Agnes Blannbekin’s description of her mystical experience on Easter morning, 1293, is a rare medieval account not only of the affective consequences of a spatial transgression in a church building but also of its direct implication in a spiritual revelation. According to her Life and Revelations, she heard a command to conceal herself behind an altar in the church of St. Michael, Vienna, where she would feel the pain of the Crucifixion. Her anguish at being so out of place in the church drove her to pray for her revelation to end and to be given the strength to leave. She provides, thus, a rare first-person account of how the gendered regulation of church space, so often in evidence in sources written by men, was manifested in an embodied, affective experience. The incident develops themes that extend across the Life, especially to other Easter-time revelations, and demonstrates the close attention Blannbekin often gave to architectural organization and ornamentation. This article describes how her account drew together associations that stretched across liturgical time, architectural setting, and literary precedent in order to evoke the profundity, and significance, of her bodily identification with the Passion.


The texts of medieval mysticism may seem an unlikely source for the study of ecclesiastical space.1 Apophatic theology, visions made with the spiritual senses, or wordless ecstasies characterize much of the most influential mystical writings and yet, as has long been noted, from the turn of the thirteenth century, mystics increasingly centered the body and its senses and material objects in accounts of their experiences.2 It was in this context, in the description of objects that were necessarily extended in time and space, that writers often had to account, at least minimally, for location, orientation, and movement. These settings were sometimes essential for the significance of the experience to be understood or its functioning to be imagined, most commonly when they concerned the Eucharist, which could (or should) only be received in church. Only rarely, however, did this require a developed account of an architectural or landscape setting. Nonetheless, when it did, such descriptions provide invaluable evidence for the affective organization of medieval spaces. This article is concerned with an example that is remarkable, even within this context, for utilizing the transgression of spatial boundaries in not only the description but also the realization of a mystical experience. In doing so, this account drew on explicit and implicit knowledges about liturgical time and practice, ecclesiastical regulation, and architectural organization to describe a reciprocal process of embodiment and spatialization that made revelation possible.

This example is one of the less-quoted incidents recorded by one of the less-cited female mystics of medieval Europe, the Viennese beguine Agnes Blannbekin. Her Life and Revelations, written by her Franciscan confessor, reports that on Easter day, 1293, she went to Matins at the church of St. Michael, Vienna. While kneeling before (coram) an altar in the church, she prayed

quòd passionis dolorem et acerbitatem, qualem dominus ipsa die passionis sustinuisset, ipsa quoque sentiret. Moxque facta est vox ad eam: “cito propera post altare.” Veniens autem retro altare statim coepit sentire dolorem vehementissimum per totum corpus suum in membris, et in juncturis membrorum per omnem carnem suam, ita ut non valens se sustentare procideret in terram. . . . Et quamvis ejus cruciatus esset maximus tam cordis quam carnis, non tamen eo minus in corde et anima suavitate mirifica et inenarrabili replebatur. . . . cepit dolere, quod ipsa non esset domi in loco abdito et sibi competenti.

Non enim se poterat aliquo modo movere de loco, in quo jacebat, unde in corde suo orabat dominum, quod si mori non deberet ex tanta acerbitate doloris, ut dominus redderet ei tantas vires, ut posset abire de illo loco et orationes suas consuetas persolvere. . . . Et ecce mirabile: in continenti sumpsit vires et surrexit et abiit, non tamen dolor usquam recessit.

[that she also would feel the pain and bitterness which the Lord Himself had endured on the day of Passion. And quickly a voice came to her, “Quickly hurry behind the altar.” Yet when she came behind the altar, she immediately began to feel the most excruciating pain throughout all of her body in the limbs and the joints of the limbs of her whole flesh, so that she could not hold herself [up] and fell to the earth. . . . And although her crucifixion was most intense both in body and heart, she was nonetheless not less filled in her heart and soul with a miraculous and indescribable sweetness. . . . She began to lament that she was not home in a hidden and for her appropriate place.

The reason was that she could not in any way move herself away from the place where she lay, until she prayed in her heart to the Lord that if she were not to die from such bitterness of anguish, the Lord should restore to her enough strength so that she could leave that place and perform her usual prayers. . . . And behold the miracle: she had enough strength and rose and left, even though the pain did not abate.]3

The event is a remarkable one for a number of reasons. Within the Life, it is salient for being the only revelation to take place explicitly in the church of St. Michael and the only one in which Blannbekin undergoes an explicit identification with the Passion—a common feature of much contemporary mystical writing, especially within the Franciscan tradition with which she was most associated, but not of hers.4 Nonetheless, however distinctive the incident is within the Life, it still develops, as will be shown, spatial and theological themes that recur across the text and, in particular, during other Easter day revelations. Such subtle, if often opaque, thematic syncopations are typical of the Life and suggest a degree of literary artifice that contrasts with the diary-like sequencing of the text. This account is, indeed, followed almost immediately by a reciprocal incident that returns to the gendered restrictions on spatial access while inverting many of the characteristics of the experience discussed here: from the physical to the visionary, from the concealed to the exposed, from shame to joy. Two chapters later, Blannbekin has a vision of her faith personified as a beautiful young girl, wonderfully dressed in a golden crown and white dress, dancing, quite freely, “in gradu superiori circa altare beate virginis” [on the highest step around the altar of the Blessed Virgin] in the friars’ church (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 211; Blannbekin, Life, 145). Where Blannbekin’s physical body could not go without social danger and affective distress, her faith, even as a female avatar, could.5

At the heart of this article is an account of the means by which Blannbekin used ecclesiastical space to form and describe her revelation. Her spatial transgression, founded on gendered restrictions on movement within medieval church buildings, is explicit and the source, however divinely authorized, of her anguish and desire to leave—but it is also the organizational principle behind her affective, physical identification with the pain of the crucifixion. Trespass is, if not the cause, then certainly a necessary condition for her mystical insight. Shameful, socially transgressive acts are not uncommon in the texts of thirteenth-century female mysticism: the male confessors who so often drew out the mystics’ tales and wrote them down regularly expressed an initial skepticism or anxiety over their subject’s transgressive activity, one allayed only by explicit divine sanction (which could, of course, also legitimize the writer’s activity).6 This episode is notable, however, in describing the mystic’s own social discomfort in the course of her experience. Quite why going “behind the altar” should have this dual significance, transgressive and mystical, will be returned to at length below.

Much of this article will be concerned with “thickening” Blannbekin’s economical description of the event to reveal its place within the spatially productive texts and practices of thirteenth-century mysticism and Easter liturgies. It will set her account first in its immediate context in the Life and in medieval Vienna, then in the history of female mystical writing from the thirteenth-century Franciscan tradition, and finally in the organization of ecclesiastical space and time in general and at St. Michael’s in particular. Only after having established this expansive hinterland will it return to questions of subversion, transgression, and regulation, with a specific focus on the reciprocal reproduction of gendered spaces and bodies. In this context it will also reflect on the identification of Blannbekin, the author, although not the writer, of the Life, with Blannbekin, the figure it describes. Although this article will gather together literary, regulatory, and archaeological evidence, it does so not to recover a historical reality by distilling the past from its representation, but rather to suggest an allusively rich reading “among,” in which the web of contemporary associations stretches beyond the documentary to encompass the architectural and the liturgical.7 What these allusions share, despite their variety, is their formation in overlapping systems of meaning making, such that Blannbekin can be revealed in a remarkably broad act of intertextuality. The episode she describes, this article will argue, is notable for the creativity with which it works across conventions of space, time, and gender, in order to bind together and explicate the transgressive and the mystical.

