement about Israel.

The Franks Casket has both the Virgin and Child and the Three Fates or Norns sculpted upon it. St. Cuthbert's Coffin, itself an artifact associated with death, presents the scene of the Virgin and Child, associated with birth.\31 Boxes were traditionally associated with "womb" and "tomb." Another, though later, medieval artifact was the "Vierge Ouvrante," in which the figure of the Virgin opens up in a Russian dolls', Chinese boxes', fashion to show the not-yet-born child in her womb as the dead Christ on the Cross, the latter capable of being used for the ceremony of the Deposition on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Thus her womb becomes a tomb. A particularly fine example of the "Vierge Ouvrante" or "Opening Virgin" was at Durham Cathedral where St. Cuthbert's Coffin was finally laid to rest.\32 It is interesting that there arose a tradition that St. Cuthbert's relics could not tolerate women's physical presence in Durham Cathedral. The north of England appears to have established a binary polarity between the genders, between St. Hilda of Whitby and St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.

I have already discussed Silenus boxes of ivory sculpted with laughable grotesqueries, including centaurs, from the pagan world, which inside contain precious balm. We learn of these also as containing absurd figures of laughing post-menopausal pregant women stressing the body. Such ivory boxes can be found in the classical, medieval and Renaissance worlds. In Bede we hear of an Anglo-Saxon queen being sent a gold and ivory mirror and comb by a Roman Pope.\33 The later medieval world continued to manufacture pagan-style mirrors and combs. Such artifacts represented Venus, Luxuria, Idleness, the symbol for Venus being the mirror: a circle with a cross handle beneath it. But Venus' festival on May 1st is followed by the pivotal feast of the Invention of the Cross by St. Helena on May 3rd in the Latin Church. It is as though on that day the world with Jerusalem at its center is rectified, converted and Christianized, the shape of the orbs kings held symbolizing the roundness of the earth (which was known in the Middle Ages; that it was flat and square being a Renaissance fallacy) with the cross of Jerusalem at its top. It is also as if the three days in May mirror the three days from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. In Romance languages Friday is Venus' day. The Empress Helena had to raze a temple built to Venus before she could excavate the Holy Sepulchre beneath it and find the True Cross. I will later discuss the Old English Elene as using this kind of transformation, this kind of conversion, within its text. Boxes and mirrors, in medieval culture, were capable of double and transformational meanings; they reflected changes taking place in their world, manifesting the pluralistic cultural baggage in their portmanteau ambages. This was also true of the Cross; the criminal gallows becomes paradoxically the sign of victory. The "Vierge Ouvrante" form combined these oppositions and yoked male and female, cross and box, phallus and womb.

Besides inscribed boxes we also have inscribed free-standing crosses. The Bewcastle and Ruthwell Crosses are Anglo-Saxon monuments which, like the Franks Casket and St. Cuthbert's Coffin, are incised with pagan Anglo-Saxon runes and, in the case of Ruthwell, also with Roman Christian lettering. These runes are as if an expanded titulus upon each cross. I have argued in another essay that the Bewcastle Cross is primarily a political monument, erected to celebrate a peace-weaving between two feuding families, one Christian and one pagan, while the Ruthwell Cross is a liturgical creation.\34 The Bewcastle Cross has been thought to refer to itself as a "sigebeacn," to state "Ricaes drytnaes" and to giving the names of Kings Oswy, Ecgfrith, Alcfrith and Wulfhere, Queens Eanfled, Cyneburgh and Cynsewith, and Bishop Wilfrid of the seventh century in runes./35 These names are intricately emmeshed in the peace-weaving tapestry of Bede's text. King Oswy was the brother of the King Oswald who had erected the cross at Heavenfield in 634 (Bede III.2) in imitation of the Emperor Constantine. Oswy married Eanfled, daughter of Queen Ethelberga of Kent and King Edwin of Northumbria, who had been murdered by the pagan King Penda of Mercia. Oswy's son Alcfrith married Cyneburgh, whose mother was Cyneswitha of Mercia and whose father was the same pagan Penda who had killed not only Edwin, Eanfled's father, but also Oswald, Oswy's saintly brother (whose head was kept in St. Cuthbert's Coffin). Thus Penda was the slayer of both Alcfrith's grandfather and uncle. The marriage of Alcfrith and Cyneburgh appears to be a Beowulfian, Anglo-Saxon frithowebba, "peace-weaving," and the Bewcastle Cross to memorialize it. The Bewcastle Cross thus stresses men and women of Christian and pagan kingdoms, anglicizing Constantine's conversion through Helena.

The Ruthwell Cross gives both languages, Latin and Old English, and two scripts, the Latin alphabet and the runic one (Figure 3). It memorializes, in a sense, that crossing over from pagan runes to Latin letters and helps explain why this book is written in the latter, rather than the former. The Cross has runes which read "Mae fauoetho" and "Daegisgaef," as well as the Rood Poem. The few lines of the the "Dream of the Rood" inscribed in runes upon the Ruthwell Cross focus upon the Crucifixion, shown in Figure 3, which translate as: "Then the young warrior, God Almighty, mounted the cross in sight of many men. I held the king, Heaven's lord, I dared not bow. They mocked us together. I was wet with blood. Christ was on the cross. Then came many quickly from afar to the prince. I beheld it all. I was sorely smitten with sorrow. I was wounded with shafts. Limb-weary, they laid him down. They stood at his head. They looked on him there." The lines present, in their runic form, a clear appeal to the Anglo-Saxon congregation of Ruthwell to cross over from a world of paganism to that of Christianity, an invitation in the people's language, to participate in and enact the Latin ritual and liturgy of conversion, transformation and salvation. They also powerfully and intertextually link the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels, Zechariah 12.10 as echoed in John 19.37: "And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced." The poet knew these scriptural echoes. He also knew the terrifying pagan poem, today preserved in the Icelandic Hávamál, about Othinn who hanged himself upon Yggdrasil for nine days in order to learn the magic runes, the staff of life:\36

Veit ek, at ek hekk
vìndga meithi à,
naetre allar niu,
geiri undathr,
ok gefinn Odni,
sjálfr sjelfum mér,
a leim meidi,
er mangi veit
hvers hann af ròtum renn.

[I know that I hung On a wind-swept tree Nine nights long. Spear wounded Othinn consecrated Myself an offering to myself On a tree Whose roots are known to none.]

In a culture that asked "What has Ingeld to do with Christ?" this poet deliberately interlaced runes and Latin letters, crisscrossed Oëinn and Christ, wed in a powerful peace-weaving Yggdrasil and the Cross. Christ, the new Othinn, is hanging upon the cross to teach the Anglo-Saxons the new runes of life, Latin.

But macaronically with the tragic runes on the Ruthwell Cross are also inscriptions in Latin in runic and in Roman lettering: "m.mir dominnae" in connection with the Visitation, "IN PRINCIPIO ERAT VERBUM" in connection with the Eagle of St. John, "[A]DORAMOS" with John the Baptist, "A[TTULIT ALABA]STRUM VNGVENTI & STANS RETRO SECVS PEDES EIVS LACRIMIS COEPIT RIGARE PEDES EIUS.ET CAPILLISCAPITIS SUITERGABAT," "+ET PRAETERIENS VIDI A NATIBITATE ET SA[ ]B INFIRMITATE," "INGRESSVS ANGEL TECVM.BE[ ]," giving in turn the story of Christ's anointing by the woman who also washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, the miracle of the man blind from birth given sight, and the Annunciation. The other side gives "IVDEX AEQVITATIS. BESTIAE ET DRACONES COGNOVERUNT IN DESERTO, SALVAT[OR]EM MUNDI," "SCS PAULVS ET ANTONIVS EREMITAE FREGER[UN]T PANEM IN DESERTO," "MARIA ET IO [ ]," \37

Figure 3 Runes of the 'Dream of the Rood' on the Ruthwell Cross

Four of the nine textually inscribed iconic scenes, almost half, deal with women; on the South East side,\38 the Visitation of Elizabeth and Mary, Mary Magdalene (or another) washing the feet of Christ, and the Virgin at the Annunciation to Mary by the Angel, and on the North West side Joseph with Mary and the Child on the donkey fleeing into Egypt. The tale of the woman anointing Christ with precious ointment and washing his feet with her tears, her drying them with her hair is one especially appropriate to a double monastery, where the male Abbot's role as like Christ washing the feet of pilgrims would at Whitby with its Abbess would also evoke this tale. The tale - where it later came to be associated with Mary Magdalene - foreshadowed her coming to the tomb with precious ointment just as much as did the companion tale of her brother, Lazarus, being raised from the dead foreshadow Christ's Resurrection. These Latin episodes emphasize both women and children and nurturing and healing, a divine comedy, in contrast to the grim runes of the tragedy of Christ's death. The association of women and the cross was very strong; traditionally the Marys were at the foot of the cross; the Empress Helena rediscovered it; liturgical practices in Jerusalem, Constantinople and elsewhere deliberately involved women processing to the cross as well as men.\39 One suspects that a woman commissioned these sections and expected other women to know the Latin. While the Crucifixion is given in the Old English and in runes because that was more familiar a semiotic coding for the men who required conversion. The logical woman to have had a part in this artifact is the learned Abbess Hilda of Whitby who had commissioned her oral formulaic cowherd, Caedmon, to relate his visions out loud, while she had these scribally recorded. She died in 680, Caedmon perhaps outliving her.\40

Some of the sculpture and some of the Latin ("Saints Paul and Anthony as hermits break bread in the desert") refer to the charming tale told by Jerome - much beloved in monastic settings - of these saints and their supper in the desert of the Thebaid in which St. Anthony also met a Centaur and a Satyr, fabulous, chimaerical beasts, fitting for a Silenus box, concocted from classical pagan lies, who acknowledge truthfully the sovereignty over them of the Truth, of Christ.\41 It, too, plays with the use of the pagan world intermixed and doing homage to the Christian one. It knits together on the north west side of the cross, images of the desert, the wilderness, the bitter exile pilgrimage of Egypt, with its confluence of John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Christ in the Wilderness, Paul and Anthony in the Desert and Joseph and Mary journeying to their Egyptian exile. The cross itself, erected at Ruthwell to the North West, in an area only briefly Christian, would have seemed a "sigebeacn" in the Wilderness. While to the South East, and in the direction of Whitby, are the scenes of salus and of women. This material brilliantly combines image and text, wedding England and Israel.

The combination of image and word in all these artifacts relates to the comments made by Michael Camille in "Seeing and Reading: Some Visual Implications of Medieval Literacy and Illiteracy." In that article, Camille brings to bear on medieval texts and illuminations the methods recently developed by critical theorists and finds that medieval culture deliberately played off the inscription against the image, wedding the two in powerful semiotic relationships. He has taken Brian Stock's work on The Implications of Literacy into another dimension, another discipline, combining literary study with art history with rich and productive results. Though later than the objects discussed here, his texts and his images are likewise associated with medieval monascticism and his perceptions and conclusions are most relevant to the material at hand.\42

The runic form of the "Dream of the Rood" is probably contemporary with Caedmon, the oral formulaic poet of the Abbess Hilda's double monastery at Whitby who, with her patronage, combined the old pagan forms of poetry (such as in this text the parallel between Othinn on Yggdrasil, Christ on the Cross) with the new Christian content. That Hilda's monastery was a double one, for both men and women (this form was later to be suppressed) allowed for both genders to participate in the creation of texts and for their equal presence within them.\43 The Hadrian's Wall region, Whitby, Durham, Hexham, Bewcastle, Ruthwell, stretched along the Iona, Lindisfarne axis and represented an important Christian textual community.\44 It is Bede's region. That Ruthwell was Anglian for only a brief while dates the cross and its runes to the seventh century, making it our earliest recorded poem in English other than Caedmon's Hymn. Both Caedmon's Hymn and the "Dream of the Rood" are the result of dream visions. Caedmon, contemporary of Hilda, Wilfrid and Cuthbert, of Alcfrith and Cyneburgh, could have written both the Hymn and the "Dream of the Rood."

The Brussels silver cross reliquary with its brief quotation from the "Dream of the Rood" need not be discussed here. The Vercelli form of the poem, written in insular hand in a manuscript probably left by an Anglo-Saxon pilgrim on his way to Rome or even Jerusalem, is of Cynewulf's school and time. Cynewulf frequently interwove his name with runes as an acrostic into his poems. The Vercelli manuscript also contains Cynewulf's Elene, Cynewulf's name being so interwoven into its text. If he reworked the older "Dream of the Rood" he probably would not have placed his name there. Despite the perhaps three centuries' span between the runic Ruthwell and the insular Vercelli versions, the "Dream of the Rood" is intrinsically the same.

