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Cover of The Female Mystic by Andrea Janelle Dickens
June 2009
I.B. Tauris/Bloomsbury

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The Female Mystic

Great Women Thinkers of the Middle Ages
Andrea Janelle Dickens

The Middle Ages saw a flourishing of mysticism that was astonishing for its richness and distinctiveness. The medieval period was unlike any other period of Christianity in producing people who frequently claimed visions of Christ and Mary, uttered prophecies, gave voice to ecstatic experiences, recited poems and songs said to emanate directly from God and changed their ways of life as a result of these special revelations. Many recipients of these alleged divine gifts were women. Yet the female contribution to western Europe's intellectual and religious development is still not well understood. Popular or lay religion has been overshadowed by academic theology, which was predominantly the theology of men. This timely book rectifies the neglect by examining a number of women whose lives exemplify traditions which were central to medieval theology but whose contributions have tended to be dismissed as "merely spiritual" by today's scholars.

In their different ways, visionaries like Richeldis de Faverches (founder of the Holy House at Walsingham, or "England's Nazareth"), the learned Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch of Brabant (exemplary voice of the Beguine tradition of love mysticism), charismatic traveller and pilgrim Margery Kempe and anchoress Julian of Norwich all challenged traditional male scholastic theology. Designed for the use of undergraduate student and general reader alike, this attractive survey provides an introduction to thirteen remarkable women and sets their ideas in context.


Andrea Janelle Dickens is a lecturer in English's Writing Programs at ASU.

Praise for this book

"The book provides a particularly good flavour of the ideas of (and writings by or about) the women in question, with well-chosen extracts from the relevant primary sources. I will certainly add this book to the reading list for my students."

Elizabeth Freeman

"'The Female Mystic' will serve as an excellent introductory textbook to the life, works and thought of twelve leading women mystics, from 11th-century Richeldis of Faverches to 16th-century Teresa of Avila. The author has both an eye for detail and an admirable capacity to sketch an insightful overview of each figure against the background of her own historical period and within her own social contexts. 'The Female Mystic' will open up new horizons for any reader who wishes to come closer to these extraordinary texts and their authors."

Oliver Davies, Professor of Christian Doctrine, King's College London