What makes the setting in the “real” environment of St. Michael’s so important here is partly, then, that it served to draw on an additional set of associations (images, rules, and expectations that belonged to this church in particular), and partly that, as the Life circulated in the fourteenth century, even being translated into the vernacular, it contributed to the reproduction of the spiritual and affective organization of the church’s space.8 An older debate within the historiography of German mysticism once worried over the tropic in mystical accounts, whether it obscured the possibility of recovering any “real” past event.9 Spatial theory suggests a different dimension for attention: not the representation of “reality” in text, and not merely a synoptic relationship across documents and objects, but the manifestation of text in practice. Exemplary works like Blannbekin’s Life functioned not only to represent but also to reproduce the gendered organization of the church space as an affective reality.10


In many ways, Blannbekin’s Life—the only information available about her—fits neatly into the tradition of thirteenth-century female third-order Franciscan or beguine mysticism.11 Modern commentators have often likened its 235 short chapters to a diary, and suggested that the roughly chronological organization of her revelations followed the order in which she reported them to her confessor, presumably compiled from notes he made during their meetings and without further thematic organization.12 These experiences and visions appear to follow the rhythm of three liturgical years—some are dated from 1290 to 1293—and to have been recorded contemporaneously. The intimate relationship between the mystic and the writer of the Life, who occasionally records the flow of their conversations and appears to have met often with Blannbekin, can be found in many other contemporary examples of female mystical writing of the period.13 He identifies himself in the text only as a Franciscan and gives almost no autobiographical information. The Latin of the Life is of notoriously poor quality, suggesting a free translation either from the written or spoken vernacular, although Blannbekin was able to understand Latin.14 The text ends abruptly, presumably incomplete and, its first editors suggest, awaiting thematic reordering.15

According to a note at the end of a now-lost manuscript, Agnes was the daughter of a farmer, perhaps, given her name, from Plambach in Lower Austria, near Vienna.16 She was wealthy enough to move to the city and live there in her own apartment or house with an oratory (probably near the Minorite church of the Holy Cross, to which she went often) as a beguine, apparently alone and without working, as some other beguines did.17 The text reports that she fasted from meat for thirty years after the age of seven or eight, suggesting she was at least in her late thirties when it was written.18 Although the Life mentions several meetings with other women, it seems unlikely that Vienna was home to a Seelhaus, or communal beguinage, in the 1290s, although the historical evidence does not rule it out.19 There is no evidence that Blannbekin herself ever became a third-order Franciscan, like many other female beguines of the thirteenth century, although a third order existed in Vienna by 1306.20 A concluding remark in two manuscripts dates her death to “the year of our Lord 1318, minus three years,” providing also a terminus post quem for the text as we have it today.21

The events recorded in the Life play out against the ecclesiastical geography of medieval Vienna. Living outside a settled community, Blannbekin’s experiences range across the city’s churches, and she often seems to have visited several in a day to hear sermons, receive indulgences, or make particular devotions, even attending the same service in different places.22 Walking is a distinctive feature of her devotional life: on one occasion, and in response to an indulgence, she described visiting all the churches of the city, which caused her to become physically exhausted. Nonetheless, her walking devotion continued back in the friary church as she visited the individual altars to kiss them.23 That the street was itself a territory of distinctive dangers and significances is also clear: one Sunday in Advent, wishing to read Matins in her room but realizing the fire had gone out and unable or unwilling to leave, she opened the window to look for a member of the town guard who could ask for a light at an adjacent house.24 When a specific church is named, it is most frequently the Franciscans’, but she went too to visit the ciborium or monstrance in the main parish church of St. Stephen’s or to receive the Mass at the Augustinian nunnery of St. Jakob.25 The vast majority of the revelations described in the Life occur while in church and often immediately after receiving communion. The few exceptions take place in the oratory in her house or are in some other way connected to the Eucharist.26

Her experience of architectural variety was joined, perhaps unsurprisingly, to an appreciation of the churches’ visuality—something that might, indeed, have been especially common among female mystics.27 Blannbekin described to her confessor quite self-consciously the pleasure she took in church ornamentation: “quod prius delectabatur exterius in pulchris ornamentis altaris et paramentis et imaginibus vel picturis sanctorum, eo quod inde haurire soleret non modicas consolationes spirituales” [she enjoyed the exterior reality of beautiful altar ornaments and paraments and statues or images of the saints, because she was accustomed to drawing no little spiritual consolation from them], although she reports that after her most remarkable vision, she was able to find more consolation internally.28 Her attentiveness to church architecture extended, after a visionary transportation to a meeting of the general chapter of the Franciscans in Paris, to being able to describe accurately the layout of the church and altar.29 Elsewhere she appears to describe visionary scenes, such as the Nativity, in terms that closely follow contemporary artistic representations.30 She even employs the painting of sculpture as a metaphor.31 One unusual revelation that draws this visual sensitivity to a revelatory conclusion begins:

Quadam die existens in ecclesia respexit in crucifixum, in quem solis radii reverberantes oculos ipsius offenderunt. Et ipsa claudens oculos audivit vocem intra se dicentem sibi: “. . . iterato oculos respicias crucifixum . . . !” Tunc aperiens oculos respexit crucifixum, sole in ipso resplendente, et aparuit imago crucifixi tota livida.

[One day, while she was in church, she looked at a crucifix, from which the rays of the sun reflected back and hit her eyes. And when she closed her eyes, she heard a voice within her saying to her, “. . . look again at the crucifix . . . !” Then she opened her eyes and looked at the crucifix, in which the sun was intensely reflected, and the image of the crucifix appeared, completely blue.]32

That the crucifix itself is not otherwise transformed—as so often took place in late-medieval miracle accounts—suggests a melding of the visual and visionary that was distinctively faithful to the existing material qualities of the object and its setting.33

Until Easter day 1293, however, her devotions are usually marked by spatial restraint. On another Easter, for example, and by stark, perhaps deliberate, contrast with that of 1293, her confessor records that she remained in prayer, without moving, “in uno loco” [in one place] in the church.34 On the other hand, during a visit rendered by the bishop of Passau (whose diocese then included Vienna) on Maundy Thursday, she describes, apparently uncontroversially, receiving communion from the bishop’s hand in the choir.35 The most notable example of a possible spatial break is her practice of kissing the altars where Mass had been celebrated earlier in the day.36 Since the Life indicates she did this often and without apparent consequence, it is unclear, however, whether such kissing should be understood as transgressive.37 In any case, the most important comparison for this article is a pendant incident to that of Easter day 1293, which takes place out of the chronological flow of the Life and which acts a kind of foil to the later event. Occurring perhaps in 1290 or 1291, Blannbekin describes remaining in church during the Easter vigil and until Matins.38 She meditates first concerning “quomodo homo magnus exisset et surrexisset de sepulchro clauso et lapide advoluto” [in what way the great man would come out of and be resurrected from a closed grave, with a rock rolled before it].39 She then elaborates:

Erat autem chorus ecclesiae, in qua ipsa erat, clausus et intrinsecus ostium repagulo obseratum, et cuneus ligneus magnus inter ostium et repagulum stricte incussus, ne posset repagulum amoveri. Murus medius, qui dividebat chorum et ecclesiam, elevatus fuit et contiguus testudini chori, ut nusquam transitus vel modicus pateret.

[The choir of the church in which she was at the time, however, was closed and secured with a bolt inside the door, and a big wooden wedge was firmly driven between the door and the bolt so that the bolt could not be pushed away. The middle wall, which separated the choir and the church, was elevated and touched the vault of the choir so that nowhere was even a small passageway open.]40

While she watched, the bolt was pulled away, passed miraculously through the door, and fell at her feet. After she falls asleep on the stones of the floor, God tells her that the bolt and door reveal how Christ’s body passed through the locked tomb.41 That an agentive architectural feature would act as a material revelation of a scriptural truth is itself remarkable but, for our purposes, it is the themes of a dominant and unbroken architectural barrier, a bodily collapse, and the choir as Christ’s tomb that mark it out as a contrasting prelude to the 1293 experience.42 As such, it offers yet another inversion of Blannbekin’s passage behind a static altar: this time the spatial penetration is made by the church itself, while her body remains collapsed beyond the screen.

