Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group Page

New Society at the International Medieval Congress at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI

The Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group seeks to fill the gap left by the departure of the Mystics Quarterly sessions at Kalamazoo, with a broadened focus to include vernacular spiritual writings of the late Middle Ages–championed by female visionaries, but also written and disseminated by clerics and monks, and read by women religious  as well as by the laity. We are sponsoring one session in Kalamazoo 2016 for scholars and students of late-medieval, vernacular devotional culture. We wish to complement the work being done by such groups as the Syon Abbey Society, the Lollard Society, and the Anchoritic Society.  Stay tuned for more information!

Kalamazoo 2016

The first VDCG-sponsored session takes place on Saturday May 14 at 3:30 in Fetzer 2040. The topic is New Perspectives on Catherine of Siena and Her Female Contemporaries, presided by Stephanie Amsel, Southern Methodist Univ.

The papers are as follows:

  • “Sponsa Hominis et Sponsa Christi: Sacramental Marriage and the Bride of Christ” Chelsea Skalak, Dickinson College

  • “The Orcherd of Syon and Native English Mystics” Carol F. Heffernan, Rutgers Univ.–Newark

  • ‘Catherine and Her “Figlie” as Women Writers’ Lisa Vitale, Southern Connecticut State Univ

We’re looking forward to an exciting inaugural session!

Kalamazoo 2017

Proposals for sessions at Kalamazoo 2017 are due June 1.

Two proposals have been

  1. Co-sponsored with Syon Abbey Society: Syon Abbey and its Associates (Organizers: Brandon Alakas and Stephanie Morley)

The Syon Abbey Society and the Vernacular Devotional Cultures Group invite paper abstracts for its joint session “Syon Abbey and its Associates” which treat any aspect of writing associated with the intellectual and spiritual culture that flourished at the abbey. Syon’s reputation as a stalwart centre for orthodox reform and prolific source of vernacular devotional writing since its foundation in 1415 has been well-documented and long-recognised. This session seeks to examine the channels of connection beyond the convent walls, both in terms of the abbey’s impact on contemporary thinkers, patrons, printers, and lay readers, as well as the influence—material and spiritual—the world beyond its walls may have exerted on the abbey. Papers may address the movement and circulation of books to or from the Abbey; consider particular relationships between authors or patrons on either side of the convent walls; or examine specific texts or translations associated with the abbey for traces of broader associations. Any and all disciplinary and methodological approaches are welcome.

2. New Approaches to the Helfta Nuns and Their Contemporaries

In the second half of the thirteenth century, the female monastery of Helfta played a significant role in the cultivation of Western European mysticism. The circle of nuns comprising three visionaries and their abbess—Mechtild of Hackeborn, Gertrud the Great of Helfta, Mechtild of Magdeburg, and Gertrud of Hackeborn, respectively—developed nuptial mysticism using imagery of holy women as Brides of Christ, and dedicated themselves to the Devotion of the Sacred Heart as part of their active program of female education, piety, and community. Mechtild of Hackeborn (1240-1298) is best known for then account of her revelations, Liber Specialis Gratiae (The Book of Special Grace); Gertrud (the Great) of Helfta (1256-1302) wrote two treatises, Legatus memorialis abundantiae divinae pietatis (The Herald of God’s Loving Kindness) and Exercitia spiritualis (Spiritual Exercises); and Mechtild of Magdeburg (1207-1282/94, a beguine who joined Helfta later in life) record of her visions in Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of Divinity) is especially significant as it is the first mystical account to be written in German. Gertrud of Hackeborn (1232-1292), Abbess of Helfta and sister of Mechtild, but did not have visions herself but supported the spiritual work of her sisters and thus is an important figure for this group. This interdisciplinary session will allow scholars and students to showcase recent ideas about the Helfta nuns and explore how their work expanded and changed traditional paradigms, as well as to compare this material with that of other late-medieval female mystics working in the same period.

Possible topics for two more sessions:

-Theoretical concerns for the field: After After Arundel, Vernacular Theology and Beyond, Examining Orthodox Reform Movements, Vernacular Mysticism, Theology and/as Devotion, Vernacular Spiritual Writings

-Other topics: Pastoral Instruction, Reading and Reception, Transmission and Translation, Meditationes vitae Christi, Marian writings, Annunciation devotionals, Thomas à Kempis


For further information please contact:

Cathy Grisé, McMaster University (

Barbara Zimbalist, University of Texas at El Paso (

Jennifer Brown, Marymount Manhattan College (

Stephanie Amsel, Southern Methodist University (



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