23.4 x 15.6 cm
17 colour illus.
The Virgin Mary's Book at the Annunciation
Reading, Interpretation, and Devotion in Medieval England
- Open Access
Winner of the 2022 SMFS Best First Book in Medieval Feminist Studies Award
An overlooked aspect of the iconography of the Annunciation investigated - Mary's book.
The Annunciation remains one of the most recognizable scenes in western Christianity: the angel Gabriel addressing the Virgin Mary, capturing the moment when Christ becomes incarnate. But one consistent detail has evaded our scrutiny - Mary's book. What was she reading? What does her book mean?
This innovative study traces the history of Mary's book at the Annunciation from the early Middle Ages through to the Reformation, focusing on a wide variety of religious treatises, visionary accounts, and art. It argues that the Virgin provided a sophisticated model of reading and interpretation that was foundational to devotional practices across all spectrums of society in medieval England, and especially for enclosed female readers. By imitating the Virgin, readers learned how to read; they learned how to pray; they learned how to channel God through vision and revelation. Most of all, they learned how to conceive God spiritually, just as Mary had conceived him physically, and just as she had conceived intellectually her reading of the Old Testament prophecies foretelling the Incarnation - that she herself was part of their fulfillment. The Annunciation offered a hermeneutic model of conception radically based on the reproductive female body, otherwise deeply problematic in medieval culture.
Scholars have long studied the importance of the Virgin Mary for medieval people. But few would think of her as an intellectual role model. Yet that is what this book contends - that Mary's reading at the Annunciation is, essentially, a missing link for understanding how reading, interpretation, and devotion worked in the Middle Ages.
Imitatio Mariae: Mary, Medieval Readers, and Conceiving the Word
Performing the Psalms: The Annunciation in the Anchorhold
Reading the Prophecies: Meditation and Female Literacy in Lives of Christ Texts
Writing the Book: The Annunciations of Visionary Women
Imagining the Book: Of Three Workings in Man's Soul and Books of Hours
Inhabiting the Annunciation: The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and the Pynson Ballad
Coda: Mary and Her Book at the Reformation
"Miles's book is an interesting, thought-provoking, and informative investigation that relies on a variety of sources in order to shed light on the role of the book of Mary in medieval England." Journal of British Studies
"This is a brilliantly conceived volume. Combining literary analysis, historical reconstruction, and feminist enquiry, Miles (English, Univ. of Bergen, Norway) finds in literary and artistic depictions of the Annunciation-from the early Middle Ages until the Reformation-a prompt for women's identification with the literate virgin who reads and interprets texts (including the Psalms and Isaiah), prays, predicts, sings, meditates, and contemplates and so creates her own meaning. Highly Recommended." CHOICE
"This is a wide-ranging and penetrative study that will remain important to scholarship - and feminist scholarship, in particular - for some considerable time. It will provide a turn-to work for anybody interested in this highly visible and deeply arresting image of a pre-modern woman engaging in an act of private reading." Speculum
"Throughout the book, each aspect of the Annunciation is meticulously examined from a body of texts, the choice of which, systematically justified by Miles, reveals the work of an informed researcher." Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique
"The volume's production quality is superb [...] Miles' methodology is genuinely exciting, and this book demonstrates what a historically and theologically literate literary criticism can achieve." International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church
"Miles builds a longitudinal study of Mary-as-reader that is also a deep dive into how medieval readers learned to pray meditatively. While Miles's book is valuable for attending to this form of imitatio Mariae, it also models an interpretation of medieval meditative practices useful to other approaches to devotional culture." Studies in the Age of Chaucer
"Laura Saetveit Miles has set about her work with concentrated earnestness and refreshing enthusiasm." Journal of Ecclesiastical History
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2.34 x 1.56 cm
17 colour illus.