Beyond the scope of this article are the Life’s many spatial metaphors and visions, of castles, hills, mountains, and ditches, often familiar from other mystical texts.43 Historians have long noted the intertextuality of mystical writing—indeed, the tropic nature of many examples has disturbed scholars who have sought to disentangle, or merely to affirm, a prediscursive mystical experience. That the Life can be placed in a tradition of mystical beguine writing affirms, indeed, a familiarity with other texts, even if sources cannot often be precisely identified.44 For example, it describes the mutual reading of the sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux carried out by Blannbekin and her confessor.45 One of Blannbekin’s visions in the Franciscan church had included her confessor burying Bernard’s sermons on the Song of Songs into the foundations of a building.46 The Life’s editors suggest that Blannbekin’s frequent combination of concrete, often everyday analogies and theological teachings might be traced to vernacular devotional literature that she either read directly or heard in sermons.47 They cite a vision in which – rooms in turn, the “coquina” [kitchen], “apothece” [apothecary], and “instita” [shop], in which God is alone, respectively preparing meals, making medicines, or laying out wares.48 The figure of three rooms taken from everyday life, each a location for a particular allegory of divine activity, suggests too, however, a text that Blannbekin and her confessor would have known: Bernard’s Sermon 23 on “the king has brought me into his rooms” (Song 1:4), where he explicates the significance of the garden, storeroom, and bedroom.49 In any case, her interest in using and adapting spatial metaphors constitutes an important context, at least, for her description and interpretation of miracles concerning “real,” that is, nonvisionary, architecture.


Blannbekin was, nonetheless, far from alone among thirteenth-century female mystics in noting the place and liturgical time of her revelations, far from alone too in her architectural specificity or, of course, in describing her physical identification with the bodily pain of the Passion. The use of architectural or ecclesiastical settings in contemporary accounts can be usefully divided between cursory generic settings in liturgical time and space (“at Matins”) and episodes that utilize specific architectural features or meanings. The former is by no means universal—many contemporary accounts do not set revelations in any kind of space-time—but they are vastly more common in the surviving sources than are the second. The reason for a brief setting in the liturgy, and so in the church building, is often connected to an act of eucharistic devotion, a critical theme in much thirteenth-century mystical writing, including Blannbekin’s. In these instances, architectural form and the mystic’s location in the church building are unimportant, provided she could see the altar.50 Even mystics whose visions could be strikingly architectural in character, such as Mechthild of Magdeburg, were rarely concerned with the specific location in which they received them. Nonetheless, exceptions to this generalization—of which two key examples will be cited shortly—can be found. These more detailed accounts often used churches as settings for major turning points in the spiritual progression of the mystic or in her relationship with the text’s writer and typically emphasized the public nature of the building. Like Blannbekin, they utilized the literary potential of spatial description to slow the narrative pace, isolate a key episode, enrich its visuality, and give it the precision and realism of a set piece, prolonging attention to the material or social conditions of a revelation and their significance.

Two famous examples of major episodes in the lives of female mystics that take place in highly specific architectural settings, both from the Franciscan tradition of female mysticism, and, indeed, recorded within years of one another by friar confessors, show precedents of which Blannbekin and/or her confessor may have been aware. The best known is from the Umbrian Third Order Franciscan Angela of Foligno (d. 1308), written by her confessor in 1292–98 and perhaps revised in 1299–1300.51 The incident that began the relationship between Angela and her confessor, traditionally named Arnoldo, took place in 1291 at the church of St. Francis in Assisi, when Angela “striderat multum sedens in introitu ostii ecclesiae” [screamed greatly while she was sitting at the entrance to the portals of the church] (although later Arnoldo describes how she “shrieked and screamed in the church” and she was watched by a holy man inside the church).52 Angela explains separately that this took place after the Holy Spirit had left her at the moment of her second entrance to the church, having accompanied her around the church on her first visit.53 Although Angela remained on the boundary of the church while Blannbekin went behind an altar, her act was, evidently, transgressive of spatial norms and Arnoldo describes the shame he felt as her relative and confessor, especially given that his Franciscan brothers were watching. Her liminal location suggests, indeed, numerous interpretations but, aside from imagistic richness and narrative transition, the text itself emphasizes the visibility of the site and the gathering crowd. Unlike Blannbekin’s, her transgression was the consequence of, and not the necessary condition for, her revelation, and the shame is felt entirely by Arnoldo. A different contrast comes later, when Angela is unable to kneel along with the rest of the congregation at the elevation of the host, as she receives a message from the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is clear that the significance of her message is to verify the real presence and, in the end, at the moment of elevation, Angela was able to genuflect.54 Again, and unlike Blannbekin’s, her transgression is a consequence of her revelation, which eventually functions only to verify the theological significance of what is transpiring.

Another contemporary set piece in an architectural setting takes place in Giunta Bevignati’s Life of Margaret of Cortona, written after her death in 1297 and finished by 1308.55 One of the most remarkable and elaborated events that it records takes place in the friary church in Cortona, after Margaret, somewhat like Blannbekin, prayed to “be crucified in spirit before the Cross.”56 In the oratory, Margaret underwent a sustained vision, beginning after Mass, of the Passion and Crucifixion. In this case, the citizens of Cortona gathered to watch:

Hoc tam novum et compassionem plenum spectaculum ita Cortonenses omnes commovit, quod relictis officiis suis et artibus, homines et mulieres, infantibus et languidis et in cunis decumbentibus, pluries illa die oratorium nostri loci. . . . Videbant namque non iuxta Crucem, sed quasi in Cruce positam Margaritam, diris confectam doloribus.

[Such a new and moving spectacle so stirred all the citizens of Cortona, that they abandoned their obligations and work, and men and women, children and the sick and those lying in cribs, all these filled the church of our place. . . . There they saw Margaret, not alongside the cross, but as if she were on the cross, tortured by severe sufferings.]57

She, however, did not perceive them until the end of her vision, at the time of Vespers, at which point she became ashamed of the large audience. God, in response, reassured her that he had made her a “mirror” for sinners so that they might know his mercy. The primary spatial concern in this case is again, and explicitly, the tension between individual revelation and public display: indeed, Margaret otherwise describes receiving a large number of revelations in her cell.

If the public dimensions of both Angela’s and Margaret’s revelations are integral aspects of their settings in major public churches, this is closely connected to the verificatory or even exemplary gloss placed on them by the writers: publicly witnessed miraculous events were to act as proof of the orthodoxy of the text’s contents and, presumably, as spurs to the praise of God. The audience in the text is assimilated to the audience of the text: the event was to be read like a book but, by implication, the book was to be read like an event, part of a demonstration of divine intervention. One notably explicit hermeneutic instruction, albeit in a somewhat different context, was made in regard to the ritual dancing of Elizabeth of Spalbeek (fl. 1246–1304), associated with the Herkenrode nunnery in the diocese of Liège.58 She was assessed by the Cistercian Philip of Clairvaux, who described her body as a kind of picture or narrative, since nobody could subsequently claim

“Non possum legere aut intelligere tam profunda mysteria, quia nescio litteram” vel “quia liber clausus est” cum non in membranis aut chartis, sed in membris et corpore memoriae nostrae puellae, scilicet vivae et apertae Veronicae, suae salvationis vivam imaginem et redemptionis animatam historiam sicut literatus ita valeat legere idiota.

[“I can’t read or understand such profound mysteries as I am unlettered” or “because the book is restricted” because now the unlearned can read, not from parchments or charters, but from our [Elizabeth’s] limbs and body, just as if she were a living and visible Veronica, just like a moving picture and animated narrative of redemption.]59

The Veronica is, of course, the cloth that St. Veronica pressed to the face of Christ, and which miraculously took his image: Elizabeth is thus a kind of material, visual imprint of the Passion.

