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Christian Women Writers of the Medieval World

Christianity’s first known playwright

Hrotsvit lived in the tenth century (932–1002) as a canoness of the Imperial Saxon Abbey of Gandersheim (Germany). She can best be described by a catalogue of pioneering achievements: she is the first known dramatist of Christianity; the first Saxon poet; the first female Transalpine [north of the Alps] historian; and the author of the only extant Latin epics written by a woman.

According to her own testimony she objected to the great popularity of [Roman author] Terence’s plays, which depicted lascivious pagan women frolicking in the pleasures of the flesh. She wanted to compose dramas substituting the heroines of Christianity: beautiful, chaste virgins, firmly resisting the insidious advances of pagan men. To show “frail Christian virgins” triumph with Christ’s aid was her stated dramatic intent.

Hrotsvit is a polished stylist who doesn’t lack a sense of humor, either. In one of her plays, Dulcitius, the protagonist is a pagan would-be executioner of three Christian virgins. He imprisons them close to the pantry so as to visit and seduce them secretly at night. As he enters the pantry, however, he is miraculously deluded and mistakes the dirty pots and pans for the girls. The scene is related by the girls, who peeping through the keyhole observe the foolish Dulcitius romancing kitchen utensils.

Hrotsvit’s works were rediscovered centuries later by a German scholar, who in 1501 made her texts available for posterity.

Julian of Norwich

Writer of solitary devotion to God

Julian of Norwich is perhaps the most famous female exegete of the nature of the Trinity—particularly of Christ’s mediating role between God and humankind.

Julian was born c. 1343 and probably grew up in Norwich, England. At some point she chose to live the life of an anchoress, a woman who lives by herself in an enclosed room in order to devote herself to prayer. Her cell was attached to the Church of St. Julian in Norwich.

In May 1373, when she was 30, Julian became sick and lay near death. Christ granted her a series of visions, and she recovered miraculously. She set out to record and to interpret her visions and to inspire her readers to a belief in divine love and compassion.

Julian’s tone in her Revelations of Divine Love is consistently optimistic: God is good; God is merciful; all will turn out well in the end. Her work also affirms the value of man, created as he is in the image of a benevolent God. Julian celebrates Christ’s mother-like qualities: the nurturing, loving, and protective aspects of his divinity. In deed, this has become the hallmark of Julian’s mysticism.

 Julian was a mystic, not a theologian, so she emphasizes the importance of devotion and faith, rather than reason, as a way to achieve unity with God.
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