St. Birgitta of Sweden in Medieval England

Brief summary of the project

Re-assessing St. Birgitta of Sweden and her Revelations in Medieval England: Circulation and Influence, 1380-1530.

Online Database, New Editions, Network Graphing, Results
Laura Saetveit Miles

Main content

In the medieval period, one of the most common genres of writing that women produced was the visionary account. Holy woman Birgitta of Sweden (1303-73) was well-known across the Continent and in England through her huge collection of divine visions, the Latin Revelations, which was translated into many vernaculars. However, our understanding of Birgitta’s influence in England is uneven because most of her English texts have not been edited, and her influence on literature and religion remains understudied.

This project proposes the first comprehensive study of the full impact of Birgitta and her Revelations on medieval England. How were her texts received and circulated, and what was the extent of her influence? A bold overarching hypothesis will be tested: that from around 1380 until the English Reformation in the 1530s, Birgitta was in fact the most influential female author in medieval England, indelibly shaping 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.

In order to test this hypothesis, the project combines three innovative methodologies. First, we will create a multi-faceted, open-access database of English manuscripts and other evidence related to Birgitta. Second, select Middle English versions of Birgitta’s Revelations will be edited for the first time, in both print and digital editions. Third, we will produce network graphs that can illuminate how Birgitta’s texts circulated in England, and how her influence spread. Finally, with all this knowledge combined, our analysis will enable us to suggest a new narrative of women’s writing in England, centered on Birgitta of Sweden as the most influential female author. Altogether, the project could advance our understanding of how gender, authorship, and religious literature functioned in late medieval England.