Surviving accounts of explicit transgressions of the boundaries of the altar can be found in other mystical traditions. Rupert of Deutz, a twelfth-century Benedictine in Liège, described a vision in which he venerated an image of the crucified Christ that was standing in front of an altar and which appeared to return his gaze. At this invitation, he entered the altar in order to embrace and kiss the living crucifix.60 The logistics are unclear, but it seems possible to imagine Rupert climbing onto the altar to embrace a life-size hanging rood.61 In this case gender is evidently irrelevant, but a daring example can be found from the late-thirteenth-century Cistercian nun Ida of Louvain, who reported a vision that took place while she stood directly behind her confessor at the altar while he celebrated Mass and in which she saw herself vested like a priest.62 Nonetheless, even if spatial transgressions that were both revelatory and specifically connected to the altar—and even to gendered restrictions there—are not unknown, such accounts were far from tropic.

The obvious difference between the examples given above and Blannbekin is that, although all take place in popular parish or friary churches, and even during morning services, only in her case is there not only an explicit act of trespass across spatial boundaries but also one that is a condition, rather than a consequence or by-product, of the revelation. If churches are often chosen as settings in order to establish an audience, Blannbekin inverts the dynamic: the public environment of the church makes concealment necessary. The ecclesiastical space is transformed from a place of display (and so of communication and verification) to one of furtiveness; a communal act to a solitary one. This does not in itself remove either the possibility of publicity or the influence of other mystics: Blannbekin would, of course, reveal her concealment to her confessor and in her Life (albeit with a typical humility formula), while all the examples adduced so far include some breaking of the normative expectations for spatially contextualized behavior.63 A reciprocal, even dialectical play of seclusion and example is also well attested in the lives of the somewhat anchoritic female mystics of the thirteenth century.64 Umiliana dei Cerchi (1219–46), for example, was persuaded by her Franciscan confessor to live as a reclusa in a tower of her family’s Florentine house. Her residence there was glossed in her Vita as: “Deus . . . posuit eam super candelabrum in altitudinem vitae et exempli, ut lucerat omnibus qui in domo sunt, hoc est in Ecclesia militant” [God . . . placed her on the candlestick in a height of life and example so that she might light up all in the house, that is, in the church militant].65 For Umiliana, architectural seclusion rendered her paradoxically visible as a kind of present absence. Indeed, the motif of hiding or secrecy as a marker of spiritual modesty was associated not least with St. Francis himself. Bonaventure describes how he concealed his stigmata and his spiritual gifts or, more literally, “hid himself . . . in a secret pit” or sought out “hidden places” to be alone and to “hear the secrets God would convey to him.”66 Similar formulas are also used of Blannbekin in the Life (e.g.: Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 39).

The closest surviving comparable example to Blannbekin’s revelation comes, perhaps, in a vision in Mechthild of Magdeburg’s The Flowing Light of the Godhead, from the northern “court mysticism” beguine tradition, written in Middle Low German and already translated into Latin before Blannbekin’s time. The vision takes place in a beautiful church, during which the “poor maid” is forced out of the nave by the size of the heavenly crowd that has gathered, and into the tower space, on the margin of the church building.67 Still feeling unworthy there, she then returns to the nave, from which she sees numerous female saints in the choir. It is only when her face and clothes are miraculously transformed that she is invited by the Virgin Mary to sit in the choir while John the Baptist—controversially, as a layman—celebrates Mass.68 The maid’s unworthiness is reiterated, but her presence in the choir, however daring to spatial decorum, is legitimized by her transformation and by the specific invitation of Mary and St. Catherine. Transgression is thus carefully hedged about not only by invitation (as it is in Blannbekin’s case) but also by preparatory change. Some elements of Mechthild’s vision are closely echoed in another of Blannbekin’s, in which she also entered a church with a great crowd and found John at the altar, dressed as a priest and celebrating Mass (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 218). If this marks a moment of direct or indirect intertextual adaptation, it is telling that Blannbekin deferred her own entry to the choir to a “real,” rather than a visionary, occasion, and her bodily transformation to after, rather than before, her trespass, a consequence rather than a preparation.


Since pre-Reformation altars were positioned directly against the east wall of the sanctuary, the revelation of Easter day 1293 took place, apparently, in a spatial impossibility. In practice, however, medieval churches often did contain residual spaces behind the altar. A plan of St. Michael’s, the “Mailänder Zeichnung” made in Milan in 1626–33 and only rediscovered in 1981 by Hellmut Lorenz, shows the arrangement of altars at the time that the church was taken over by the Barnabites in 1626.69 Given the minimal variation possible for the positioning of altars in medieval and Tridentine Europe and the continuity in the arrangement of St. Michael’s nave and chancel arcades since their construction probably at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the interior layout is plausibly similar to that of the 1290s.70 In the plan, the three later-medieval eastern apses have altars, and all appear to stand away from the eastern wall, which, in any case, curved away from the straight edge of the altar. In the Romanesque architectural arrangement that was still in place in Blannbekin’s time, it is also entirely possible that the altars similarly stood back from the wall. The possibility that she is referring to these altars, even if spatially conceivable, does not cohere well, however, with the structure of Blannbekin’s text. To have climbed the chancel steps, passed through a chancel screen and knelt “before” (coram, implying immediate proximity) the altar would already have been—as we shall see—transgressive for a woman, especially given the strong emphasis on the locked choir screen in her earlier Easter vision of the moving bolt.71 By contrast, the text is clear that the transgressive moment was to go behind, and not to kneel before, the altar.

The nave altars, however, would have been much more accessible (and the more plausible target of her kissing, mentioned elsewhere in the Life). The Milan plan shows an altar against every pier in the nave (as well as in the side chapels constructed after Blannbekin’s time), excepting those to the west, and certainly the medieval nave would have had numerous altars. In every case, however, the drawing is explicit that they leave no space to the east and, given the round form of the piers, it seems doubtful that a suitable space could have been left for a body to occupy. Only one altar in the nave is an exception to the rule, namely the one in the middle of the rood screen. The first mention of a screen at St. Michael’s dates to 1419, but a century earlier, in 1322, there is record of an altar of the cross.72 This dedication is common to altars situated beneath the large crucifix or Crucifixion group that typically stood on or above the rood screen and, indeed, when St. Michael’s rood screen was demolished in 1634–35, the altar of the cross also disappeared from the written record.73 It is plausible that the screen formed part of the first construction of the church (or of its rebuilding after the fire of 1276). To the north, the chancel entrance has been preserved, as well as the stairwell and the entrance to the rood loft, now walled up.74 Lorenz dates these remains stylistically to the 1350s but attributes their position to the fact that they were accommodating an existing rood screen.75 The screen seems to have been modified or replaced in the 1420s and the form of the first screen, and of the crucifix above it, is lost.76 The later screen was evidently an impressive object, of the “hall-screen” [Hallenlettner] type, half a bay in depth, across all three choirs, and vaulted, with a chapel and library above—although the eastern side appears to be arcaded too.77 Its predecessor was presumably more modest. Most significant, however, is that the church’s main crucifix—above a relatively accessible altar with considerable space behind it—would, of course, be the most appropriate setting for an Easter revelation concerning the pain of the Passion, a theme that will be returned to in the next section.