Some lines of the "Dream of the Rood" speak powerfully of the baneful Cross itself as analogous to Mary:

"Hwaet, me tha geweothode wuldres ealdor
ofer holmwudu, heofonrices weard!
Swylce saw he his moder eac, Marian sylfe,
aelmihtig god doe ealle menn
geweorthode ofer eal wifa cynn." (90-94)

[Behold, then, the Father of Glories, Guardian of the heavenly Kingdom, honored me above all the wood of the forest, just as almighty God also honored his mother Mary, above all women, for all men's sake].

That analogy of the cross and Mary will be echoed in the Durham Cathedral's "Vierge Ouvrante" and other Marian shrines whose wombs are shown likewise to contain Christ on the Cross and thus to be simultaneously life-giving and death-bearing, as womb and tomb. as living flesh and as wooden coffin. Nuns at Barking, such as Chaucer's daughter, participated in that convent's liturgical Deposition and Resurrection plays, resulting from the Adoratio Crucis liturgy, a rite enacted there by celibate nuns, symbolizing and sublimating their sexuality and procreativity.

The Vercelli 117 manuscript, which is tenth-century and which came to Italy, perhaps, in the eleventh century, contains among other works the "Dream of the Rood," the Andreas and the Elene, all of which are associated with the Cross, though the Old English version of the Andreas, unlike other legends of Andrew, omits this.\45 Bede in his retelling of Arculf's account of the Holy Places interpolated the legend of the Empress Helena finding the True Cross, which had not been noted in Arculf's manuscripts. Helena was considered to have been English. The Old English Elene is a powerful poem stressing the Constantinian cross cult. It chiastically gives first Constantine's vision:

He waes sona gearu
thurh thaes halganhaes, hretherlocan onspeon,
up locade, swa him se ar abead,
faele frithowebba Geseah he fraetwum beoht
wliti wuldres treo ofer wolcna hrof
golde geglended, (gimmas lixtan);
waes se blaca beam bocstafen awriten,
beorhte ond leohte; "Mid thys beacne thu
on tham frecnan faere feond oferswithesth,
geletest lath werod.

[He gazed on high, as the messenger, faithful weaver of peace, had bidden. Over the roof of clouds he saw the beauteous tree of glory, gleaming with treasure and decked with gold - and the gems shone brightly. The shining tree was inscribed with letters of brilliance and light: "By this sign thou shalt overcome the foe in the dread peril; by this thou shalt slay the hated host."] (85-94)\46

The poem then gives Elene's Invention of the Cross.\47 Thus it juxtaposes the opposites of the male and the female, the son and the mother, the war-maker and the peace-weaver. Elene, at lines 642-661, digresses to the war of Troy in her discourse with the Jew named Judas who finds the cross. She has already razed the Temple to Venus in order to find the Holy Sepulchre. She is thus allusively - and this is in the text - as if the new, Christian, Roman and English antithesis to the old, pagan, Greek and Trojan Helen who had brought about the fall of Troy. This transformational Helen, on the contrary, rebuilds Jerusalem as a "vision of peace" and a "City of God." This is transformational cultural material not unlike that which we have already encountered on early ivory boxes. In all these instances figures of men and women and pagan and Christian worlds interact and are juxtaposed.\48
The Vercelli version of the "Dream of the Rood," bound as it is with the Andreas and the Elene, all three poems being copied out by the same scribe, is a part of a matrix of cross materials. The poem's identification of the cross with Christ is explained by the liturgical practice of using the cross as a substitute for the body of Christ, as in the Adoratio Crucis of the Book of Cerne and the Regularis Concordia, a practice that was to continue in monasteries and convents, Chaucer's daughter as a nun probably participating in the rite at the royal abbey of Barking, and customarily also among the laity, as Piers Plowman, B.XVIII.428, movingly describes.\49 The action of the burial not only of Christ, but also of the Cross, and then of their resurrection, presided over by women, comes from both the liturgical Adoratio Crucis and Visitatio Sepulchri and again from the Helena legends in which the buried cross is dug up and enshrined. In fact, a later stone cross, the Kelloe Cross, has scenes of Constantine and Helena upon it.\50

The tenth-century Winchester Regularis Concordia, written specifically, as it states, for both nuns and monks, told of the enactment of the Adoratio Crucis on Good Friday and the Visitatio Sepulchri on Easter Sunday, which is magnificently illuminated in the Winchester Benedictional of St. Aethelwold. From the Regularis Concordia we learn that the pueri, or children of the cloister, known collectively as the schola, would be under the charge of the magister scholae.\51 At the Abbey of St. Benoît on the Loire, the Abbaye St. Benoît-sur-Loire, of Fleury, the magister scholae was also in charge of the scriptorium. Latin literacy and Latin chant went hand in hand and were taught simultaneously by the Magister of the schola cantorum, all of whom were to be celibate. A manuscript in the Orléans Bibliothèque Municipale nearby contains many twelfth-century liturgical dramas, including a Visitatio Sepulchri and a Resuscitatio Lazari.\52 These plays are remarkable for their sophisticated artistry and for their warm humanity. They are in Latin, their words and music derived largely from antiphons, tropes and hymns taken from the liturgy,\53 but which are shaped in the form of dramas stressing symmetrical oppositions. They are clearly intended to be performed by the boys of the schola with the assistance of the adult monks of the abbey in order to teach the boys their Latin, their music and the scriptures and saints' legends simultaneously. Elsewhere, in convents, one can find a nun writing one of these plays in the vernacular French; one play exists where the text is to be sung in Latin except for the part of Mary Magdalene, which is spoken in German.\54

In the Orléans Visitatio Sepulchri the Three Marys (acted by men) walk slowly to the tomb, "pedetemptim." Then, in other versions, the apostles John and Peter race down the aisle, John reaching the sepulchre first, but Peter entering it. The Resuscitatio Lazari, a Lenten play foreshadowing the Visitatio Sepulchri Easter performance, is carefully both compared and contrasted to it, continuing in the drama that juxtaposition already present in early Christian iconography. In the Resuscitatio the raised Lazarus clearly stinks; in the Visitatio Mary Magdalene carries a censor spreading perfume all about her. Similarly in the Greek world, in the ninth century, Romanos, and before him, Ephraem the Syrian, in the fourth century, composed dramatic sermons on all these themes, the Raising of Lazarus, the Adoration of the Cross, the Women at the Tomb, each of which had stressed the importance of women.\55

St. Albans possessed a manuscript copy of the Comedies of Terence, illuminated in the manner of the Winchester school such as is manifested in the Benedictional of St. Aethelwold. Fleury also possessed an illuminated Terence. The St. Albans manuscript is said to be copied from that at Fleury.\56 The more crude illuminations of the Fleury mansucript are in the same style as are the sculpted capitals of the Abbey church and porch. Some of these capitals represent scenes from the Visitatio Sepulchri and the Resuscitatio Lazari, others are of the life of St. Benedict, one showing his fear of women, while still others are of such pagan chimaera as centaurs and sirens, reminding one of the ivory box at St. Albans. One senses that the monks were linking pagan and Christian drama at Winchester, at St. Albans and at Fleury. Terence, himself a former slave from Africa, had had enormous success in pagan Rome with his upstairs/downstairs dramas about women and slaves. It was his manuscripts that medieval monasteries preserved and cherished, rather than the plays of Seneca and Plautus. And we find his influence strongly present, in turn, in the plays of Hrosthwitha and the Wakefield Master. The Benedictine liturgical dramas make use of Terence, playfully defying the Rule of St. Benedict in having female characters and stressing the warmth and poignancy of the relationships of mother and son, woman and man; in the mother's grief in the St. Nicholas play, the Filius Getronis, at the loss of her son Adeodatus; in Mary Magdalene's grief, then joy, at the death and then resurrection first of her brother Lazarus, then of Christ, in the Resuscitatio Lazari and the Visitatio Sepulchri. The manuscript takes pains to note that the Magdalene is to be dressed in habitu meretricio, "in the garb of a prostitute," thus showing her as like a pagan Roman "whore of the theatre," so deplored by such Church Fathers as Boethius and Augustine; yet her music is the most hauntingly beautiful of all the plays and is consciously echoed by that of the Christian queen and mother in the Filius Getronis and by Rachel in the Herod.\57 In these plays the monks have not lost touch with humanity, with the people, though they no longer use the vernacular as had the "Dream of the Rood." The basing of these plays upon the Gospels and upon saints' legends permitted their countering of the Benedictine Rule's severity, allowing Nature its Carnival despite Culture's Lent, wedding the two, Danger and Purity, at Easter. That they knew the Comedies of Terence, the freed slave who wrote about women and slaves and whose plays were performed in the red lights districts of Rome and Carthage, is also clear. These monastic productions recall the world of the family and of sexuality, of women as well as men, which the pueri, the adeodati, the oblates, and the full-fledged monks have left. Their severe lives require that the love of a mother, a woman, of the vernacular, be given expression, though only in "play," alongside of the law of the father, the man, of Latin, in order for the monastic world to attain salus and retain its sanity. They pretend and play at their drab and true world of horn being the world of ivory, castitas being luxuria, chastity being lust, purity being danger, men being women.

The use of the one Mary in the "Dream of the Rood" who becomes the Three Marys in the Visitatio Sepulchri recalls yet another aspect present in medieval culture. The Franks Casket showed both the Virgin and Child and the Three Norns, the three fatal sisters present at the hero's death in pagan myth, as they still will be at the death of Arthur and the doom of Macbeth. Nordic and Celtic myths recognized women as having different aspects, associating the Magna Mater with the maiden, bride and crone, with birth, marriage and death; with Nature in inexorable opposition to Culture; with Life and Death in opposition to Eternity.\58 Though the Visitatio Sepulchri is sung in Latin by pueri (in drag) its positive enacment of the Three Holy Women at the tomb shadows this other negative and pagan quality, which is associated with the world of the vernacular and which threatens that of the Latin.\59 It is as if in Christian drama also the Erinnyes must be transformed into the Eumenides (Plate IV. 2).\60

A Reading Abbey manuscript gives a thirteenth-century motet which juxtaposes and harmonizes the vernacular and Latin "Two Worlds." Its red letters present a sacred antiphon concerning Eastertide, "Perspice christicolae." Its black letters give, on the contrary, a bawdy vernacular lyric concerning Spring and procreation, "Sing cuccu."\61Piers Plowman's text combines rubricated Latin with black vernacular words. To listen only to the praise of the Creation in the vernacular would be to lose one's soul; to listen to both the vernacular and the Latin, to both the profane and the sacred, to both Nature and Culture, to both Creation and Creator, would be to attain salus. At Shrewsbury and elsewhere we have macaronic liturgical dramas, giving both the chanted Latin and the spoken vernacular libretti and scripts for the actors. The Benedictbeuern Passion gives Mary Magdalene a vernacular role amidst a Latin play.\62 Late medieval Corpus Christi plays will revel in the people's vernacular, the people's spoken language. In medieval thought, Oldness could be represented by Nature; it was not to be destoyed but fulfilled in the New of Culture. Therefore the Two Worlds were not polarized but joyously juxtaposed and wedded. Goethe was to have Mephistopheles say, in a play that celebrated the feminine and which ended with Mary Magdalene:
Grau, teurer Freund, is alle theorie
Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.\63

[Grey, dear Friend, is every theory/ And green is Life's golden tree.]

There are medieval enamelled crosses which show that cross as the lignum vitae, the tree of life, not death, with vivid green leaves and branches, as with the splendid mosaiced apse at Rome's San Clemente. The lyric that occurs in St. Edmond de Pontigny's Speculum Ecclesiae, "Now gooth sonne under wode," associates the cross with the living tree and Mary.\64 The runes of the Ruthwell Cross surround vine tendrils portraying the lignum vitae, Othinn's acquisition of the staff of life's runes through his mortal wounds and nine days' crucifixion, now chiseled upon a stony gallows rood, have endured more than a thousand years. Fleury Abbey's capitals abound with sirens and centaurs as well as with scenes of Saints Benedict and Magdalene. Medieval Christians, like Odysseus, could both hear the Sirens' songs and be saved.

Paradoxically, medieval Latin, because it coexisted with the vernacular tongues, even to the extent of students' carousing macaronic verses of textuality wedded to sexuality sung in taverns, was living and green despite its great age. With the Renaissance the Humanists' quest for Ciceronian purity caused Latin to become a language again of dead marble sarcophagi and funerary busts, shadows of cold grey upon white stone. Oddly this came about when scholars were no longer required to be celibate and clerical; when they could be living in the midst of the world as sons, husbands and fathers. Perhaps it happened because they still did not allow women into the lecture halls and studies and libraries, keeping them out of the scribal world. The jesting of the "Two Worlds" continued to be celebrated with Erasmus, More and Rabelais - and then the laughter and the humanity - with women's exclusion - is lost. Latin regresses to its pagan past and its tragic Stoicism manifested in Vergil and Seneca. It reverts to being the language of the Empire's laws, to being the mocking titulus of the scritta morta - Dante so movingly speaks of placed upon the cross by Pilate. Edward Gibbon in that context was to speak scornfully - and ignorantly - of monkish ignorance.

