THE MEDIEVAL FEMALE MYSTICS' RESPONSES TO THE VIRGIN MARY
Devotion to Mary, Christ's mother, was prevalent in medieval culture both in the ecclesiastical community and with the laity. The medieval Church and its male theologians regarded the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven, the embodiment of the Church and the intercessor of Christ. The medieval period also fostered female writers, often identified as mystics, who were concerned in their writings with the role of the Virgin. This thesis examines the responses to Mary in the medieval female mystics' reflections and how their responses differ from traditional church teachings, early Christian writers and medieval male theologians. In particular, this project focuses primarily on the Mariology of four prominent female German mystics: Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Elisabeth of Schönau (c.1129-65), Mechtilde of Hackeborn (1240-98) and Gertrude the Great (1256-1302). To reach conclusions on the Mariology of these women, early Christian and medieval primary sources were interpreted. Also, it was important to examine medieval female mystics' writings and review the scholarship on these women. This research found that the female mystics upheld many of the traditional tenets of medieval Marian devotion but still developed their own personal Mariology. The mystics attempted to reconcile the inherited traditional church teachings with their own personal experiences regarding the Virgin. The female mystics also complicated these traditional teachings by offering divergent views among themselves. The contemporaries Hildegard of Bingen and Elisabeth of Schönau shared many traditional views of medieval Marian devotion. Hildegard did not envision communication between herself and Mary and she struggled reconciling the accepted female roles of her era with her exaltation of the Virgin. Elisabeth's more interactive relationship with the Virgin resulted in visions of Mary as priest. This priestly Mary assured Elisabeth her spiritual gifts were legitimate. In the later medieval era, Gertrude the Great and Mechtilde of Hackeborn also accepted the traditional tenets of medieval Marian devotion and experienced visions of the Virgin communicating with them. These women lived in a community that allowed them freedoms that their predecessors did not enjoy and this environment fostered a bold personal spirituality that brought them directly to Christ. Gertrude did not wish to exaggerate Mary's position in the celestial hierarchy; Christ was Gertrude's primary focus in her own personal spirituality. Her fellow nun, Mechtilde felt that she was closer to Christ through his mother. These four women each had a complex relationship with the Virgin. Their responses to Mary were unique to their own personal spirituality. Ultimately, the contributions these women made to Marian devotion helped to define them as mystics; their connection with Mary enriched their relationship with the Divine.
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