Like any screen, its function was to mark out spatial difference. Jacqueline Jung has emphasized the screen as a tool of “controlled access,” not exclusively hindering entry but forming and describing it in new ways.78 By the thirteenth century, there is nonetheless considerable evidence for the particular hostility occasioned by the presence of laywomen in the sanctuary.79 The Decretals of Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227–47), for example, insisted: “care must be taken that no woman presumes to walk to the altar or to minister to the priest or to stand or to sit within the chancel.”80 That women were especially subject to anxieties about the mixing of clergy and laity, and that this centered on visual attention of the kind Blannbekin feared, is a recurring feature of contemporary texts. William Durand, bishop of Mende (d. 1296), in his Rationale divinorum officiorum of 1286, describes how “a veil or wall is suspended or interposed between the clergy and the laity, that they may not be able to behold each other.”81 The medieval evidence is notable for its inconsistency—some sources suggest women were never to enter the choir, others that they could do so only on certain occasions; some are concerned with degrees of proximity, others recognize the screen as the critical juncture; some imply a concern for cultic purity stretching back to the Levitic law, others fear the danger of clerical distraction—but all express a fundamental concern to reduce, constrain, or forbid the presence or activities of women in the sanctuary.82 Blannbekin’s account gives a rare example of the female corollary: while male commentators typically offer an image of female presence that emphasizes wantonness or, at least, moral unconcern and its effect on male emotions and attentiveness, here the affective cost and social danger of such trespass for women is made clear.

The best source for gauging Blannbekin’s own knowledge about the gendered restrictions on church access is from Berthold of Regensburg (d. 1272), the Franciscan priest whose vernacular sermons attracted, according to contemporary reports, vast crowds in southern Germany and Styria and whom Blannbekin herself ranked alongside some of the greatest saints in Christian history.83 In the vernacular Sermon 28, he emphasizes the sanctity of the church building in mounting degrees from churchyard to nave to choir to altar. Since the inner sanctuary of the Temple contained the name of the Lord, so the choir of the church, “wan da wonet diu heilikeit aller heiligen inne” [where the holiness of all the saints dwells], should be more highly honored than the nave.84 This increase by degrees was, moreover, specifically gendered and expressed as an exhortation to female listeners:85

Ez sol ouch kein frouwe messenærinne sîn, daz sie niht sol haben ze tuonne bî dem altare die wîle man gote dienet, noch sus sol rehte kein frouwe in dem kôre sîn die wîle man gote dienet. Wie zimest du in dem kôre? sô sich der priester umbe kêret, du möhtest etewenne dä verdienen daz du niemer saelic würdest. Ez ist gar ein schedelich dinc, ir frouwen, daz ir allez hin zuo dringet dä man gote dienet. Die frouwen stuonden halt gar sunderlîchen in der alten ê, daz sie halt ander man niemer gesaehen wanne man gote diente. Wan alsô sult ir den kôr gar flîzeclichen eren, unde den altar aber baz danne den kôr, unde die kirchen baz danne den kirchhof.

[Neither shall there be women sacristans, so that they will have nothing to do at the altar at the [same] time that men are serving God; in the same way it is inappropriate for women to be in the choir at the [same] time when men are serving God. How do you keep order in the choir? While the priest professes to be at the altar, you might at some point thus come to deserve that you should never be blessed. It is a terrible thing, you women, that you always force yourselves to the place where men are serving God. The women stood apart under the Old Law, so that they never saw other men while the men were serving God. Thus, you should diligently honour the choir, and the altar even more than the choir, and the church even more than the churchyard.]86

Of course, Blannbekin did not go behind the altar during a Mass, but the emphasis on sight, the identification of the altar as requiring particular spatial rigor, and the exhortatory quality of the prose suggests, at least, something of the emotive nature of the gendered spatial ethics available in late-thirteenth-century Vienna and, thus, the context for Blannbekin’s “lament that she was not home in a hidden and for her appropriate place” (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 208–9; Blannbekin, Life, 143).


As noted above, and like many mystics, Blannbekin’s devotional practices were largely modeled after the pattern of the liturgical year: in Lent she knelt and threw herself on the floor; on Good Friday, she flagellated herself; at Christmas her body swelled; on a saint’s feast day she often had visions of the holy man concerned (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 196, 113). Indeed, the relationship between her mystical experiences and the liturgical season is explicitly (if paradoxically) described. When she experiences sadness after Easter and joy during Advent, an explanation that she hears begins with the observation: “Cor tuum tempori coaptatur” [your heart is adjusted to the season] (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 81–82; Blannbekin, Life, 59). Her concealment behind the altar is, indeed, carefully located in time, both after Matins (and so before Mass) and on Easter day, at the climax of the liturgical year. The significance of its timing is multiple, but it was, not least, the moment in the year that most saliently performed the passage from concealment to revelation. The forty days of Lent that preceded Easter marked the longest period of the year during which altar pieces were shuttered and paintings and sculptures were shrouded. Altars or even the entirety of the choir were concealed.87 Although images and objects might have been used in various ways in the days leading up to Easter, their unveiling and unshuttering only took place in full on Easter morning.88 No transhistorical psychologism is needed to affirm the extraordinary qualities bestowed on what was hidden: Peter Browe has shown that break-ins and thefts of holy objects from the choir increased after screens were introduced, alongside the use of consecrated hosts for magical purposes.89

According to Durand, veiled images in Passion week allegorized Christ since “the Divinity was hidden or veiled” in him, but such allegorizing was made somewhat more literal in some of the Easter liturgies or para-liturgies.90 It was in the altar that a cross, the host and/or an “Ymago Crucifixi” was “buried” during the Depositio Crucis or Depositio Hostiae, held between Mass and vespers on Good Friday, and from which it was lifted at the Elevatio Crucis before Matins on Easter Sunday.91 The Elevatio was followed by the Visitatio sepulchri, when clergy playing the Holy Women acted out the visitation of the sepulchre, that is, the altar.92 Evidence for the Depositio is relatively scant—it never entered the Roman Rite—and especially so for parochial settings, but concentrated in Austria and southern Germany, especially following an influential formalization of the rite in the diocese of Salzburg in 1160.93 It seems to have been common, for obvious reasons, for it to have been carried out at altars dedicated to the Holy Cross before the choir screen in the middle of the nave.94 Indeed, the Ymago Crucifixi, a term found especially often in southern Germany, was probably, in some cases, a statue of Christ that could be detached from the large rood cross and lowered to its “grave” in the altar beneath.95 Some surviving examples—of which the earliest are from the fourteenth century and southern Germany—have movable arms that would have enabled the effigy to be buried into a narrow altar. They suggest, at least, an association for Blannbekin’s emphasis on the pain she experienced in the joints of her limbs, while her powerlessness recalls the external manipulation of a movable crucifix with hand cranks, ropes, or wheels (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 195). For this, though, there are other precedents: Angela of Foligno described how “all the parts of my body feel disjointed” at the elevation of the host, making a noise when they did; while Psalm 22, quoted by Christ as he died on the cross, describes how “all my bones are out of joint” (v. 14a, cf. Hebrews 4:12 and Genesis 32:25).96

The altar, then, although most literally the locus of Christ’s sacrifice and its commemoration, also served as his tomb in several Eastertime liturgical contexts. In 1293, Blannbekin may have entered the altar almost immediately after it had been vacated by another disjointed horizontal body, at least in one ritual typical of the period and region. Indeed, during an earlier explanation of Christ’s Passion and death, she had described the altar as one of the “lectorum” [beds] where the body of Christ lay, immediately following the grave and before the human heart (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 57–59). Her earlier Easter revelation of the locked screen, as we have seen, understood the choir similarly as allegorizing the tomb. The verb used when she is given the strength to leave the altar is, at least, suggestive: “surrexit” [she rose]. The term was often used for resurrection, as indeed it had been by Blannbekin in the earlier Easter revelation.97 Her account draws together, then, allusions to quite different forms of barrier, concealment, and hiddenness, each related to a different ecclesiastical object, place, or liturgical practice—the screen, altar piece or statue, the altar, and the Easter rites. Each points in turn to the identification of her body, once she enters the altar, with the crucified effigy, the buried host, the hidden interior, and the veiled artwork. And, since all these were associated, to a greater or lesser degree of literalism, with the Incarnation or Crucifixion, they furnished her with a means of expressing and thinking her own bodily identification with Christ. Such allusiveness, entirely coherent with her sensitivity to ecclesiastical art, architecture, and furnishings, would constitute an evocative and creative means of elaborating the spatial, material, and temporal dimensions of her identification with the Passion.