Medieval convents and abbeys had treasured and preserved profane and pagan manuscripts of Terence and Ovid. The cross and the box became signs for that peace-weaving between the polarities of old paganism, whether Greco-Roman, Celtic or Germanic, and new Christianity; between Nature and Culture; between ivory and horn; and, above all, between women and their children and men. They mirrored in little the sacred programs of cruciform churches where North was Oldness, South, New, West, Doomsday, and East, Paradise, over which both Christ and Mary preside; and of secular fresco cycles as at Siena where Good and Bad Government are juxtaposed on the opposite walls of a box-like room. The Two Worlds of medieval culture could "compound the imagination's Latin with the "lingua franca et jocundissima" vernacular in a way that the Renaissance could not.\65 Pertelote and Chauntecleer, despite their French names, are, after all, conversing with each other, somewhat noisily, in their medley of Latin and English - and Chaucer tells their tale and the rest of the Canterbury Tales in Pertelote's English, rather than in Chauntecleer's Latin. Their dialectic, across boundaries of languages and genders, manifested in such artifacts as boxes and crosses, may provide us with structural clues towards a symbolic anthropology of medieval culture - only to find that anthropology coexisting with gynecology, the study of men requiring concurrently and equally the study of women.

Medieval Studies
University of Colorado, Boulder

Figure 3 The Runes of the 'Dream of the Rood' on the Ruthwell Cross
Plate IV, Judas and Crucifixion 2. Marys at Tomb. Ivory Box. Courtesy, Trustees of the British Museum


1 This essay was originally given as a lecture at the University of Chicago Summer Latin and Greek Workshops, 1980, 1982. Related material has been published in Julia Bolton Holloway, "'The Dream of the Rood' and Liturgical Drama", Comparative Drama, 18 (1984), 19-37.
2 Among notable medieval nuns were Abbess Hilda of Whitby, Hrotswitha of Gandesheim, Hildegard of Bingen and Heloise of Paris. Bede describes English queens bringing about their husbands' and kingdoms' conversions, History of the English Church and People, trans. Leo Sherley-Price, rev. R.E. Latham, ed. Charles Plummer (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), I,25, for example.
3 I borrow here terms and concepts from Paulo Freire's works on literacy. In the preface to this book we discussed how this happened as well to Muslims and Jews who transmitted Aristotle's texts to the Latin West; only to have those texts used against them - in an illogical arabesque - by the Inquisition's politics of exclusion. See http://www.umilta.net/olifant.html Discussed also, terming it there, "arabesque": Julia Bolton Holloway, Twice-Told Tales: Brunetto Latino and Dante Alighieri; where a cultural paradigm shift takes place, to which there has been great resistence, there is a bad faith backlash upon its introducers, who are attacked and destroyed by means of the very concepts they taught and gave. Instead of generosity, and gratitude, there is a meanness of spirit, a trahison des clercs, a betrayal by the intellectuals for selfish gain.
4 D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places (New York: Viking, 1932), pp. 27-29.
5 Odyssey XIX.560-565; Aeneid VI.893-900; these perceptions concerning medieval ivories came largely from the work of Laila Gross, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.
6 William S. Hecksher, Sixtus IIII aeneas insignes romano populo restituendas censuit (The Hague: Utrecht University Press, 1955); Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (New York: Harper, 1972), p. 89.
7 I borrow here Edward P. Nolan's turn of that phrase from Restoration Comedy in "Beyond Macaronic: Imbedded Latin in Dante and Langland," Acta Bononiensis: Proceedings of the Fifth Congress of the International Neo-Latin Society, Bologna, Italy, ed. Richard J. Schoeck (Binghamton: SUNY/MARTS, 1985), 509-513.
8 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1968), pp. 1-58, 437-474.
9 Similar studies on playfulness at the margins between two worlds: The Reversible World, ed. Barbara Babcock (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978); Felix Clément, "L'âne au Moyen Age," Annales archéologique, 16 (1878), 30-33; Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica: the Renaissance Tradition of Paradox (Princeton: University Press, 1966); Maria Corti, "Models and Antimodels in Medieval Culture," New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation, 10 (1979), 339-366; Ernst Curtius, "The World Upside Down," European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), pp. 94-98; William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral (New York: New Directions, 1960), pp. 25-84; Julia Bolton Holloway, "The Asse to the Harpe: Boethian Music in Chaucer," in Boethius and the Liberal Arts, ed. Michael Masi (Berne: Peter Lang, 1982), pp. 175-181; Clifford Geertz, "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight," Myth, Symbol and Culture, ed. Clifford Geertz (New York: Norton, 1971), pp. 1-37; Carl Jung, "On the Psychology of the Trickster-Figure," The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, trans. R.F.C. Hull (Princeton: University Press, 1959), pp. 255-272; Gerhart Ladner, "Homo viator: Medieval Ideas on Alienation and Order," Speculum, 42 (1967), 223-259; Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure (Chicago: Aldine, 1969), which notes the "cheerful reviling" of the opposite sex carried on by both men and women at each other in an African ritual. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Apologia ad Guillelmum Abbatem, XII, 29, Opere, ed. Jean Leclercq and H.M. Rochais, O.S.B. (Rome, 1963), III, 106, voiced his Cistercian disapproval of such humor in Benedictine cloister sculpture: "Why are there those ridiculous monstrosities in the monasteries where the monks do their reading, marvelous things at once ugly and beautiful? Why are there foul monkeys there? Why fierce lions? Why chimaerical centaurs? Why harpies? Why spotted tigers? Why fighting soldiers? Why hunters blowing horns within the cloisters? You see here under one head many bodies, and there one body with many heads. A serpent is seen with four feet, and a fish with a quadruped animal's head. There is a creature that is a horse in front, a goat behind; and another with horns and a horse's rear. There are so many there and of such diverse shapes that it is easier to read in the marble than in the books, spending the whole day gazing at each in turn, rather than meditating upon God's law." For centaurs, see Odyssey, XXI.295-303; the Olympia Temple pediment of the Centauromachia; Lear's conflation: "Down from the waist they are Centaurs, Though women all above," Lear, IV.vi.123-4.
10 Wolfram von den Steinem, "Das Mittelalterliche Latein als Historisches Phänomen," Schweizerische Zeitschrift für geschichte, 7 (1957), 1-27. My thanks to Professor Janet Martin, Princeton University, for this reference.
11De vulgari eloquentia, I.i, Le Opere di Dante, ed. M. Barbi, E.G. Parodi, F. Pellegrini, E. Pistelli, P. Rajna, E. Rostagno, G. Vandelli (Firenze: Società Dantesca Italiana, 1960), p. 297.
12 Traugott Lawler, "The Chaucer Library 'Jankyn's Book of Wikked Wyves,'" The Chaucer Newsletter, 7 (1985), 1-4.
13 St. Benedict, Benedicti Regula, ed. Rudulphus Hanslik, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (Vienna, 1960).
14 "Split Representation in the Art of Asia and America," Structural Anthropology, trans. Clare Jacobson (New York: Basic Books, 1963), pp. 245-268.
15 Ernest Kitzinger, Early Medieval Art (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964), pp. 21, 100, pl. 7.
16 Orléans MS 201, published by Edmond de Coussemaker, Drames liturgiques du Moyen Age (Rennes: Vatar, l860); Sacre rappresentazione nel manoscritto 201 della Bibliothèque municipale di Orléans, ed. Gianpiero Tintori and Rafaello Monterosso (Cremona: Athenaeum Cremonense, 1958). I produced several of these plays: Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 21 (1978), 95-6; 22 (1977), 139; 23 (1980), 87.
17Ritual Process, pp. 4-43.
18 Hartmann Grisar, History of Rome and the Popes in the Middle Ages, trans. Luigi Cappadelta (London, 1812), I, 226.
19 William S. Hecksher, Sixtus IIII; Grisar, History of Rome, I. 266.
20 Bede, I.30 (in Penguin ed., I.27) Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. Bertram Colgrave and R.B. Mynors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969): "This is sent to the most reverend man, our brother, Bishop Augustine, with God's greeting, saying that I have thought on what you have written concerning the English people, that their temples of idolatry ought to be destroyed; rather the idols should be destroyed while the temples can be blessed with holy water, altars constructed and relics placed in them. It the temples are well constructed it is necessary to change the demon cult to the worship of the true God, and thus, the people, not seeing their temples destroyed, would lay aside the errors in their heart and adore the true God, coming together for this at the place with which they were familiar." In a similar vein Gregory counsels Augustine to be tolerant towards English women who attend church when menstruating.
21 Augustine, De doctrina christiana, II.xl, 60, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina XXXII (Turnholt: Brepols, 1962).
22 The Roman Mildenhall treasure also had a spoon, this one inscribed with alpha and omega: Mortimer Wheeler, Roman Art and Architecture (New York: Praeger, 1964), pp. 206-8. Silver spoons, to this day, are sometimes shaped into Christian forms, for example, Apostle spoons.
23The Vercelli Book, ed. George Philip Krapp (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), pp. 79-80.
24 Richard Hamilton Green, "Gawain's Shield and the Quest for Perfection," Middle English Survey, ed. Edward Vasta (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1965), pp. 71-92.
25 Louvre, Paris.
26 John Beckwith, Ivory Carvings in Early Medieval England (London: Harvey Miller and Metcalf, 1972), p. 74 and plates 124-126.
27 "Vitae S. Pauli Primi Eremitae," De viris illustribus (Nice: Taurinorum, l885); Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1957), pp. 26-39; Danielle Gaborit-Chopin, Ivoires du Moyen Age (Paris: Weber, 1978), plate 72, gives a Louvre ivory showing "paradis terrestre" with centaurs, sirens, cynophales and satyrs.
28 Alfred Becker, Franks Casket: Zu den bildern und Inscriften des Runenskachens von Auzon (Regensberg: Hans Carl, 1973); Ralph W. Elliott, Runes: An Introduction (Manchester: University Press, 1959), pp. 96-109; Gaborit-Chopin, plate 46; Amy L. Vandersall, "Homeric Myth in Early Medieval England: The Lid of the Franks Casket," Studies in Iconography, 1 (1975), 3-37. Professor Vandersall's argument, that the scene is from the Iliad, the hero, Achilles, may be substantiated by the runes' likeness to Greek letters, by way of Phoenician ones, the X a Chi. Compare with the spoon of the Sutton Hoo ship burial where runic and Greek Ls, Lambdas, are also alike.
29Njal's Saga, trans. Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Pálsson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960).
30 Christopher Francis Battiscomb, The Relics of St. Cuthbert (London: Oxford University Press, 1956); Donald D. McIntyre and E. Kitzinger, The Coffin of St. Cuthbert (London: Oxford University Press, 1950); G. Baldwin Brown, The Arts in Early England: The Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses (London: Murray, 1921), V, 397-411, 698, fn. 36. Much of my argument here derives from the research of Professor Jeanne Krochalis who gave a paper on this material at Kalamazoo, 1979. We wrote our two papers at the same kitchen table at the same time sharing the same books. See Christine Fell, Women in Anglo-Saxon England, pp. 22-38.
31 See Julia Bolton Holloway, "Verbal Icons: Paradigms of Death and Birth," Studies in Iconography, 11 (1987), 95-110, whose argument is much shaped by Gail McMurray Gibson.
32 My thanks to Gail McMurray Gibson for information concerning the "Vierge Ouvrante." See E.K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage (Oxford: Clarendon, 1903), II,311 for the Durham Virgin: "Over the second of the iii Alters in the plage was a marveylous lyvelye and bewtiful Immage of the picture of our Ladie, so called the LADY OF BOULTONE, which picture was maide to open with gymmers from her breaste downdward. And within the said immage was wrowght and pictured the immage of our Saviour, merveylouse fynlie gilted, houldinge upp his handes, and houlding betwixte his handes a fair large CRUCIFIX of CHRIST, all of gold, the which crucifix was to be taiken fourthe every Good Fridaie, and every man did crepe unto it that was in the church that day. And ther after yt was houng upe againe within the said immage."
33 II, 11. The mirror and comb were sent by Pope Boniface to Queen Ethelberga of Kent, wife of King Edwin of Northumbria. Pope Gregory had reminded her father, King Ethelbert of Kent, to imitate Emperor Constantine in his conversion from idolatry, I.32.
34 Baldwin Brown, dates Bewcastle, circa 664, and Ruthwell as similarly dated, V.314; Albert S. Cook, "Some Accounts of the Bewcastle Cross between 1607 and 1861," Yale Studies in English, 50 (1914), especially the studies by Father David Henry Haigh, whose excellent work was denigrated because of his Catholicism by the Protestant clergyman at Ruthwell; Wilhelm Viëtor, Die Northumbrischen Runensteine (Marburg: N.G. Elwert'sche, l895), pp. 95-96; M.D. Forbes and Bruce Dickens, "The Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses," Modern Language Review, 10 (1915), 29-36; Sandra McEntire, "The Devotional Context of the Cross Before A.D. 1000," Robert T. Farrell, "Reflections on the Iconography of the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses," Eamonn O Carragáin, "Christ over the Beasts and the Agnus Dei: Two Multivalent Panels on the Ruthwell and Bewcastle Crosses," in Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture, ed. Paul E. Szarmach (Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, 1986) Studies in Medieval Culture 20, pp. 343-403.
35 Haigh in Cook; Baldwin Brown, V.119, 201-202.
36 I wish to thank my student, Philip Roughton, who made use of his knowledge of Old Icelandic to discuss the relationship of this stanza 138 of the Hávamál, the second poem within the Poetic Edda, to the "Dream of the Rood." The Hávamál is found in a thirteenth-century manuscript, the Codex Regius, whose scribe was almost certainly Christian. See also Freidrich Heer, The Medieval World: Europe 1100-1350, trans. J. Sondheimer (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1961), p. 30l. Baldwin Brown, VI.II, 233-5, 244, plates LXXXI, LXXXIII, notes Halton, Leeds, Staveley, and Manx Andreas crosses with scenes of Othinn and Sigurd upon them, corresponding to the Franks Casket.
37 Vietor, pp. 2-13; Elliott, pp. 90-96; Baldwin Brown, V.123, 127; Bede and Anglo-Saxon England, ed. Robert T. Farrell, British Archeological Reports, 46 (1978); Meyer Schapiro, "The Religious Meaning of the Ruthwell Cross," Late Antique, Early Christian and Medieval Art (New York: Brazillier, 1979), pp. 151-193.
38 Baldwin Brown, VI.II, 142, demonstrates that the edges of the shafts pointed to the true compass points, the faces thus being North East, South East, South West, North West.
39 Adamnan, De locis sanctis, ed. Denis Meehan (Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies, 1958), pp. 43-57, 111, and ed. L. Bieler, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina, 175 (1965), 175-234.
40Baedae Opera Historica, ed. and trans. J.E. King (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), Loeb 248, II. 126-151; Baldwin Brown suggests Caedmon/Hilda, or at least "School of Caedmon" for composer, V, 224-226, 244, but notes this cannot be proved. Though Bede narrates of Caedmon after Hilda, he elsewhere transposes events chronologically.
41 Baldwin Brown, VI.II, 263, plate XC, Nunburnholme Cross Shaft, Yorkshire, has the figure of an abbess with book satchel as ephod on the north face, on the west, the Virgin and Child, beneath whom are a female centaur and her baby on her back.
42Michael Camille, "Seeing and Reading: Some Visual Implications of Medieval Literacy and Illiteracy," Art History, 8 (1985), 26-49, esp. 41. My thanks to Annemarie Weyl Carr for this reference.
43 Rosemary Cramp, "Northumbria and Ireland," discusses the 12 styli, 2 vellum prickers and 123 loom weights found at Whitby which "portray perhaps the female bias of the site," in Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture, ed. Paul E. Szarmach (Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University Medieval Institute Publications, 1986), p. 194.
44 Baldwin Brown, noted that these were also places with crosses, including that at Whitby of which the cross head survives with now indecipherable runes from Hilda's Abbey of Streanaeshalch (London: Murray, 1937), VI.II, 100-101.
45 As with the Kelloe St. Helen Cross and the Old English Elene so also should the Andreas be compared with the St. Andrew Auckland Cross. See Judith Calvert, "The Iconography of the St. Andrew Auckland Cross," Art Bulletin, 66 (1984), 543-555. While the crosses are later they testify to the ungoing popularity of the tales.
46 Trans. Lucius Hudson Holt, Translations from Old English, ed. A.S. Cook (New York: Archon, 1970), pp. 95-132. We know from pilgrim accounts that Constantine so bedecked the wooden cross with gold and gems, much as Israelites adorned their sacred Ark with Egyptian gold and silver.
47 Baldwin Brown, VI.II, 131, notes there was a great cross standing in the forum in Constantinople between statues of Constantine and Helena.
48 The Christian feast of the Invention on May 3rd, we recall, likewise counters the pagan festival of Venus' Kalends of May, of May 1st. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales makes similar use of Venus, the date of May 3rd and the "croys that Seint Eleyne fond" (VI.951). Thus we have a similar patterning with Helen of Troy and Helen of Rome, with the Temple to Venus and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as we have with Eve and Mary, the EVA/AVE of March 25 and of Fra Angelico's iconography where the same model serves for Eve as for the Virgin Mary.
49 Karl Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), I, 164-167. This ritual was carried to America by Franciscans and is still used by burial societies in New Mexico and Colorado, the Penitentes, who in turn influenced the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe. A fine specimen of such a crucifix is to be found in the Museum of Anthropology at Ghost Ranch, Abiqui. For more complete bibliography on Penitentes, see Holloway, "Verbal Icons," pp. 95-110.
50 St. Helen's Church, Kelloe, County Durham, circa 1200, English Romanesque Art, 1066-1200: Hayward Gallery, London, 5 April-8 July, 1984 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson and Arts Council of Great Britain, 1984), pp. 208-9.
51Regularis Concordiae Anglicae Nationis Monachorum Sanctimonialiumque, trans. Dom Thomas Symons (London: Nelson, 1953), p. xli. Karl Young, I, 250, reproduces Regularis Concordia, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A.III, folio 21, with an interlinear in Old English to the Latin text. The Lindisfarne Gospels, associated with St. Cuthbert, likewise have such a interlinear text.
52 See Holloway, "Dream of the Rood," pp. 32-33, 37, for the debate concerning the MS Orléans 201's provenance, which may have originally come from England, perhaps from Winchester of the Regularis Concordia, to Fleury.
53 I owe my knowledge of medieval liturgical drama to Gerard Farrell, O.S.B., of St. John's Abbey, who taught at the Westminster Choir College, Princeton, with whom I produced several of these plays.
54 David Bevington, Medieval Drama (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973), pp. 202-223, esp. 207; Fletcher Collins, Jr., Production of Church Music-Drama (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1972), p. 65.
55 Ephraem Syri, Hymni et Sermones, ed. Thomas Josephus Lamy (Mechline: Archiepiscopal Press, 1882), I, 314-338; Kontakia of Romanos: Byzantine Melodist, trans. Marjorie Carpenter (Columbia: University of Michigan Press, 1970), I, 97-107; Sandro Sticca, "The Christos Paschon and the Byzantine Theater," Studies in Medieval Drama in Honor of William L. Smoldon on his 82nd Birthday, ed. Clifford Davidson (Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, 1974), pp. 13-44.
56 Leslie Webber Jones and C.R. Morey, Miniatures of the Manuscripts of Terence Prior to the Thirteenth Century (Princeton: University Press, 1931), give the siglum P to Fleury (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 7900) and O to St. Albans/Winchester (Bodleian Auct. F.2.13) and consider that O copies P.
57 Fletcher Collins, Production, p. 161, citing Karl Young, II, 200, and Orléans MS 201, Resuscitatio Lazari. The Desert Fathers likewise wrote of the conversion of harlots, such as St. Mary of Egypt and St. Pelagius, who became hermits, Waddell, pp. 173-201.
58 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, trans. Ralph Manheim (Princeton: University Press, 1955), Bollingen, 47; John Sharkey, Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), plate 14, figs. 1, 23-25.
59 Bakhtin, pp. 437-474.
60 Aeschylus, Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, ed. Herbert Weir Smith (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971) Loeb Classical Series 146.
61 Fernand Mossé, A Handbook of Middle English (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1952), pp. 201-202.
62 A new willingness to relate liturgical Latin and Corpus Christi vernacular drama in the light of Bakhtin's "Two Worlds" concept for the Middle Ages could aid research in both these areas simultaneously.
63 Goethe, Faust, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Doubleday, 1963), I, 2038-2039.
64 Mossé, p. 202.
65 Wallace Stevens, "Notes towards a Supreme Fiction," The Palm at the End of the Mind, ed. Holly Stevens (New York: Vintage, 1972), p. 223. Stevens also plays with this theme in "Esthétique du Mal," "Natives of poverty, children of malheur/ The gaiety of language is our seigneur," p. 260.


