It seems someone may have found the body of James of Vitry, an academic crush of mine. James wrote a biography of a famous woman named Marie of Oignies, for whom he also acted as confessor. Marie was a Beguine, meaning a woman who was not a nun but who lived very much like a nun. James’ biography of her helped women gain papal approval to live as Beguines, which provided women the opportunity to exercise spiritual leadership and more autonomy than they would have as nuns or wives (or not, depending on which Beguine, nun, and wife you’re talking about). Marie herself was a spiritual mentor to James, a reversal of the traditional power dynamic between confessor and penitent. Marie also helped James to gain prestige and professional success. James reports more impressive things about Marie including that she achieved the elusive goal of ceaseless prayer (which I first learned about because J.D. Salinger’s character Franny Glass was obsessed with it), miraculously healed the sick, and controlled the weather through prayer (like Storm from the X-Men but way less sexy, I’m guessing). James was a prolific author. You can read a little about his other works in a entry I wrote for Harvard’s Houghton Library back when I was learning paleography and doing some of my very first archival research.

June 7, 2016

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