Scholarly opinion regarding what is conventional and what innovative in the Life has been divided between those who have pointed to Blannbekin’s lack of individuality and espousal of many standard expectations for medieval female mystics and those who have found her to be remarkably subversive, perhaps especially in her use of space.98 The use of a typical mystical terminology and tropes, such as childhood illness and personal unworthiness, have been adduced for the former,99 while claims for the latter have identified a desire to “de-emphasise the importance of a church as sacred space” relative to the “street” and to transform “the secular into sacred space to counterbalance sacred spaces created and maintained by male privilege.”100 A kind of middle way describes women such as Blannbekin as “prophetesses” whose “opinions” would be “taken seriously” although their confessors would “guide the interpretation and, if they did not like it, even forbid it.”101 The passage studied here would, however, appear to support a skeptical reading: the reciprocal affirmation of the altar as male and Blannbekin’s body as female, and thus punitively out of place there, reproduced a masculinist system of spatialization and embodiment. Her transgression sustained rather than subverted the law, since it was the law that instantiated both its possibility and its consequences. In contrast to Bynum’s suggestion of an “almost genderless” bodily femininity and a certain fluid nonduality in medieval women’s use of gender, Blannbekin’s “agonized” affect and desire to leave the altar is consistent with the rigidly gendered spatial division demanded by, say, Berthold of Regensburg.102

Whether this position belonged to Blannbekin or to her confessor, or to both, cannot be determined from the text of the Life. To describe Blannbekin as “author,” as this article has done, is misleading insofar as it posits that her confessor acted merely as amanuensis or, minimally, that her voice may be winnowed from his by a judicious historian. Both options must assume not only that Blannbekin did indeed relay her experiences in the manner recorded in (and suggested by the form of) the Life but also that claims that were distinctively hers—even subversively so—made it through the process of confession, conversation, translation, writing, and editing that produced the text. Even were this possible, the historian would nevertheless need to account for the contextual origins of such a claim: To what extent, in other words, did it “belong” to Blannbekin?103 Whether its intermediary source was Blannbekin or her confessor, the spatial ideology “they” espoused originated in a gendered ordering that preceded and, indeed, produced them.104 It might, rather, suggest that Blannbekin should be read as the “author function” in a patriarchal project, an edificatory exemplar included (assuming she really did exist) only on condition that she sustained the system that rendered her into text.105 In this, text and space function not merely in parallel but rather as a single system that simultaneously reproduced gendered bodies, locations, and representations. That both text and space were “haunted,” to repeat a term Kathleen Biddick uses in discussing medieval female mystics, by the transgressive return of a female body, indicates only the enduring necessity of an excluded other to produce bodies or chancels as coherent wholes.106

Nonetheless, it is possible to identify ruptures in the spatial and representational system of the Life, and there to moot “tactics,” as de Certeau put it, oppositional “poaching[s]” from the repertoire of possibilities available within an otherwise ordered landscape.107 The sacramental and gendered regulations of the church space that, in Berthold’s sermon, seemed to cohere perfectly (since the men and angels who administer the sacrament should not be distracted by women) are made to collide in the Life: the pain that was proper to the altar, especially at Easter time, as a place of sacrifice, burial, and anamnesis demanded that Blannbekin break the ban on her presence there. Her account effects, in other words, the clash of two “strategies” (to remain with de Certeau’s nomenclature) while maintaining the integrity of both, a version of Foucault’s account of heterotopias that have the “power to juxtapose in a single real place several spaces, several emplacements that are in themselves incompatible.”108 As such, the spatial regulations are, if anything, exaggerated: God utilizes the astonishing potency of clerical space itself (the revelation takes place “suddenly” at Blannbekin’s trespass) in order to break clerical regulations and transform Blannbekin’s body into something priest-, effigy-, Eucharist-, or Christ-like. Without either remapping or rejecting the gendered logic of ecclesiastical space, Blannbekin momentarily recuperated a revelation both from and within it, a moment of creative poiesis uniquely available to a female mystic.109 As is often noted by historians, divine intervention is the means by which alterity is given a place in the medieval symbolic order: with his “cito” [quickly], the divine voice itself authorizes and acknowledges the clash without dissolving its constituent elements. Such a conclusion can be offered as no more than a possible reading but it marks, at least, a means whereby an intradiscursive female irruption can be located both by and in a text written by a male confessor and by and in a church spatialized by male leadership, and without positing an extradiscursive “mystical,” “experiential,” or “historical” reality as the source of subversion.


Agnes Blannbekin’s description of her mystical experience on Easter morning, 1293, in the church of St. Michael, Vienna, is a rare account not only of the affective consequences of spatial transgression in church but also of its direct implication in a spiritual revelation. It was, perhaps, her close attention to the varieties of architectural form and decoration in Vienna’s churches that provided her with the materials for creatively overlaying so many different cultures of restriction, concealment, and revelation in her account. She drew on an associative hinterland that crossed liturgical time, architectural setting, and literary precedent, so that her transformed body could suggest a shuttered altar piece, a veiled statue, a buried cross, a disjointed effigy, a hidden host. All described, or perhaps deepened or corroborated, the miraculous transformation of her body at the moment that she was granted an experience of the pain of the passion. Perhaps her or her confessor’s ambition was verification, perhaps literary vividness or exemplary potency, or perhaps a theological elaboration of the temporal and spatial dimensions of her revelation. In any case, the effect, however transgressive, was not intrinsically subversive: the orthodox gendering of church space and of her body were reciprocally reproduced in her painful consciousness of her own trespass. But it is possible too that this affirmation of the regulation of the space of St. Michael exaggerated its potency at the cost of its coherence, deliberately identifying and highlighting ruptures in the textual-spatial strategies that constituted medieval churches in order to recoup a tactical claim for a personal revelation.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2022 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 895794. It was carried out as part of “Building Vienna” (BV).

A version of this paper was given at the University of Chicago on November 1, 2020, and I am grateful for the feedback given then, especially from Professor Niall Atkinson.

I would also like to thank Sophie Morawitz, Dr. Barbara Schedl, and my scrupulous reviewers for their help and advice.


For English works of a later period, see Carmel Bendon Davis, Mysticism and Space: Space and Spatiality in the Works of Richard Rolle, The Cloud of Unknowing Author, and Julian of Norwich (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2008).


For a survey of the period, see Bernard McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in New Mysticism, 1200–1350 (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998).


The Latin edition and a German translation can be found in Agnes Blannbekin, Leben und Offenbarungen der Wiener Begine Agnes Blannbekin (1315), ed. Peter Dinzelbacher and Renate Vogeler (Göppinger: Künnerle, 1994), 430; English translations given here are adapted from Agnes Blannbekin, Agnes Blannbekin, Viennese Beguine: Life and Revelations, trans. Ulrike Wiethaus (Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2012), 143.


Much less explicit identifications take place in ch. 76 and 167, cf. ch. 108–12; and a revelation on St. Michael’s feast day in ch. 129.


Kathryn Dickason, Ringleaders of Redemption: How Medieval Dance Became Sacred (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 152.


McGinn, The Flowering of Mysticism, 225–26.


In this, I am influenced by: Bruce R. Smith, “Premodern Sexualities,” PMLA 115, no. 3 (2000): 318–29; cf. Martin Stevens, “The Intertextuality of Late Medieval Art and Drama,” New Literary History 22, no. 2 (1991): 317–37.


“Einführung,” Leben, 17–27.