St Birgitta, Revelationes, 1500, Nuremburg, Anthony Koberger


St. Birgitta: The Disjunction Between Women and Ecclesiastical Power

Joan Bechtold

The life of St. Birgitta of Sweden (1303-1373) can be re-examined within the context of sexual politics, because Birgitta became a powerful woman through her allegiance to contemporary masculine ideology. Her background indicates that her power emerged both in accordance with traditional masculine stratifications of class and education, and through her loyalty to the Papacy, the literal symbol of masculine secular and religious, temporal and spiritual authority in the Middle Ages. Certainly she questioned the right of certain ecclesiastics to wield authority; she even went so far as to sentence several popes to Hell in her visions for failing to return permanently to Rome. However, she never doubted the legitimacy of that authority itself. Beyond the imperfections of its human agents, Birgitta still believed the Papacy proper to be an institution worthy of unwavering respect. Her accomplishments, therefore, were not really feminist victories, as she rose to power by defending a system created by men more fervently than did her male counterparts.

Because she supported this system, Birgitta also accepted traditional ecclesiastical doctrines which required the subordination, or the subalternization as Gayatri Spivak explains, of women. In the Middle Ages, women were excluded from powerful positions within the Church hierarchy, and were perceived as the "Second Sex," to use Simone de Beauvoir's term, both temporally and physiologically. Birgitta only furthered those beliefs in the inferiority of her sex when she denounced clerical corruption for transforming the purity of the male sacraments into a woman's menstrual blood--an issue to be discussed later in this essay.

However, if one theoretically unseats the primacy of the Papal cause and instead places its importance within the context of Birgitta's life as a woman, a more sympathetic portrait emerges. When I re-examine her visions and her life in this light, I find that Birgitta was divided in her allegiance to the Papal Father in her concern for women. For example, she was far more preoccupied with justifying her activities as a woman and with creating a new order for women in honor of the Mother Mary at Vadstena, than she was with securing the position of the Father in Rome. By shifting my focus to Birgitta's life in its entirety, hitherto relegated to a secondary importance in the hagiographical corpus, I am not denying her acceptance of male ideology. On the contrary, an exploration of her background, visions and political activity demonstrates the ways in which she used these beliefs to structure her feminine and feminist inclinations. Yet her attempt to articulate the feminine through the use of masculine frameworks condemned her feminist projects to continual subordination, making her story more a chronicle of tragic internal struggle, rather than a tale of simple acquiescence. She embodies the tension which existed for a medieval woman in power, in conflict between her sense of herself as a woman in her lived experience and the nullification of this experience within an ecclesiastical system which only gave authority to the masculine.

Birgitta came from an aristocratic background, which in part explains the restraint she felt towards any subversive visionary or political activity. Her parents, Sir Birger and Lady Ingeborg Persson, were related to the royal family of Folkhungi, and Sir Birger was the princeps of the province of Uppland. In terms of her visions, her connection with the court explains why Birgitta valued knighthood, a secular emblem of masculine aristocratic achievement, as a symbol of Christian perfection.\1 Politically, her noble background gave her opportunities, and thus incentive, to act within traditional channels of power. By virtue of her birth she began her political career in the court of King Magnus and Queen Blanche, as a teacher and governess to the young queen. Her aristocratic roots also allowed her to make later contact with various noble families throughout her travels. According to legend, by healing Prince Gentile Orsini, she was befriended by the most influential family in Rome which had also provided the Church with many popes and cardinals. The Orsini family then gave her introductions to the ruling powers throughout Italy, such as Niccolò Acciaiuoli, the marshal of the kingdom of Naples, and helped her to gain contact with the Pope. It was Niccolò Orsini, the papal vice-gerent in Perugia, who delivered the rules of her Order to Urban V, and Latino Orsini, commander-in-chief of the Papal forces, who arranged an audience for her with Urban at Montefiascone in 1370.

The aristocracy further shaped Birgitta's sense of political propriety by teaching her the appropriate channels of power and conflict resolution as defined by the men of her class. Most importantly, this form of indoctrination was accomplished through an early exposure to the law. Just as Jacques Lacan associates the Law with the symbolic male principle, Birgitta's earliest childhood experiences caused her to attribute the Law to both literal and literary patriarchs. Her father was one of the authors of Sweden's first set of Christian laws wherein the cause of God was codified as higher than that of the earthly ruler. In addition, since the aristocracy provided the rudiments of education to boys and girls alike, Birgitta obtained an early religious education, which included readings in the Old Testament. She must have held these texts, and especially the Laws of Moses, in great esteem since she later had the Pentateuch translated into Swedish by her spiritual director, Master Matthias. The enormous influence of both her actual and textual fathers can be seen in Birgitta's visions of final judgment. I will explore the details and the implications of these visions at a later point, but it is important to keep their overall structure in mind. She always used a legalistic matrix, a celestial tribunal deliberating upon the practices of world leaders, to embody her mystical apprehension of the fate of the soul. Birgitta's use of the law of the fathers as a means of mental structuring indicates the degree to which masculine frameworks circumscribed her internal life, making her ultimate refusal to deviate from the Papacy far less surprising.

