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Painful Love in a Dominican Nun's Autograph

bannerDate: Wednesday 2 July, 2014
Time: 4:00pm
Location: Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower (Bldg 1) UQ St Lucia
Presenter: JOHANNES DEPNERING, Oriel College, Oxford University

The construction of pain as proximity to the divine is particularly prominent in the case of Elsbeth von Oye, a Dominican nun, who offers explicit descriptions of torment, describing her self-inflicted mortification and mystical experiences in a surviving autograph (Zurich, Central Library, MS. Rh 159) – a rare case for the vernacular. This paper explores how a reassessment of the manuscript can provide a better understanding of the process of writing about and dealing with traumatic and ‘mystical’ . The paper further argues that in light of the material and textual evidence, this manuscript can be perceived not merely as the carrier of an individual’s writing, but that its composition is a reflection of the nun’s attempt at self-affirmation and meaning making in a highly stressful situation.

Christ and a praying Dominican nun. Initial A opening Advent portion of fourteenth-century gradual from Unterlinden. Ms. 136, f. 3v, Bibliotheque de la Ville, Colmar, France.


JOHANNES DEPNERING is the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Religious Writing in the German Middle Ages at Oriel College, Oxford. He completed his doctorate thesis on Latin and German sermon manuscripts at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, aiming to to increase our understanding of the Franciscan preacher Berthold von Regensburg. In his current project, he analyses tactile experiences and pain in fourteenth-century mystical writing, combining a physiological and psychological approach with codicological and literary analysis. At The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), he convenes the research network ‘Medieval and Early Modern Mysticism’ (MEMM). He is also actively involved in an interdisciplinary project on ‘Visualization of Knowledge’ in European and Chinese encylopaedias (1500-2000), which is based at the University of Zurich.