Mystic Women of the Middle Ages II

On Vision TV, Mondays at 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm  starting March 17th 2003. Please check local listings for station/channel information.


Episode Guide

Episode One: Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the "Sybil of the Rhine," was among the most accomplished women of her time. Possessed of wide-ranging intellect and indomitable will, she founded a convent, wrote works on theology, natural science and healing, and composed music of enduring beauty. Throughout her life, she had divine visions, which some historians believe were the result of migraine attacks. As her reputation grew, she corresponded with political and religious leaders, who paid heed because they believed God to be speaking through her. Her ideas about female sexuality and the mind-body-spirit connection were centuries ahead of their time, and her music continues to be performed to this day.

Episode Two: The Hungarian Princesses

Like the modern-day Princess Diana of Wales, some mystic women were royals who chose to work for the good of others. St. Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231) was raised in the royal court of Thuringia. Drawn to the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi, who advocated voluntary poverty and service to the destitute, she devoted her days to charitable labours. St. Margaret of Hungary (1242-1271), the daughter of King Bela IV, was promised to God by her parents while still in the womb - a sacrifice they hoped would protect the country from invading Mongols. Raised in a Dominican convent, Margaret rejected all trappings of her royal heritage. Instead, she lived a life of self-sacrifice, tirelessly serving the poor and performing the most punishing of tasks in the convent. Despite intense pressure to behave as royal princesses, both Elizabeth and Margaret ultimately succeeded in deciding their own destinies.

Episode Three: Divine Negotiators

At a time of political upheaval in Europe, and division within the Catholic Church, some mystic women worked for peace and unity. St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) saw visions all her life, and eventually became convinced that she was God's messenger. She attempted to heal the crisis in the Church by urging the Pope to return the Holy See from Avignon to Rome, and sought to bring an end to the Hundred Years' War. She accomplished neither, but in a vision before her death, Christ assured her that all would be fulfilled. St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) wished to live a reclusive life of prayer and fasting, until a series of mystical experiences prompted her to enter public life. Her diplomatic efforts led Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome in 1377. The next year brought the Great Schism in the Church, which she spent her last days working to resolve.

Episode Four: The East Anglians

East Anglia, a region long known for its religious fervour and non-conformity, was home to two of the most famous mystic women. Bawdy and passionate, Margery Kempe (1373-1438) has been described as a combination of Germaine Greer, Sister Theresa and the Wife of Bath. She had a divine vision after giving birth to her fourteenth child and decided to become celibate, devoting herself to her "true" husband, Jesus Christ. She traveled through Europe and the Holy Land on a spiritual quest, and recorded her experiences in the first autobiography written by a woman in English. Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416) was an anchoress who lived within a small cell attached to a parish church. She dwelled in the passion of Christ, describing her visions in powerful prose. Theologians still study her writings - in which God is referred to as "she" - and her shrine continues to attract pilgrims.

Episode Five: Daughters of Saint Francis

St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) fled a wealthy life in Italy to become the first woman to write the rules for her own community of nuns. Like her mentor and friend, St. Francis of Assisi, she was devoted to poverty, self-denial and service to the poor. Today, her order of Poor Clares works throughout the world to alleviate suffering. St. Francis also influenced Douceline de Digne (1214-1274), whose prophecies convinced the wealthy of Provence to support her in establishing a kind of religious commune to care for the sick and the poor. She was said to be able to levitate, and proved the strength of her relationship to God by enduring physical tests, such as having hot lead poured over her feet. Douceline gained a cult following, which politicians sought to manipulate for their own ends.

Episode Six: Joan of Arc

Her story is perhaps the best known of all the mystic women. St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was the illiterate daughter of a French peasant farmer. As a teen, she heard the voices of saints urging her to come to the aid of the embattled monarch Charles VII. Joan would go on to lead the French troops in a series of battles against the English. But she fell into enemy hands in 1430 and was turned over to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen, where she would be tried for witchcraft and heresy, and ultimately burned at the stake. Joan was canonized in 1920, and the story of her life - today romanticized and wildly exaggerated - continues to inspire books, plays and films.


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Series I

Mystic Women of the Middle Ages airs on WTN,
Mondays, 7:30pm et/pt, starting January 1, 2001
and Thursdays, 11:00 pm et/pt, starting January 4, 2001.

Mystic Women premiered on Vision TV on October 4, 2000.
Please check your local listings for station/channel information.

Episode Guide

Program One: Visions of Prophecy, Voices of Power

Video Sample 1 A look at the background behind the Hildegard phenomenon, what led to the power, popularity and threat of the medieval female mystics in Europe. From early Christian times, the role of women in the church, and their image in the Bible, helped give some medieval women the strength to find their own voice, and through mysticism, gain a credibility and power usually reserved for men in a male-dominated society and church hierarchy. From the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and transvestite saints, the recurring themes of enclosure, denial, erotic spirituality and devotion are related to such modern issues as anorexia, retreat and the struggle for equality.

Program Two: Julian Of Norwich

Video Sample 2 This East Anglian English mystic was an anchoress, a woman who had herself enclosed in a brick addition to a church for life, in order to concentrate on her relationship to God. Julian dwelled on the Passion of Jesus Christ, and wrote of her beautiful and terrifying visions in some of the most compelling prose in English. She was also the first to refer to God as 'she', forging the way for the inclusive language now used in many Bibles. Her writings are still studied by theologians, her shrine still attracts pilgrims, and she remains a model for women who seek a way to withdraw from the pressures of family and business to a more contemplative life.

Program Three: St. Clare of Assisi

Video Sample 3 Clare fled a wealthy and comfortable Italian life to become the first woman to write the rules for her own community of nuns. It wasn't easy. She had to battle a patriarchal and conservative Catholic authority, because like her mentor and friend Francis of Assisi, she was devoted to poverty, self denial and working for the poor. We join the people of Assisi today in celebrating Clare's life and legacy, as her order of Poor Clares still works throughout the world to alleviate suffering.

Program Four: Douceline de Digne

Video Sample 4 In the warm hills of southern medieval Provence, Douceline's prophecies convinced the noble and wealthy to support her establishing a kind of religious commune for laywomen, devoted to caring for the sick and poor. Doucleine was determined to prove the strength of her relation to God by undergoing extreme physical tests, such as having hot lead poured over her feet and needles stuck in her arms. We will also investigate the many authentic and sincere accounts of her ability to levitate. She gained a cult following, and as with Joan of Arc, politicians soon found they could manipulate that popularity for their own ends.

Program Five: Margery Kempe

Video Sample 5 Described as a combination of Germaine Greer, Sister Theresa and the Wife of Bath, Margery was lusty, feisty and never took no for an answer. An East Anglian business woman and mother, in her 40s after the birth of her 14th child she had a vision of Christ and decided to become celibate, devoting herself to her 'true' husband, Jesus Christ, and travelling throughout Europe and the Holy Land in a spiritual quest. Her raucous, touching and divine experiences were recorded in the first autobiography by a woman in English.

Program Six: Constance of Rabastens

Video Sample 6 Born into the rebellious religious climate of the Cathar heretics of southwestern France, Constance had extraordinary visions while gazing at the frescoes of her local church, a stopping point on the pilgrimage route to St. James of Compostela. Her dramatic visions were of the Apocalypse, and she truly believed she had a power of prayer which could 'turn' the world. She gained enormous influence over politicians of the day, and though persecuted by the Inquisition, remained determined to have her voice heard - whatever the consequence.


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Copyright: McMaster University, 2000