However, this interplay between her literal and literary experiences did not always automatically converge on the figure of the father. For instance, Birgitta centered much of her discussion around her own womanhood and the image of women more conventionally found in Mary and the female saints. Yet one of the major problems in Birgittine scholarship hinges upon determining the extent to which her feminine focus was feminist in nature. Whether she was responding to her sense of herself as a woman in her attention to women, or whether her views only cultivated a tradition already established in male ecclesiastical writings is by no means clear.

A discussion of her initial reaction to marriage, for example, illustrates the ambiguity involved in interpretation. She expressed disgust at the thought of marrying Sir Ulf Gudmarsson, the son of another Law-man, at the age of thirteen: "Better to die than to be a bride!"\2 From a secular feminist point of view, this revolt against social conformity is understandable, given her age and the status of women during this period. However, this flight from womanly duty was not only fully accepted in Catholic doctrine, but was even the mark of God's elect, as exemplified both by figures such as St. Elin and by works such as the Speculum Virginum.\3 In Saints and Society, Donald Weinstein and Rudolph Bell find that marriage, or the prospect of marriage, was the most frequent cause for conversion to the religious life amongst female saints.\4 Moreover, it is possible that Birgitta disavowed marriage because she was already pledged to Christ. For instance, one of her earliest visions at the age of seven parallels the vows which a woman took to become a nun: "Come, bride of Christ, and accept the crown," "Veni, sponsa Christi, et accipe coronam."\5

Birgitta did marry Ulf, but she imposed a vow of celibacy upon him for two years. [For that Pauline disobedience, see Elizabeth Makowski's essay.] Again, one could attribute her abstinence to the horror of defloration.\6 Yet Birgitta was also familiar with St. Bernard's Liber de modo bene vivendi, which condemned the "copula corporum," the coupling of bodies. And while Birgitta eventually bore eight children, she did not necessarily succumb to the secular ideals of marriage. Sexuality was sanctioned by Catholic doctrine when employed for procreative purposes and to pay the marriage debt.

Birgitta was liberated from her marital obligations upon Ulf's death in 1343, following their Compostela pilgrimage. She was directed by Christ to expand her freedom henceforth, newly found in widowhood, by disavowing all earthly ties, including both her wealth and her children. She was now to go forth into the world, speaking Christ's words, as his bride (Rev. Extrav. 47). The appeal of independence from one's children may be radically viewed in the light of feminism, but Birgitta was far more conservative in her justification. She neither initiated, nor apparently desired, a life of complete self-determination. Rather, her "freedom" was commanded by Christ, the supreme male authority, who in turn offered her the consolation of celestial matrimony. She also received additional official support for following Christ's wishes from St. Bernard, whose Ad Sororem ("To his Sister") was read to Birgitta after a dream tempted her to remain with her family. In this dream, Birgitta encountered a merchant blazing up a fire in her kitchen, "To make the love you bear your children flame up so that you will decide to stay at home with them" (Rev. 2.24; Extrav. 95). St. Bernard's text, however, justified her desire to depart from domesticity with a clear conscience, "We ought not to hate our families, but their impediments which take us from the right road." "Non debemus odio habere parentes nostros, sed impedimenta eorum qui nos a recto itinere deviant."\7

While Birgitta may have found an orthodox rationale for a woman's right to go out into the world, it was more difficult to find texts which justified women speaking for Christ. The axiom "women should not preach" was upheld by the medieval Church, which echoed St. Paul in explicitly forbidding women from communicating the words of God within the mass. What is interesting is that Birgitta, while maintaining the necessity of validation by religious authority, retreated from these masculine prohibitions. Rather than accept silence, she used the feminine St. Agnes to legitimize her social aspirations. Birgitta credited St. Agnes for her learning of Latin, the language of the masculine mass, and the language which was indispensable for effective political action.\8 St. Agnes also presented Birgitta with a golden crown set with seven precious stones, a visionary reward for "patience in suffering" the criticism which came from outspokenness. The first stone, a jasper, "was given to you by him who said that you would do better to stay at home and spin like other women than to dispute about Holy Scriptures" (Rev. 4.124).

St Agnes, Mosaic, Rome

Nevertheless, this departure from masculine authority should not be over-emphasized, since Birgitta remained extremely orthodox in ideology. She upheld the necessity of obedience and clerical celibacy. Further, like the Papacy, she disavowed the extreme poverty of the Franciscans. According to Birgitta, the Papacy was right to punish their poverty as heresy, since Mary affirmed in a vision that Christ never maintained absolute poverty: "'My Son had that vesture which I had woven for him myself, and for which the soldiers cast lots'" (Rev. 7.8). Even her criticism of clerical corruption was rooted in a devotion to the Church. Like St. Francis, Birgitta drew a clear distinction between the men and the office based on the sanctity of the sacraments which only the Church was authorized to distribute. "'Even if the worst man were a priest and said the word Hoc est corpus meum, he would thereby consecrate the bread to my body, and I lie before him on the altar, true God and true man.'"\9

This orthodoxy also affects Birgitta's treatment of women and her use of female metaphors within her visions, where her perceptions of women fall within the spirit/flesh, masculine/feminine duality found throughout religious texts. Unfortunately, a complete discussion of this facet of misogynism in ecclesiastical writings extends beyond the scope of this essay. In general terms, however, it is fair to say that the medieval attempt to elevate the spiritual status of Woman only masked a belief in her essential inferiority as flesh.\10 Redemptive powers were accorded to the Virgin Mary, and various men argued in favor of the spiritual equality between men and women in terms of salvation. In this world, however, women were condemned to perpetual subordination as the daughters of Eve, the quintessential representation of an innately inferior carnality.

The argument equating woman with the flesh took many forms, but always served as a rationale for prohibiting her participation within the male theological world. According to St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, she was completely unfit to articulate the Word of God since she was first of all secondarily created from the flesh of Adam: "For Adam was first formed, then Eve" (I Timothy 2.13). From such an inferior origin, the moral weakness she exhibited in the Fall could only logically follow. Even a woman like Hildegard of Bingen accepted this notion and advocated that women should respect the Pauline prescription of silence in religious services since "man is the complete work of God . . . woman the work of man," "Homo enim plenum opus Dei est . . . Femina enim opus viri est."\11

Women were also perceived to be physiologically incapable of reaching the spiritual heights attained by men. The medieval period did not go so far as the fourth century Canons of Laodicea in prohibiting women from entering the sanctuary during menstruation (we have Gregory of Rome writing to Augustine of Canterbury asking him to be tolerant on this score). However, Abelard's consternation about the physical location of Christ's conception is not far from the older taboo: "The Redeemer could have chosen another part of a woman's body to be conceived there and born from there, and not that despised part where other sons of man are conceived and born."/12

What makes Birgitta's use of the spirit/flesh duality interesting, however, is that she both accepted and disrupted the hierarchy implied by the polarity. In her visions she never placed the spirit above the flesh, a position which would have deprived her woman's body, and her woman's voice, of ecclesiastical legitimacy. Rather, she used the standard typically associated with women, the Body and Blood, to judge the relative spiritual value of both sexes.

The feminization of what might be called a dialectic of the flesh is at first difficult to ascertain, since Birgitta seems to be drawing the traditional distinction between the corporeal and the Corpus Christi. In one of her prayers, she asks that God "comfort me to resist the devil, the world and the flesh and the blood, that dead to the world I may live in thee," while ironically devoting a large portion of the prayer to a grotesque description of the flesh and blood of the battered Christ./13 The body, in this case, seems to have a metaphorical, rather than a literal, or specifically gender-related, significance as an allegory of salvation; Christ's body and blood redeem the corrupt body of mankind. This conventional metaphor, however, is implicitly misogynistic, since salvation requires the explicitly male body and blood of the Eucharist for attainment. The female body and blood, while not blatantly denigrated in this case, are absent from the allegory.

When one turns to Birgitta's discussion of the Blood, the female body is excluded more obviously from perfection. While Birgitta did choose the more feminine standard of the Blood as her focus, she split this metaphor into two specific sexes. In drawing a distinction between male and female blood, Birgitta reconstituted the spirit/flesh, masculine/feminine hierarchy. She most often cited the male eucharist when she spoke of blood as a symbol of perfection, whereas the blood of women, primarily associated with menstruation, indicated a false transubstantiation into damnation. In her vision of a mass performed by an ecclesiastical tax collector, the discontinuity between his debased spiritual state and the sanctity of the sacraments is as "si meretrix menstruum in vase positum offerret alicui nobili ad bibendum" (Rev. 6.9). References such as this one, associating spiritual dis-ease with feminine bleeding in either menstruation, or in some cases a miscarriage, stand in opposition to the blood flowing from the "over five thousand wounds, splinters and cuts in the holy body of Christ."\14 Thus, just as Christ was sent for the salvation of the world, the idealized masculine form was needed to redeem the feminine bleeding "wound" from whence both Christ, and mankind, were made flesh.

The extreme importance of Mary in Birgitta's visions may appear to be incongruous with Birgitta's negative perception of womanhood. Yet Mary too fell prey to this denigration of female sexuality. For Birgitta, a precondition for Mary's sanctity was complete virginity, or desexualization. However, since Mary was both sexually and celestially of a lower order than Christ, so must be her immaculate conception. Rather than borne of the Holy Spirit, she was created from the flesh of her parents at the bidding of an angel (Rev. 1.9; 6.55). Birgitta's tendency toward desexualization can also be seen in her re-visioning of the Nativity, a miraculous event devoid of all its fleshly connotations of pain and "unclean" blood. For example, in Birgittine iconography, the radiant Mary gives birth while kneeling in prayer, "And immediately the maiden's body, which had been very swollen, contracted and her whole body was wonderfully beautiful and delicate" (Rev. 7.21). Further, according to the Mary, "'I did not need purification, like other women, because my son who was born of me made me clean'" (Rev. 6.57). Again, it is the male form which purifies the locus of female sexuality. On the one hand, Birgitta's erasure of the physical realities of childbirth from the nativity is conventional, and can be found in the works of theologians such as St. Bernard, St. Francis and Pseudo-Bonaventure. Yet Birgitta goes further by associating Mary's sexuality with her sexual subordination and subalternization. For the first time, Mary is quoted as saying "'Be welcome, my God, my Lord and my son,'" removing her shoes reverently in the presence of her superior after childbirth.\15

However, childbirth and motherhood could be very empowering experiences for Birgitta, and they provided her with a visionary knowledge exclusive to women. For example, Birgitta described the burgeoning of her mystical knowledge in terms of childbirth, "In her heart she felt something to be full of life, as if a child was lying there, rolling and turning itself over again," "In corde suo sentiebat esse quoddam vivendum, ac si infans ibi jaceret, volvens et revolvens se."\16 Birgitta even perceived the Virgin Mary in terms of these more women-identified obstetric concerns; she played an essential role in death-bed salvation as the soul's midwife.

Birgitta also emphasized Mary's role as the literal mother of Christ, a fact which again displaces the apparently masculine focus of her visions, such as did her discussion of the Blood. For instance, Birgitta's Jerusalem visions center around the life of Christ. But the power of these visions does not come from the visualization of his birth and death. These events in themselves are rather emblematic, although graphic, whereas the living power of their significance is filtered through the consciousness of Mary, the mother who grieved for a son destined to die. Moreover, in recounting Christ's childhood, Mary as a Mother can provide definitive evidence for his physicality. Besides giving a precise description of her son's appearance, she also tells Birgitta that "there was never any vermin upon him, nor was there any in his hair" (Rev. 6.1). Only a mother could give such a complete presentation of the detail, grounding Christ's future spiritual meaning in a corporeal reality.

The traditional power structure established in the male/female hierarchy is also reversed by Birgitta's focus on the Mother/Son relationship. Despite the male's privileged significance as "Lord," he is nonetheless also a son, dependent upon the mother for both life and an initial introduction to its mysteries. As a mother, Birgitta felt justified in criticizing worldly powers: King Magnus "is childish," "puerilis est," and should therefore listen to a mother's advice.\17 Birgitta adopted the voice of the Mother Mary for more important leaders such as the Pope. When Urban V was contemplating his eventual return to Avignon in 1370 for example, Mary dictated the following revelation to Birgitta: "And as a mother leads her child whither she will, by showing him her breasts so I led him to Rome by my prayers. But what does he do now?" (Rev. 4.138). Here again, her anger and its legitimacy are based on the feelings of a mother betrayed.

