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Maria Oen, The Locus of Truth: Birgitta of Sweden and the Journey to Jerusalem & Ambivalent Images of Authorship

The Locus of Truth: Birgitta of Sweden and the Journey to Jerusalem

International scholarly interest in the remarkable Birgitta of Sweden is currently being revitalized. New attention has been given to her religious and political authority, her literary corpus – the Revelaciones – and the impact that the trial of the canonization had on how the claims of religious women were met by the Church in the subsequent period. Birgitta was known for having visited virtually all of the major Christian shrines. Although her travels have been explored to some extent, the significance of Birgitta’s visit to the Holy Land for both her claims to divine knowledge and in the process for establishing her sanctity and thus her authority as a female theological agent, still awaits a thorough scholarly analysis. The present project proposes that the journey to the Holy Land was fundamental to Birgitta’s notion of true knowledge, and, furthermore, that her experience of the sacred loci served as one of the principal arguments during the process for establishing the veracity of her Revelaciones. The textual sources and visual sources related to Birgitta will be analyzed with the aim to uncover in what way and based on what rationale the physical place, its space, and the matter of the holy sites were discussed in order to establish the truthfulness of Birgitta’s claim to represent God. This will entail a rhetorical analysis of the visual and textual material

in order to uncover the strategies whereby the holy sites were enrolled as rhetorical assets. A theoretical framework based on the medieval division of meaning into a literal and a spiritual level will be developed and employed in order to explore the medieval rhetoric of space, and the relation between place and knowledge. The results of the project will be highly relevant to Birgittine scholars, but they will also have bearing on the on-going study of historical conceptualizations of Jerusalem, medieval models of signification, and for the development of theoretical perspectives in medieval studies in general.

Funding: FRIPRO Mobility Grant Fellowship Programme (FRICON) /European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under Marie Curie grant agreement no 608695. Project period 2017-2020.


Ambivalent Images of Authorship

(Part of Book Project, Sanctity and Female Authorship in the 14th Century and Beyond: Birgitta of Sweden & Catherine of Siena, eds. Maria H. Oen and Unn Falkeid Routledge)

This study focuses on the question of Birgitta of Sweden’s and Catherine of Siena’s status as authors and examine the visual representations of the two women, notably in the context of the books containing their texts. In the images of the two women found in the illuminated manuscripts, which began circulating just after their deaths in 1373 and 1380 respectively, and in the early printed copies dating to around 1500, Birgitta is generally represented with a pen in her hand, whereas Catherine is never depicted in the act of writing. This visual material emerges as a paradox when compared to the way the two women are presented in the texts. In the Revelations, Birgitta claims to be a medium and not an author, and she generally refers to herself in third person, or simply as “a person.” Catherine, by contrast, is constantly present in the first person in her letters which frequently open with “I, Catherine, write to you.” By focusing on the tension between the images of the two women and the way they are presented in their respective texts, this study will explore the role of the visual in shaping the notions of Birgitta and Catherine as female authors in a time when female authority was still highly controversial. The conflicting representations of their authorial role will also be connected to contemporary debates about their sanctity, where questions concerning human and divine authorship as well as ecclesiastical mediation and approval of the texts of these lay visionaries were of paramount importance.


Book project funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and Dept. of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo

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