See the summary in Frank Tobin, Mechthild Von Magdeburg: A Medieval Mystic in Modern Eyes (Columbia: Camden House, 1995), 115–22.


It functioned, in other words, in a manner analogous to the abstractions of capitalist “conceived space” in Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991).


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 4.


Important discussions of the Life can be found in Peter Dinzelbacher, Von der Welt durch die Hölle zum Paradies (Leiden: Brill Schöningh, 2019), 233; Peter Dinzelbacher, Christliche Mystik im Abendland: ihre Geschichte von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Mittelalters (Paderborn: F. Schöningh, 1994), 214–15; Kurt Ruh, Geschichte der abendländischen Mystik: Die Mystik des deutschen Predigerordens und ihre Grundlegung durch die Hochscholastik (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1990), 132–36; Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 9.


See esp. ch. 23. The Franciscans are frequently praised or rebuked—often for having fallen from a position of grace—in the course of the text. In this, she was not exceptional: female mystics could be remarkably critical of male clerics (Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 11–12).


Anneliese Stoklaska, “Die Revelationes der Agnes Blannbekin. Ein mystisches Unikat im Schrifttum des Wiener Mittelalters,” Jahrbuch des Vereins für Geschichte der Stadt Wien 43 (1987): 9.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 10.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 4; Anneliese Stoklaska, Peter Dinzelbacher, and Dieter R. Bauer, “Weibliche Religiosität im mittelalterlichen Wien unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Agnes Blannbekin,” in Religiöse Frauenbewegung und mystische Frömmigkeit (Köln: Böhlau, 1988), 165–66; Stoklaska, “Revelationes,” 10–11.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 6.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 4.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 6; Stoklaska, Dinzelbacher, and Bauer, “Weibliche Religiosität,” 178–83; Stoklaska, “Revelationes.”


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 6.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 8n17. This strange dating is hard to explain but the significance of “three years”—possibly the duration covered by the Life and the duration of Christ’s ministry—is suggestive.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 135, 44; Blannbekin, Life, 98, 40.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, ch. 230; Blannbekin, Life, 159.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 127.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 104, 177; and ch. 135, 166, 140, cf. 176; Stoklaska, Dinzelbacher, and Bauer, “Weibliche Religiosität,” 174–75.


For example, Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 85; Blannbekin, Life, 61.


See, for example, Jeffrey F. Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (New York: Zone Books, 1998).


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 23; Blannbekin, Life, 28.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 158; Blannbekin, Life, 107.


Anneke Mulder-Bakker, “Two Women of Experience, Two Men of Letters, and the Book of Life,” in Women and Experience in Later Medieval Writing: Reading the Book of Life, ed. Anneke Mulder-Bakker and L. H. McAvoy (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), 86.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 24; Blannbekin, Life, 28.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 120; Blannbekin, Life, 85. The symbolism of colors is returned to on a number of occasions.


For miracles of material transformation, see Caroline Walker Bynum, Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe (New York: Zone Books, 2011).


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 77, 74; Blannbekin, Life, 53, 55.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 75.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 40, 175; Blannbekin, Life, 39.


Although see the visceral horror at the prospect of women touching holy vessels: Phyllis Zagano, “Women Deacons and Service at the Altar,” Theological Studies 79, no. 3 (September 1, 2018): 602.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 128; Blannbekin, Life, 91.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 128; Blannbekin, Life, 91.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 128; Blannbekin, Life, 91.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 128; Blannbekin, Life, 92.


Another architectural metaphor—the castle as the just person—also featured two closed iron portals that keep “firm guard” of the soul (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 130; Blannbekin, Life, 94–95).


See especially Peter Dinzelbacher, “Die Vita et revelationes der Wiener Begine Agnes Blannbekin († 1315) im Rahmen der Viten- und Offenbarungsliteratur ihrer Zeit,” in Mittelalterliche Frauenmystik (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1993), 235.


Dinzelbacher, “Vita”; Luciano Bertazzo, “Legami francescani di una Beghina francescana nella Vienna del xiii secolo: Agnes Blannbekin (1240/1250ca.–†1315),” in “Non enim fuerat Evangelii surdus auditor. . .” (1 Celano 22): Essays in Honor of Michael W. Blastic, O.F.M. on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, ed. Michael Cusato and Steven J. McMichael (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 318–33.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 118; Blannbekin, Life, 83; Stoklaska, “Revelationes,” 28.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 87; Blannbekin, Life, 62.


Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 10–11.


Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 26; C. Landman, “Agnes Blannbekin (d 1315): Lay Female Mysticism as a Source of Indigenous Knowledge,” Acta Patristica et Byzantina 15, no. 1 (January 1, 2004): 219–32.


In the same sermon, Bernard also describes rooms of wine, ointments and spices, and other places attached to specific divine activities: Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs II, trans. Kilian Walsh, On the Song of Songs II (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2010), Sermon 23.3–9 cf. 23.12–16. Bridal imagery is not common in the Life, as it is in much beguine mystical writing, but Blannbekin does describe in chapter 70 the “cubiculum” [bedchamber] where Christ enters the “thalamum” [bridal bed]. There are many possible sources for this figure, of course, cf. Mary Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 176–83; Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1998), IV, 12, 1; Mechthild von Hackeborn Das Buch vom strömenden Lob, 4th edition (Freiburg im Breisgau: Johannes, 2009), 79; Friedrich Ohly and Nicola Kleine, eds., Das Sankt Trudperter Hohelied: Eine Lehre der liebenden Gotteserkenntnis (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 1998), Conf. III, 6, 11.


During an earlier sequence of revelations during Holy Week, Blannbekin goes “to a place . . . where she could view the Body of the Lord on the altar” in the Franciscan church (Blannbekin, “Einführung,” Leben, 72; Blannbekin, Life, 52).


Angela of Foligno, Complete Works, trans. Paul Lachance (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1993), 50.


My italics; Angela of Foligno, Complete Works, 136, 139.


Angela of Foligno, Complete Works, 141–42.


Angela of Foligno, Complete Works, 157–58.


See the introduction to Giunta Bevegnati, The Life and Miracles of Saint Margaret of Cortona (1247–1297), trans. Thomas Renna and ed. Shannon Larson (Saint Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2012).


Bevegnati, Life and Miracles of Saint Margaret, 77.


Bevegnati, Life and Miracles of Saint Margaret, 79; McGinn, Flowering, 140–41.


Carolyn Muessig and Elina Gertsman, “Performance of the Passion: The Enactment of Devotion in the Later Middle Ages,” in Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts (Farnham: Ashgate, 2008), 129–42.


“Vita Elizabeth Sanctimonialis in Erkenrode, Ordinis Cisterciensis, Leodiensis Dioecesis,” in Catalogus Codicum Hagiographicorum Bibliothecae Regiae Bruxellensis, vol. 1, part 1 (Brussels: Typis Polleunis, Ceuterick and Lefébure, 1886), 373.


John H. van Engen, Rupert of Deutz, Publications of the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies 18 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 50–53.


C. Bynum, “The Body of Christ in the Later Middle Ages: A Reply to Leo Steinberg,” Renaissance Quarterly 39, no. 3 (1986): 406–7.


Remigius de Buck, ed., Vita B. Idae Lewensis, AASS Apr. 2 (Paris: Victorem Palmé, 1866), 183; see also Aldegunda in Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 84.


Blannbekin, Life, 9


McGinn, Flowering, 190–94.


Quoted in McGinn, Flowering, 193.


For example, St. Bonaventure, Bonaventure, ed. Ignatius C. Brady (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978), 230, 310, 192, 303, 194.


Mechthild von Magdeburg, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit, nach der Einsiedler Handschrift in kritischem Vergleich mit der gesamten Überlieferung herausgegeben, Bd. 2, ed. Hans Neumann and Gisela Vollmann-Profe, Literatur des Mittelalters 101 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1993), 4:34–42; see the translation in Magdeburg, Flowing Light of the Godhead, 72–75.