Mary also exerts a disruptive influence on hierarchical structures in Birgitta's visions concerning the judgment of souls. On the one hand, these visions are embodied by the traditional framework of feudalism and the Law. An earthly king must pay homage to a higher ruler, Christ, whose judgment is pronounced by a heavenly tribunal where he sits as judge, Satan serves as the prosecutor, and Mary as the attorney for the defense. Here, the masculine/ feminine hierarchy seems to be maintained as Christ passes sentence from his throne, while Mary sits at his feet. However, the final Word and the earthly conception of justice are distorted by Mary, as she has the power to destroy evidence. For instance, when Satan pleads his case for a soul's possession, he employs a book which lists the sins committed. If the soul, while guilty, has nevertheless sincerely repented, Mary erases the words in Satan's books while he is delivering his argument. Thus, Satan is left without a case (or in at least one instance with amnesia), and the soul is granted a reprieve from suffering the full impact of the Law due to Mary's introjection of merciful silence.

What emerges from these visions, then, is a paradoxical treatment of women. On the biological level, while the non-reproductive functions of female sexuality are denigrated and excluded from perfection, motherhood takes on a heightened importance. Metaphorically, the figure of Mary both reinforces and subverts the sexual hierarchy as well. Mary subordinates herself to orthodoxy considering her stand on poverty and her reverent self-effacement at Christ's feet at the Nativity and at a soul's judgment. However, Mary also has the ability to nullify traditional discourse given her undisputed knowledge of Christ as his mother, as well as her capacity to insure salvation through a destruction of the legal hierarchy's evidence.

These paradoxes form a politically significant pattern which is reflected in Birgitta's relationship with the Papacy. In each of the above examples, Birgitta only condemns those aspects of female sexuality which explicitly exclude male participation. Men neither share, nor instigate, menstruation, while motherhood, still an activity confined to women, requires both the male and the female. Likewise, whereas Mary may disrupt the hierarchy, she does so within the framework of motherhood and the Law, both concepts positing a masculine centrality. The ultimately masculine effects of this simultaneous reinforcement and destabilization of the sexual hierarchy are similarly found in Birgitta's political visions and activities. Like Mary, she attempted to subvert a system based on sexual inequality from within, accepting the necessity of masculine centrality found in both her biological and ecclesiastical metaphors.

Birgitta's emphasis on the masculine in her political prophecies varies according to how one chooses to define "vision" in the first place. For example, the Church found proof of her saintliness only in those visions which were predictive, or which lost their disarming effects of novelty through actualization. This definition of the visionary was ultimately demystifying, since it was based on a desire for a confirmation of things as they were. Indeed, many of Birgitta's recognized political visions were either unoriginal or found their origins in logical foresight, rather than unbridled ecstasy. Her apocalyptic visions, predicting the fall of the Papacy, can be found in the works of Joachim de Fiore and the Archdeacon Milicz of Kremsier, Vice-Chancellor of Emperor Charles IV. That the Pope's return to Rome was made a condition for the rejuvenation of Christendom can also be attributed to the actual decay of Rome and the contrasting opulent decadence of Avignon, both of which Birgitta had seen or knew about. Further, one of her earliest political visions predicted the meeting of the Pope and the Emperor in Rome. Yet this scenario was not startling since it too had been previously conceived by Cola di Rienzo, and was predetermined by history. Charles IV had to be crowned by the Pope, and Urban V had many reasons to leave Avignon for Italy. The Black Death had reached Avignon, and there were mercenaries in Provence, while Italian factions had been temporarily subdued by Cardinal Albornoz.
Nevertheless, there was a visionary novelty in her revelations, which went beyond these predictive repetitions of the masculine political world, providing the impetus for both maintaining contact with influential figures and prophesying their doom if they failed to comply. If one examines Birgitta's contact with both secular and religious authorities, one thread which remained unbroken was her commitment to create a new Order "for women first and foremost," "per mulieres primum et principaliter," at Vadstena. It is this type of vision, or envisioning of the new, to which the reader must turn in order to gain a more complete understanding of Birgitta's feminism. While on a pilgrimage with Ulf in 1339-1341, Birgitta envisioned a convent to be founded as a means of atoning for Sweden's sins. For this purpose she needed to increase her contact with the court to obtain both the rights to the land at Vadstena (which were granted to her in a testament in 1436-47), and to authorize its financing through a tax. Birgitta later developed the idea of a convent into an order dedicated to the glorification of Mary, and designed Vadstena along the lines of the double-convent system employed by such orders as the Fontevraldenses. As in all Birgittine conceptions of the Virgin, the order vacillated between an elevation of the stature of women and an acknowledgement of her subservience. On the one hand, nuns were to be in the numerical majority, and although priests were still necessary for the administration of the sacraments, they were incidentally housed in a curia (as opposed to a monasterium) and were subject to the Abbess. In terms of earthly power: "'she is the head of the convent' as the Blessed Virgin was the Queen of the Apostles on earth; the Abbess sits in her place."\18 On the other hand, Birgitta relegated certain rights and duties exclusively to men. Not only were priests given a spiritual monopoly of the central Christian rites of communion and confession, but they also maintained an intellectual advantage within Mary's walls. The nuns could only obtain the books required for fulfilling the liturgy, "'but by no means more,'" while the priests were not restricted in the pursuit of their studies.\19

That Birgitta tended to respect male privilege becomes even more apparent when one examines her means of striving for the Order's ratification. Apparently conscious of her marginal status, Birgitta was always careful to work through the proper male political channels. She also continually embedded her desire for women's sovereignty at Vadstena within the context of more male-oriented political concerns. For instance, while at the court of King Magnus in 1345-6, she suggested that Sweden employ its neutrality to make peace between England and France. This task could be accomplished by sending a deputation to Avignon, along with the Rule of her Order for ratification.\20 Then, after the King's Crusade to Finland in 1347, an endeavor more political than spiritual in nature, Birgitta insisted that forgiveness could only be obtained if Magnus were to go on a pilgrimage to Avignon. While confessing to the Pope, he could also present Birgitta's Rule for confirmation (Extrav. 43). Although Birgitta presented Vadstena as the hope for Sweden's salvation, one must wonder to what extent her emphasis on Sweden's need for atonement served as a pretext for making contact with the Papacy, the sole authority which could legitimize her order. Such speculation should not seem strange, as many medieval female saints and mystics communicated their spiritual needs indirectly, the most extreme examples being those late medieval Italian women described by Rudolph Bell in Holy Anorexia.\21 Women like St. Catherine of Siena practiced rigorous self-starvation rather than direct confrontation in their attempts to forge standards of piety appropriate to their experiences as women. While Birgitta did not starve herself, she too veiled her demands, thereby avoiding the damnation which she equated with a woman's complete self-assertion. A telling instance of self-censorship occurred in 1373 while Birgitta was in Naples as Queen Giovanna's guest. Antonio di Carleto had asked Birgitta to intervene with the Queen on his behalf so that he might obtain the post of Director of Customs. Without first consulting God, Birgitta agreed to speak to the Queen. This seemingly innocuous promise brought forth the satanic smell of sulphur, a sign of her impropriety in having dared to act without the proper authority (Rev. 7.2). She effaced herself in her visions as well, as "she who is standing by," "illa quae adstat," on the sideline of central activity.

Since Birgitta shied from explicit self-revelation, attention must be turned to the periphery of her discussion, away from the papal issues which seem to be primary. The essential centrality of Vadstena can only be retrieved in this indirect manner, noting the continuity of its reference throughout Birgitta's visions and correspondence, and the contiguity between its setbacks and Birgitta's political wrath.

At some point during 1345-46, Birgitta sent a letter conveying Christ's testimony to the Swedish Archbishop Hemming Nilsson, whose approval was also necessary for the establishment of her Order. In this letter, she asked that Bishop Hemming of Abo, a former pupil of Clement VI, be sent to Clement with Birgitta's request, including a proposal for peace between England and France, as well as the rule of her Order. Clement was not predisposed to her idea, and rejected her Order on the basis of the Lateran Council of 1215. That Council declared that no new Orders could be founded, although an exception had been made for the Franciscans in 1223.\22 Birgitta responded by extending her notion of final judgment to the Pope himself: "'You have stirred me to wrath and did what you would and not what you should. But now my hour will soon be at hand when I will call you to account for all your forgetfulness'" (Rev. 6.63).

That Clement's failure to negotiate a peace was less important to Birgitta than was his refusal to ratify her Order is made obvious in one vision which occurred after the construction of Vadstena ceased in 1348. Just as Vadstena had been abandoned, so too would be the Pope and his priests: "Not one stone shall rest upon another, there shall not even be lime between the stones; and my mercy shall never come upon them . . . ." (Rev. 1.4l). Building imagery can also be found in Birgitta's future visions and correspondence, indicating the degree to which Vadstena, although allegorized, remained the foundation of her concerns (Rev. 7.6; 4.49).

Birgitta's condemnation of the Papacy reached its pinnacle after the final request for Vadstena was denied in a papal bull, dated August 5, 1370. As she had gained no headway with Clement, she contacted one of his successors, Urban V. An audience was arranged at Montefiascone, and the same reasons for rejecting the Order were given. Citing both the Lateran Council of 1215 and the Council of Lyons in 1274, Urban urged her to adopt the Augustinian Rule and to expand the male curia into a monasterium. His attempt to neutralize Birgitta's feminist tendencies brought forth Mary's wrath, disguised as disgust for Urban's desire to return to Avignon.

If he should succeed in getting back to his own country he will be struck such a blow that his teeth will shake in his mouth . . . . The friends of God will no longer include him in their prayers, and he will be called to account to God for what he did and what he did not do (Rev. 4.138).
Given that this vision occurred immediately after the ill-fated audience, between the silence of "what he did and what he did not do," one can read Vadstena and the true cause of Birgitta's resentment.

During the last three years of Birgitta's life, references to Vadstena did not predominate her thought, although she still continued to curse the Pope for refusing to return to Rome according to Christ's command. Nevertheless, Birgitta must have accepted the Pope's decision denying any further expectation of establishing female sovereignty at Vadstena, since her preoccupation with papal activities coincided with an erasure of the feminine from her visions. As in the past, she stridently criticized women, and especially women in power, for revealing their feminine flesh. For example, she advised Eleanor, Queen of Cyprus, to "have done with the custom of shameful women, in tight clothing and the showing off of their breasts," "deponat consuetudinem pudorosam mulieram, in strictis vestibus et ostensione mamillarum" (Rev. 7.16). According to Johannes Joergensen, she even discarded her self-effacing visionary voice of the past by employing the first person pronoun "ego," "I," when speaking of herself toward the end of her life.\23 But it is possible that Birgitta never really spoke of herself after the Papacy had destroyed her hope of creating a place for women apart from the established orders according to her design. She no longer had a cause for which to fear the ostracizing effects of a woman's self-assertion. In other words, Birgitta's use of "ego" in her later life was not necessarily a mark of heightened self-assurance. Instead the "ego" could have also been the ultimate veiling of a more authentic feminine experience in the past, where Birgitta articulated her "self" and Vadstena only through the voice of another religious authority, rather than risk damnation. Vadstena, however, regained its former importance in Birgitta's final visions of 1373. In one of these visions, Christ despaired over Rome which had been forsaken by the Pope, just as Birgitta's plans for Vadstena had been abandoned by the Papacy: "'O Rome, Rome, the Pope despises you and does not count my words for anything. Therefore shall he no longer hear the sound of my music'" (Rev. 7.31). Yet, more importantly, Birgitta did not end her revelations by grieving over the failures of the world and its leaders. She instead returned to former hopes of triumph where Christ and Mary both promised her that "You shall not only be counted as my bride, but also as a nun and mother in Vadstena," "Amodo reputaberis non solum sponsa mea, sed etiam monacha et mater in Watseno."\24 If Birgitta had not found complete success in a world which had demanded her acceptance of masculine revisions to her Order, Christ yet affirmed that she, as Mother, would achieve victory on her terms after her death.

Birgitta's final revelations might lead one to see a feminist triumph in her death, much as she envisioned a separation from the male powers of this world which had halted the completion of her projects. Not only had Christ himself vowed to cease speaking his words to ecclesiastical authorities who had refused to heed his call to Rome, but he had also ignored Urban V's words by giving control of Vadstena back to Birgitta. However, this interpretation takes one into the realm of wish fulfillment, and aspires to a solution which Birgitta was unable to attain on earth.

As I have shown in this brief analysis, Birgitta's life was characterized by a refusal to sever the bonds with male authority. Her background placed both social and ecclesiastical limitations on her ability to conceive of possiblities for women apart from male structures. As a result, Birgitta never wholeheartedly championed the cause of women in either her visionary or her political life. While she did grant certain privileged experiences to women alone, as in her elevation of the value of maternity, she nevertheless also supported orthodox doctrine which kept women in a secondary status as flesh. Even her commitment to Vadstena did not exclude the necessity of male supervision. Birgitta may have insisted upon a matriarchy, but the power of women was limited to numerical and administrative control. Spiritual and intellectual superiority were still reserved for men. Nor did she ever explicitly condemn the Papacy for denying her requests for an order.

