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The Voices of Mechthild of Magdeburg

Elizabeth Ann Andersen

Mechthild of Magdeburg’s singular book Das Fließende Licht der Gottheit (‘The Flowing Light of the Godhead’) must be accounted one of the most significant texts in German that we have from the thirteenth century. As a piece of first-rate imaginative writing in the vernacular it is a highly rewarding text for those interested in medieval literature and women’s writing. It is also of considerable interest to historians and theologians as a document of female spirituality. This introduction to Mechthild’s extraordinary account of her revelations and of her relationship with God and with her contemporaries makes Mechthild’s book more accessible to the English speaker. It takes as its central focus the multi-voiced nature of Mechthild’s writings, suggesting ways of reading her work through an analysis of key voices in the text: (i) the social-historical voice of Mechthild as beguine and nun (ii) the authorial voice (iii) the voice of the mystic and prophet with particular reference to the influence of the Psalter and the Song of Songs (iv) the temporal voice of the visionary at the intersection of Mechthild’s personal story with the master story of Christian salvation.
Contents: The polyphony and dialogicity of the text – Mechthild’s social-historical identity as beguine and nun – The concept of authorship – The fundamental significance of the Psalter and the Song of Songs as literary models – The concept and modulation of time in Mechthild’s visions.