Magdeburg, Fließende Licht, 4:55–56; Sara S. Poor, Mechthild of Magdeburg and Her Book: Gender and the Making of Textual Authority (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 65–71; Mechthild, Mechthild of Magdeburg: Selections from The Flowing Light of the Godhead, ed. Elizabeth A. Andersen (Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2003), 153; cf. other visions of saints conducting the Mass in, for example, Mechthild of Hackeborn, Mechthild of Hackeborn: The Book of Special Grace, ed. Barbara Newman (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2017); Gertrude the Great, The Herald of Divine Love (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), ch. 17.


Hellmut Lorenz, “Ergänzungen zur Baugeschichte der Wiener Michaelerkirche,” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst und Denkmalpflege 36 (1982): 99–109.


Richard Perger, “Baugeschichte und Ausstattung bis 1626 nach schriftlichen Quellen,” in St. Michael. Stadtpfarrkirche und Künstlerpfarre von Wien, 1288–1988 (Vienna: Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, 1988), 74–76.


It seems likely, though, that the earlier account took place in the friars’ church.


Perger, “Baugeschichte,” 79.


Perger, “Baugeschichte,” 87. The other two screen altars were both dedicated to women.


Lorenz, “Michaelerkirche,” 105; Perger, “Baugeschichte,” 76.


Lorenz, “Michaelerkirche.”


Lorenz, “Michaelerkirche,” 101–2.


Monika Schmelzer, Der mittelalterliche Lettner im deutschsprachigen Raum: Typologie und Funktion (Petersberg: MichaelImhof verlag, 2004), 64–119; cf. Erika Doberer, “Der Lettner. Seine Bedeutung und Geschichte,” Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Vergleichende Kunstforschung in Wien 9 (1956): 117–22.


Jacqueline E. Jung, The Gothic Screen: Space, Sculpture, and Community in the Cathedrals of France and Germany, ca. 1200–1400, New ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), see especially 68–69.


There is a considerable literature on this point, for example, Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, “Gender, Celibacy, and Proscriptions of Sacred Space: Symbol And Practice,” in Women’s Space: Patronage, Place, and Gender in the Medieval Church, ed. Virginia Chieffo Raguin and Sarah Stanbury (New York: SUNY Press, 2005), many other chapters in this volume address this issue in other times or places; see those by Heller and Raguin; cf. Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, “Women’s Monasteries and Sacred Space: The Promotion of Saints’ Cults and Miracles,” in Gender and Christianity in Medieval Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 76; Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 1400–c.1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 97, cf. 110.


Quoted in Zagano, “Women Deacons and Service at the Altar”, 601; cf. Phyllis Zagano, Women: Icons of Christ (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2020), ch. 3; cf. Macy, Hidden History, 62.


William Durand, The Rationale Divinorum Officiorum of William Durand of Mende: A New Translation of the Prologue and Book One, ed. Timothy M. Thibodeau (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 43.


Joan R. Branham, “Sacred Space under Erasure in Ancient Synagogues and Early Churches,” The Art Bulletin 74, no. 3 (1992): 375–94.


Berthold’s assistant, David of Augsburg, had preached in Vienna (Blannbekin, Leben, ch. 20; McGinn, Flowering, 114–15); for a survey of recent research, see Gunnar Mikosch, Von alter ê und ungetriuwen Juden: Juden und Judendiskurse in den deutschen Predigten des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts (Paderborn: Brill Fink, 2019), ch. 4.1.1.


Berthold von Regensburg, Berthold von Regensburg, vollständige Ausgabe seiner Predigten: mit Anmerkungen und Wörterbuch, ed. Franz Pfeiffer (Wien: W. Braumüller, 1862), 1:447.


That Berthold’s vernacular sermons, including his sexual ethics, were addressed to a lay audience and intended to be read, see Rüdiger Schnell, “Bertholds Ehepredigten Zwischen Mündlichkeit Und Schriftlichkeit,” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 32 (1997): 93–108.


Regensburg, Predigten, 1:447; for further discussion of Berthold’s complex preaching on Judaism, see Mikosch, Von alter ê, ch. 4.1.4.


Durand, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, 43; Amy Knight Powell, Depositions: Scenes from the Late Medieval Church and the Modern Museum (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012), n. 44.


Powell, Depositions, 55–66.


Peter Browe, “Die eucharistie als zaubermittel im mittelalter,” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 20 (December 1930): 134–54.


Durand, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, 42; on the creative approach taken to nonsacramental rituals in this period, see Nils Holger Petersen, “Framing Medieval Latin Liturgy through the Marginal,” Religions 13, no. 2 (February 2022): 95.


Karl Young, The Drama of the Medieval Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), 1:111–48; E. K. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903), 1:130–38; for a more orthodox mystic account, see Mechthild of Hackeborn, Special Grace, ch. I.9.


Donna L. Sadler, Stone, Flesh, Spirit: The Entombment of Christ in Late Medieval Burgundy and Champagne (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 112–18.


P. Kolumban Gschwend, Die Depositio und Elevatio Crucis im Raum der alten Diözese Brixen: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Grablegung am Karfreitag und der Auferstehungsfeier am Ostermorgen (Sarnen: Ehrli, 1965), 60–65; Gesine Taubert and Johannes Taubert, “Mittelalterliche Kruzifixe mit schwenkbaren Armen. Ein Beitrag zur Verwendung von Bildwerken in der Liturgie,” Zeitschrift des deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 23 (1969): 93; Neil Conwell Brooks, The Sepulchre of Christ in Art and Liturgy; with Special Reference to the Liturgic Drama (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1921), 20–26.


As, for example, at the Benedictine house of Prüfening or the Stiftskirche in Wittenberg: Young, Drama, 1:157–60.


Taubert and Taubert, “Kruzifixe”; Reinhard Rampold, “Gotische Kruzifixe mit schwenkbaren Armen—Neuentdeckung in Tirol,” Der Schlern 73 (1999): 425–36.


Angela of Foligno, Complete Works, 158. The Vulgate has: “dispersa sunt omnia ossa mea” (Ps. 21:15).


John Granger Cook, Empty Tomb, Apotheosis, Resurrection (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2018), introduction, section 5.


Stoklaska, “Revelationes,” 16.


Stoklaska, “Revelationes,” 23–24; McGinn, Flowering, 181.


From Ulrike Wiethaus’s essay in Blannbekin, Life, 166, 174.


Mulder-Bakker, “Two Women of Experience,” 93.


Caroline Walker Bynum, ““. . . And Woman His Humanity”: Female Imagery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages,” Women and Christianity 1 (2010): 194–218; see also, of course: Caroline Walker Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women, The New Historicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Caroline W. Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); Ulrike Wiethaus, “Sexuality, Gender, and the Body in Late Medieval Women’s Spirituality: Cases from Germany and the Netherlands,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 7, no. 1 (1991): 46.


Laurie Finke, Feminist Theory, Women’s Writing (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018), 83.


Cf. those historians who emphasize the discursive formations that make subjectification possible, for example, Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience,” Critical Inquiry 17, no. 4 (1991): 773–97.


Stoklaska, “Revelationes,” 16; cf. Blannbekin, Life, 7; Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?,” in Aesthetics, 4th ed. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017).


This nods, of course, to Derrida, whose Specters of Marx also appeared in 1993. Kathleen Biddick, “Genders, Bodies, Borders: Technologies of the Visible,” Speculum 68, no. 2 (1993): 389–418.


Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), xii.


Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” Dialectics 16 (Spring 1986): 22–27.


Tactics, indeed, have no space of their own, and operate only temporarily and invisibly. As such, Blannbekin’s tactics “make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers” (Certeau, Practice of Everyday Life, 38–39).

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