Therefore, one must look beyond the otherworld feminine utopia promised by Christ and Mary in these last revelations in order to conclude on the relationships which existed between the masculine and feminine in Birgitta's life. Her final words of advice to her daughter Karin are said to have been "patience and silence," and these words seem to repudiate the life of a woman who felt driven to speak to the world as Christ's bride.\25

Was Birgitta, then, ending her life as the orthodox mouthpiece of the male Christ and the male Christian tradition by echoing St. Paul's prohibition of a woman's speech? Or was she using St. Paul to instruct the next generation of women about the inferior status of a woman's verbal demands, and the inevitability of these words being silenced within ecclesiastical structures defined by men? Had she learned through experience that a woman's words used for the purpose of women were doomed to defeat, so that silence and a positive evaluation of womanhood were synonymous ecclesiastical terms? A reflection upon the politics of Vadstena and the denial of its initial feminist design by the male Papacy makes these questions worthy of consideration, despite their hypothetical natures.

University of Denver
College of Law


1 The references to Knighthood in Birgitta's visions are too numerous and lengthy to quote in their entirety. Some of the best examples can be found in her Revelations 2.8; 2.10; 2.13; 4.55; 4.73; 4.76; 4.89 and 6.28. Since I have made extensive use of this text throughout this paper, future references to the Revelations will be cited within parentheses following quotations. They are drawn from Johannes Jørgensen, Saint Bridget of Sweden, trans. Ingeborg Lund (London: Longmans Green, 1954), 2 vols.
2 Jørgensen, I, 43-44.
3 The legend of St. Elin of Skovde (d. 1150) contains many parallels with the life of Birgitta. She too was an aristocratic daughter of a law-man of Vestgöta who had been forced to accept an arranged marriage. After the death of her husband, she chose to become wedded to God, journeying on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and, like her great patron, Saint Helena, to see the tomb of the Lord and the places where he suffered, "Rather than submit herself to carnal pleasure which always begins with joy but ends with sorrow," Jørgensen, I, 30. The Speculum Virginum, or Virgin's Mirror, written around 1100, as a dialogue between a Theodora and her wise master, Peregrinus, was read to Birgitta. This text greatly affected her, and led her to state "Virginitas meretur coronam," "Virginity merits the crown," Jørgensen, I, 31-32, citing Processus, 491; Rev. Extravagantes, 96.
4 Donald Weinstein and Rudolph Bell, Saints and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 52.
5 Jørgensen, I, 32; Processus, pp. 76-305.
6 Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), II, 145-148.
7 Joergensen, I, 222; Ad sororem, cap. 7.
8 Jørgensen, II, 44; Processus, pp. 445, 456.
9 Jørgensen, I, 207. Cf. Rev. 4.144.
10 A similar pattern is also true of the chivalric elevation of women - as protection of the weaker sex - growing out of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic requirement to protect widows and orphans. JBH
11 Hildegard of Bingen, Liber divinorum operum simplicis hominis, in Patrologia Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, 197, 885, cited in Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages, trans. Chaya Galai (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 57.
12 Pierre Abélard, Epistola VII, P.L., 178, 256; Shahar, p. 26.
13 Anthony Buktovich, Revelations: St. Birgitta of Sweden (Los Angeles: Ecumenical Foundation of America, 1972), pp. 45-50.
14 Buktovich, p. 45.
15Rev. 7.21. See Anthony Buktovich, Iconography: St. Birgitta of Sweden (Los Angeles: Ecumenical Foundation of America, 1969), pp. 49-58. This work contains a full discussion of the effects which Birgitta's revisioning of the nativity had on painting.
16 Jørgensen I, 137 ff, 284; Processus, 81, 484, 500.
17 Jørgensen, I, 78; Extrav. 43.
18 Jørgensen, I, 180; Regula Sancti Salvatoris, cap. 14.
19 Jørgensen, I, 180.
20 Jørgensen, I, 186; Extrav. 74; Rev. VI, 41.
21 Rudolph Bell, Holy Anorexia (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985). See especially the last sections of the book entitled "Historical Dimensions: Ascent," and "Historical Dimensions: Descent."
22 While the Franciscan Rule was officially accepted in 1223, the original Rule of the Franciscan Order was dated 1210.
23 Jørgensen, II, 266.
24 Jørgensen, II, 293; Processus, 506;
25 A complete presentation of Birgitta's deathbed scene can be found in Jørgensen, II, 296-302.


Christine de Pizan: Le Livre du Chemin de Long Estude

Ester Zago

Christine de Pizan, a widow at the age of twenty-five, had to overcome her bereavement and to provide for herself, her children, her mother and her niece. Years after the death of her husband she was still fighting legal battles to obtain a pension. It was during these difficult times that she succeeded in establishing herself as a writer, a profession which had been the uncontested domain of men. Christine was well aware of the unconventionality of her situation. She refused to remarry and instead put herself through an intensive, self-directed program of study. It was a courageous way of coping with adversity.

Christine received the typical upbringing of a young lady of the upper classes. Her father, Tommaso da Pizzano, had accepted the invitation of King Charles V to become his court astrologer. He moved to France with his Venetian wife and daughter. Christine was then four years old. Raised in an Italian household while living at the French court, she grew up as bilingual. In spite of her mother's opposition and thanks to her father's better judgment she learned Latin. In 1369, at the age of fifteen, she married the man her father had chosen for her. It was a happy marriage, but her husband died after only ten years. During that time, Christine necessarily neglected her education, occupied as she was with household duties and childbearing. The youngest of her three children only lived a few years. When her surviving daughter was accepted as a nun at the convent of Poissy, and her son left for England as a pade to the Earl of Salisbury, Christine was free to devote herself to her literary career.

Most of her works have been carefully edited and studied, notably those, such as The Book of the City of Ladies and The Book of the Three Virtues, dealing with the role and status of women in society./1 Her defense of women in the Querelle du Roman de la Rose has been much discussed. But Le Livre du Chemin de Long Estude, written between 1402 and 1403 for Charles VI and the Princes of the 'Fleurs de Lys', instead is neglected. This dismissal is strange in the light of the fact that it was Le Livre du Chemin de Long Estude which first established Christine de Pizan, in the eyes of her contemporaries, as the first important woman writer. In this poem she displayed, even more than in her earlier work, the mastery of the cultural knowledge and rhetorical skills which were regarded as the marks of a serious and committed writer. In addition, the works holds an important place in Christine's oeuvre; in it she addressed for the first time those political and ethical problems which would be the predominant themes of her subsequent, mature works.

Why this discrepancy between the views of modern critics such as Gaston Paris, Arturo Farinelli, Henri Hauvette, and Marie-Joseph Pinet, who disparage the work, and the praise given it by Christine's contemporaries? It results at least in part from a failure to read the work in terms of the context - both personal and political - in which it was written. From the Renaissance until recently, intertextuality was considered derivative plagiarizing. This prejudice betrays a failure to recognize the poem as a serious attempt to address the very grave and complex political issues of the time./2The dismissal of the poem also fails to take into account the ways in which Christine transforms her models to adapt them to her context. Only by retracing Christine's supernatural journey - in theory - will it be possible to develop a deeper understanding of the poem and its issues, uncovering the extent to which her approach to the world of learning was feminine and about praxis .

First, the poem's title. /3 As all commentators have noted, this is a direct translation of the words that Dante pronounces when Virgil appears to him in the first canto of the Commedia .

O delli poeti onore e lume
vagliami 'l lungo studio e 'l grande amore
che m'ha fatto cercar lo tuo volume.
The poem begins with a dedication to King Charles VI and the princes of his court. It is written in decasyllables, a line which had traditionally been used for epic poetry, though by the end of the fourteenth century its use had been extended to other genres; it was considered more dignified than the octosyllabic line favored by writers of narrative and didactic poetry. Then, like Dante, Christine begins the poem proper with a description of the thoughts that occupied her mind before the Sibyl appeared to her. A comparision with the opening tercet of the Commedia shows how much Christine departs from her model. She sets the stage in her own house and she laments the blow inflicted on her by fortune with the death of her husband. The recollection of Christine's married life is a song of fulfillment of mutual love in happiness as well as in sorrow. She emphasizes its personal tone by using the heptasyllabic line favored by writers of lyric poetry. She then makes a skilful transition to the octosyllabic line, which she will retain throughout the rest of the poem. The reflection on her own condition as a wife and then as a widow, merely sketched here, would be the main theme of one of her best-known works, The Book of the Three Virtues , in which she examined the role and responsibility of women in society.

If we exclude the introduction, the didactic and narrative body of the poem written in heptasyllabic meter clearly divides into two sections. The first (II-VII) outlines Christine's educational program under the Sibyl's guidance. In the second part (VIII-XIII), Christine expresses her concerns about the disastrous political situation in which France was plunged after the death of Charles V, the wise king.

There is ample evidence that Christine knew and used Dante's Italian poem intertextually. However, in the attempt to establish the extent to which Christine was indebted to the Italian poem, critics have neglected evaluating the manner in which Christine adapted Dante's vision to her own poetic world and to the historical reality of her own time. She borrows from Dante the framework of a supernatural journey. But it is only a point of departure. Let us recall the opening lines of the Commedia:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
The apparition of Virgil to Dante constitutes for him the possibility of finding a way out of the obscure forest of sin. Having come to a turning point in his life, his goal must be the redemption of his soul under the guidance of reason. Christine evokes the episode, and Dante's words:
Vaille moy long estude
qu m'a fait cercier tes volumes (1136-1137)
when she realizes that the path on which the Sibyl is leading her is the way to learning. Christine's concerns are neither theological nor metaphysical; her quest for knowledge is seen in its function of the attainment of human wisdom.

Several illuminations in manuscripts of her work represent Christine in her study where she is taking pleasure in reading and writing to divert her mind from sad thoughts. This is also the setting of the poem's beginning. Before taking the readers on her supernatural journey, Christine presents herself to them as a narrator and as a woman. We see her moving about the house, picking up a book or two, being dissatisfied with them, and finally becoming absorbed in Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae. The picture of himself that Dante gives at the outset of his poem is powerful, concise and combre; Christine's self-portrait is gentle, diffuse and delicate. It is also exquisitely feminine and Gothic in style.

This development sets the stage for her vision which begins with the apparition of a woman, who reveals herself to be the Cumaean Sibyl, called Almathea (Soulgoddess) by Christine; she is the one who had taken Aeneas throughthe underworld (in the story Dante then had appropriated for his poem, having instead the male Virgin be his guide). She had predicted, with the other nine Sibyls, the coming of Christ. After telling the story of her long life, the Sibyl offers herself as guide to Christine. She will show her a more perfect world. Christine accepts with joy, saying: 'Allez davant! J'iray derriere' (698). The line is an adaptation of the words with which Dante closes the first canto of the Commedia and begins his journey with Virgil: 'Allor si mosse ed io gli tenni dietro' (Inferno I.136).

Here again Christine departs from her model. Dante speaks of, not to Virgil; he watches him and follows him. No other detail is given. Christine changes Dante's description into an expressin of direct address, charged with eagerness and anticipation. While Dante always used the ' tu ' (thou) form with Virgil, thus stressing a role of male solidarity, Christine uses the plural form with the Sibyl, while the Sibyl uses the ' tu ' form to Christine, thereby suggesting a mother-daughter relationship between them. In a feminine way, Christine goes on to describe the kind of dress and headgear she put on; she even takes the precaution of shortening her gown in order to be able to walk more quickly. The landscape in which the two woman begin their journey is not the dark forest of Dante and Virgil, but a meadow full of flowers.

Why did Christine choose a woman as guide? To answer the question we have to look back at the Querelle du Roman de la Rose, which had been 'an important stimulus to Christine to pursue the idea of pointing out the merit of women in their historical role'. The Sibyl, like Virgil, had predicted the coming of Christ. She had had an important role in both the pagan and the Christian worlds as a woman and a prophet. What sources did Christine follow? The source for the story of the Sibyl is the Ovide Moralisé . The fourteenth-century translator had considerably amplified the account of the Sibyl's story as given by Ovid. But Christine must also have used the original Latin version because her account of the Sibyl's story has the same vivacious tightness and concision which makes the charm of the Latin text. The Latin poet told how the Sibyl received from Phoebus the gift, or rather the curse, of a thousand-year-long life, but she had neglected to request everlasting youth to go along with it. (We see her in the manuscript illuminations as elderly, in contrast to Christine's youthfulness.) The medieval translator retold the story, but also included the legend according to which the Sibyl had predicted the coming of Christ. He - or she - made a point of stressing the Sibyl's prophetic power and divine wisdom. Christine follows both Ovid and the Ovide Moralisé closely, even having the Sibyl speak in the first person. It is as a student to the Sibyl's school of learning that Christine begins her journey.

Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 10982, fol. 25

The two women reach a high mountain from which a fountain flows. Its water is fresh and clear, nine naked women bathe in it while a winged horse flies over them. In the manner of Dante, Christine asks who they are. The Sibyl replies that the mountain is Parnassus; the nine women are the Muses; the winged horse, Pegasus; the spring, the fountain of knowledge. All the great sages of antiquity, and Christine's own father as well, used to come and drink its waters. The Sibyl adds that the path they follow is called 'Long Estude'. Christine thanks the Sibyl for showing her the path. She remembers that she had read about it in Dante's poem and recalls his words to Virgil. But it is precisely at this point that Dante and Christine go separate ways. Virgil led Dante through the horrors of hell; the Sibyl shows her pupil the wonders of the earth.

