CURRENT BOOK PROJECT
“The Virgin Mary’s Book at the Annunciation: Reading, Interpretation, Devotion”
To the modern viewer, Mary’s book at the Annunciation seems so familiar: it is a commonplace in the hundreds of late medieval and Renaissance Annunciation paintings which cover the walls of our museums. But to the early medieval Christian, this was a new innovation which transformed the Annunciation scene into an accessible example of text-based spiritual devotion and prayer to God. This project examines the development of the motif of Mary’s book in the literature and art of medieval England, and how the Annunciation scene offered a vital model of reading, devotion, and vision remarkably adaptable to a plurality of audiences including both enclosed women and lay readers.
2019-2023, Norwegian Research Council Young Research Talents Grant (8,000,000 NOK / ~$915,000):
“ReVISION: Re-assessing St. Birgitta and her Revelations in Medieval England: Circulation and Influence, 1380-1530.”
It is a commonplace that we continue to underestimate women’s roles in shaping literature and culture, both in the present and in the past. Holy woman and visionary Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73) was well-known in late-medieval England and her Revelations were translated multiple times, but she remains understudied in this context. Nearly all of the English texts concerning Bridget are unedited and trapped in medieval manuscripts, and no-one has yet undertaken what this ReVISION project proposes: a comprehensive study of the full impact of Birgitta and her Revelations on English literature and culture.
The main research question will be: what was the reception and influence of St. Birgitta of Sweden, and her Revelations and related texts, in late-medieval England? In pursuing this question by means of a text database, new editions, and their analysis, the ReVISION project will test a bold overarching hypothesis: that from when the Revelations first crossed the Channel around 1380 into the English Reformation in the 1530s, Birgitta was in fact the most influential female author in medieval England, indelibly shaping the English society and, at the same time, the English also shaped Birgitta and her texts to fit their own needs and tastes, sometimes through dramatic adaptation.