|Hildegard of Bingen|
They were true pioneers for the female race, repeatedly disproving popular male notions of female inferiority. So often, Medieval male scholars viewed women as purely carnal beings, lesser creatures with little intellectual, spiritual, or personal worth. Despite the true strength of mind and character the more conventional women of the era displayed - even the quiet homemakers and small businesswomen of the Middle Ages led lives that required immense courage - they were rarely taken seriously by contemporary men.
|Catharine of Siena|
But these female mystics met - in many cases surpassed - these academic men on their own terms, becoming scholars and thinkers of the first caliber. Besides being a prolific writer, Catharine of Siena worked to end the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy and bring about peace among the Italian city-states. Another influential writer, Julian of Norwich, was among the first females (if not the first) to pen a book in English. Hildegard of Bingen was perhaps the most extraordinary of all, not only fulfilling the role of theological mystic and author but also becoming an accomplished botanist, medical writer, musical composer, poet, and conceptual artist.
|Julian of Norwich|
"I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields. I shine in the water, I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars."
|The Tree of Life|
One of Hildegard of Bingen's extraordinary artistic designs
Most remarkable however, is the fact that despite pursuing a man's ideal of success in a male-centered world, these women never lost touch with their unique female identity. Julian of Norwich summed up this sense of the woman's dignity perfectly, by stating that God's relationship to humans is most like a woman's relationship to her child. Indeed, the word "mother" is found over sixty times in her book Revelations of Divine Love. In one instance, she remarks,
This fair lovely word Mother, it is so sweet and so close in Nature of itself that it may not verily be said of none but of Him; and to her that is very Mother of Him and of all. To the property of Motherhood belongeth natural love, wisdom, and knowing; and it is good: for though it be so that our bodily forthbringing be but little, low, and simple in regard of our spiritual forthbringing, yet it is He that doeth it in the creatures by whom that it is done. The Kindly, loving Mother that witteth and knoweth the need of her child, she keepeth it full tenderly, as the nature and condition of Motherhood will...This working, with all that be fair and good, our Lord doeth it in them by whom it is done: thus He is our Mother in Nature by the working of Grace in the lower part for love of the higher part...And this was shewed in all and especially in the high plenteous words where He saith: It is I that thou lovest.In a sharp departure from the often misogynistic views held by Medieval men, Julian boldly views God through the female archetype of mother. As a result, she places a tremendous value on maternity and thus femininity. It is but one example of how she and these other extraordinary women consistently championed the intelligence and academic value of women in a time and place where it was so often doubted and stifled.