Following John de Mandeville's pilgrimage, the Sibyl takes her pupil on a world tour. They visit the whole Mediterranean basin; they make a dutiful, but rather nondescript stop at the Holy Land; they take a detour to the monastery of St Catherine and to the land of Prester John. Christine manages to enliven the narrative with a frugal tough. When they reach the island of Cathary she sees silk, gold, silver and spices in great abundance, but she does not buy anything. Finally, the Sibyl shows her the wall of fire surrounding Paradise, but they cannot enter it because an angel stands guarding the gate.

Instead, they go to the top of a mountain where the Sibyl calls in Greek to someone who immediately appears. She asks for a ladder so that her pupil can climb to the firmament. The ladder which is provided is very long, light and strong; the material it is made of is called 'speculation'. As the Sibyl explains, the path of long learning cannot lead to the firmament unless it is complemented by speculation, Boethius' theoretica. Christine crosses herself and starts climbing. She looks down and sees the earth; it looks like a tiny little ball, the image borrowed from Cicero, Boethius and Dante:

. . . e vidi questo globo
tal, ch'io sorrisi del suo vil sembiante. (Paradiso XII.134-135)

Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 10982, fol. 25

Dante smiles condescendingly at this sight. But Christine is frightened. Icarus' fate comes to her mind, but the Sibyl reassures her: her wish to reach the firmament is not dictated by presumption, but by the desire to learn the mysteries and beauties of the universe. Unlike Dante, the two women do not ascend to the highest theological sphers; Christine meets instead with the influences and destinies assigned to men and women alike at their birth. To her sorrow, she sees there all the evils that ravage the earth, wars, famine, death and destruction. Finally, at each of the four cardinal points she comes to the presence of the four Queens, Wisdom to the east, Nobility to the north, Chivalry to the south, and Wealth to the west, in descending order of Christine's approval of these virtues. Above them is God's Daughter, Reason, an olive branch in her right hand, a naked sword in her left. An ambassador brings her a letter from the Great Mother Earth which Eloquence reads to her.

Christine has now completed her educational training under the Sibyl's guidance. In the second part of the poem she feels strong enough to deal with the problems of the world, and to offer a possible solution. To this end she stages a debate amongst the four Queens, with Reason as their moderator. Her thoughts on ethical, political and economical matters are woven into their speeches. After a preliminary discussion, it is agreed that to restore peace and justice in the world, a supreme ruler, a philosopher king, must be elected. Then each Queen presents a candidate. There is no doubt that the references in the poem are to real people, though their identity today is unclear. Instead of speculating over the candidates' identities, it is more important to understand Christine's values and discover which are the attributes of the perfect ruler according to each category.

Nobility speaks first. She stresses the importance of lineage, and Christine alludes several times in the course of the poem to the fact that the French monarchs are descendants of the Trojan kings. It comes as no suprise that she should choose Charles VI as Nobility's candidate. She also manages to pay homage to several members of the House of Burgundy, who in fact continued to patronize her work. This attitude could be considered opportunism if Christine had not had the courage to decalre, using Wisdom as her spokeswoman, that no man can be considered noble if he is not virtuous. Uncompromisingly, Christine takes up the question of the nobility of the heart of which Boethius, Jean de Meung and Dante had already been supporters.

Who is Chivalry's candidate still remains to be discovered. But we do have some clues in regard to Christine's opinion of this institution. When she sees her first amongst the other Queens, she is struck by her bellicose and arrogant appearance. French Chivalry had disgraced itself during the so-called 'Crusade' which the European princes had organized to help the Christian Emperor of Constantinople against the Turkish Sultan Bejazet. The expedition was meant to be a revival of chivalric values, but it was used by the participants to enhance their own personal interests; it ended disastrously with the defeat of the Christian army at Nicopolis in 1392. Christine lends her voice toWisdom in reminding Chivalry that, according to the Policraticus of John of Salisbury, a knight has many duties, notably, to defend the Catholic faith and the common welfare, women and orphans, and, she adds with a personal touch, widows. A good knight must no covet riches; he must avoid lust, gluttony and laziness. It can be assumed that French knights were forgetful of such duties. Christine draws from ancient and contemporary history for examples which insist on the knight's obligation to respect women. The Querelle du Roman de la Rose was not to be forgotten.

In describing Wealth's candidate, Christine shows that her eyes are not closed to reality. She knows only too well tht no king, no matter how valiant or wise, can hold on to his power if he is not rich. At the same time, she touches on a problem of great concern to the French people, namely the brutally unfair taxing system that would finally explode in the bloodshed of the Revolution.

Charles V would have been Wisdom's perfect choice, but he had been dead for twenty years. He is evoked as an exemplary and wise ruler, well versed in philosophy, poetry and astronomy. Christine knew the contents of the king's library from first-hand experience; she points out that his love of learning was not limited to the improvement of his own mind; by sponsoring French translations of Latin works, he showed that the wisdom of antiquity was not incompatible with Christian virtues. Christine here touches on an important aspect of learning in the second half of the fourteenth century, its classical Humanism. Wisdom's portrait of the ideal ruler is culled from Aristotle, Plutarch and other authorities.

As she has done elsewhere in the poem, Christine weaves anecdotes into her citations, but it is interesting to note that particularly in Wisdom's speech several stories show women playing a significantly active role. When Christine states that a good ruler must exercise moderation in drinking, she tells how Philip of Macedon condemned a woman while he was inebriated. She demanded that the king judge her when he was sober, to which he consented and, then, revoked the sentence. The anecdote allows Christine to emphasize the rights of a woman faced with an unfair judgement. The ideal prince must not be vindicitve; he must rule firmly, but mercifully. Seneca tells of a prince who had exterminated all his enemies by one. He asked his wife's advice, and she suggested the use of kindness rather than strength. He followed her advice, and the former enemy became a devoted friends. Through this anecdote, Christine points subtly to the influence which a woman can have in private and in public life. One of the major concerns of a wise ruler must be the administration of justice. The well-known story of the poor widow and the Emperor Trajan did not escape Christine's attention. She must have identified with this woman who demanded that her son's killers be punished. Christine too had had to beg for justice in the legal battles she had to fight after her husband's death.

At the conclusion of the debate, the decision is made to have the matter settled on earth rather than in Heaven. It is resolved that the French princes should elect the supreme ruler who will put an end to the evil in the world. But another problem arises. How can the message be sent to the French court? The Sibyl comes forth. She knows the right person, Christine, who, like herself, was born in Italy. It was not unlike Dante, with his hopes in an emperor, for Christine to similarly hope in the miraculous appearance of a king who would restore to order the chaos of French politics. Following the courage of her convictions, after completing Le Chemin, she again took that message to the French court.

At the end of the poem we find Christine bidding farewell to her guide and retiring to the intimacy of her own chamber. She is awakened the following day by her mother and the poem ends with the same closing line as the Roman de la Rose: 'car tart estoit et je m'esveille'. Though it is true Christine was Jean de Meung's declared enemy, the intertextuality of this line could be interpreted as a tribute to him. Like him, she believed in Reason, Knowledge and Wisdom. In addition, the last line provides a further comparison with the Commedia. Dante ends each cantica with the word 'stelle'. By conscious contrast to the Commedia, Christine returns from her journey to the same place where it had begun; a modest, domestic interior, a feminine and intimate household. In her pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, her journey remains earthbound.

Christine's primary concern is the formulation of civic and moral values that could be applied to the urgent problems of her time. The king had been suffering since 1392 from bouts of insanity; his younger brother, Louis of Orléans, had become increasingly powerful, in spite of the opposition of their uncle, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. The state treasury was being depleted by extravagant expenses for the amusement of the court, while heavy taxes were imposed on the people. Christine did not remain a spectator of such events. In her writings she focussed on the role and mission of the ideal monarch, the ambitions of the nobility, and the selfishness of the chivalry.

In 1404, the Duke of Burgundy commissioned Christine to write the biography of his brother, Charles V. Christine portrayed him as a model of wisdom, knowledge, learning and clemency. After the sudden death of Philip the Bold that same year, his son, Jean Sans Peur, continued his father's opposition to the power of Louis of Orléans and to his taxing of the people. France was on the verge of civil war. On 5 October 1405, Christine addressed a letter to the queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, in which she urged her to exercise her influence upon the king, so that he could put an end to the quarrel between the two princes. Negotiations took place and peace was made, but it lasted only two years. Then the Duke of Orléans was murdered by order of Jean Sans Peur.

Christine continued to discuss the ethical virtues required of a ruler in Le Livre du Corps de Policie which she wrote between 1406 and 1407. In Le Livre des Faits d'Armes et de Chevalerie she discussed the whole problem of warfare and its ethical implications. In Le Livre du Chemin de Long Estude she had already taken a strong stand in regard to the institution of Chivalry. In 1418 she withdrew from pubic life. Her last known work is a hymn to John of Arc, written in 1429. She may have died shortly after that date. She had stated that the true spirit of Chivalry had been destroyed due to greed and self-interst. History was to prove how Sibylline she was. French Chivalry suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Agincourt in 1411.

Christine's position at the court was too precarious to allow her to speak her mind entirely. She had to depend on the royal family and on noble, wealthy patrons to support her and to ensure a career for her son. But she used the text of the Commedia to remind her rulers that it was their duty to restore peace to the country, to improve the lot of the poor, and to protect and defende the rights of women. She had begun her career by writing feminine ballads and love lyrics and could have continued in that vein; but she believed she had a role to play in society, of being an ethically and politically committed writer. In turning to Italian Dante's Commedia, and its echoing of Roman Virgil's Aeneid as her model in France, she began that role in writing Le Chemin de Long Estude.

                                                                                  University of Colorado, Boulder


Extracted from the essay originally published in Equally in God's Image: Women in the Middle Ages , ed. Julia Bolton Holloway, Joan Bechtold, and Constance S. Wright (Berne: Peter Lang, 1990), pp. 103-116.
1 Mademoiselle Louise de Kéralio published excerpts of Christine de Pizan's work in Collections des meilleurs ouvrages françois composés par des femmes , vols. II, III (Paris, 1787); Gaston Paris, 'Le Livre du Chemin de Long Estude par Christine de Pizan', Romania, 19 (1881), 318; Arturo Farinelli, Dante nell'opere di Christine de Pisan (Halle: Niemeyer, 1905); Henri Hauvette, Etudes sur la Divine Comédie (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1911), pp. 149-153; Rose Rigaud, Les idées féministes de Christine de Pisan (Neufchatel: Université de Neufchatel, 1911); Charity Cannon Willard, 'A Fifteenth-Century View of Woman's Role in Medieval Society: Christine de Pisan's Livre de Trois Vertues , in The Role of Women in the Middle Ages, ed. Rosemary Thee Morewedge (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975); Diane Bornstein, Ideals for Women in the Works of Christine de Pizan (Kalamazoo: The Medieval Institute, 1981); Regine Pernoud, Christine de Pizan (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1982).
2 Raymond Thomassy, Essai sur les écrits politiques de Christine de Pisan, suivi d'une notice littéraire de pièces inedites (Paris: Debecourt, 1838); P.G.C. Campbell, 'Christine de Pisan en Angleterre', Revue de littérature comparés 5 (1925); Marguerite Favier, Christine de Pizan: muse des cours souveraines (Lausanne: Editions Rencontre, 1967); Claude Gauvard, 'Christine de Pisan a-t-elle eu une pensée politique? A propos des ouvrages récents', Revue historique 250 (1973), pp. 417-430; Gianni Mombello, 'Quelques aspects de la pensée politique de Christine de Pizan d'après ses oeuvres publiées', Culture et politique en France à l'époque de l'Humanisme et de la Renaissance: Etudes réunies par Franco Simone (Torino: Accademia delle Scienze, 1974), pp. 43-153; Josette A. Wisman, 'L'éveil du sentiment national au Moyen Age; la pensée politique de Christine de Pisan', Revue historique 257 (1977), 289-297; Sandra Hindman, Christine de Pizan's 'Epitre d'Othea': Painting and Politics at the Court of Charles VI (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1986) .
3 References to the poem follow the edition by Robert Püschel, Le Livre du Chemin de Long Estude (Paris: Le Soudier, 1887), 2nd ed.



This is Chapter Two from the E-Book: Equally in God's Image: Women in the Middle Ages



Chapter 2: Woman and the Pen
I. Crosses and Boxes: Latin and VernacularJulia Bolton Holloway
II. St. Birgitta: The Disjunction between Women and Ecclesiastical Power, Joan Bechtold
III. Christine de Pizan: A Feminist Way to LearningEster Zago


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