Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence

Article excerpt

The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence. Translated from the Occitan by Kathleen Garay and Madeleine Jeay, with introduction, notes, and interpretive essay. [Library of Medieval Women.] (Rochester, New York: D. S. Brewer. 2001. Pp. vii, 180. $75.00.)

Like most thirteenth-century holy women, the ascetic Douceline of Digne (ca. 1215-1274), founder of two beguine communities near Marseilles and sister of the Spiritual Franciscan preacher Hugh of Digne, failed to achieve canonization. Remarkably, however, one of her houses managed to survive until 1414, despite the vigorous repression of beguines and Spirituals in southern France, and Douceline herself is still the object of a local cult. Even more unusual is her vernacular vita, one of a handful whose authorship can be confidently ascribed to a woman. In Douceline's case, the evidence points strongly to her prioress, Philippine Porcellet. The vita survives in a single manuscript, now in Paris, edited by J. H. Albanes in 1879. Kathleen Garay and Madeleine Jeay here present its first English translation.

Although Philippine (if she was indeed the author) wrote in Occitan, she shows herself quite familiar with the conventions of Latin hagiography. If her life of Douceline lacks the complex theological schemas that have been detected in the work of Thomas of Cantimpre, it has all the expected chapters on the saint's austerities, virtues, raptures, death and translation, and posthumous miracles. Douceline was especially famous for her habit of levitating, made somewhat more credible by the admission that "her feet would not be touching the ground except for her two big toes" (p. 49). While she stood en pointe in ecstatic trance, devotees came to be healed by kissing the soles of her feet. Just as frequently, however, skeptics tested the authenticity of her trance by pricking her with needles, jabbing her with awls, and even pouring molten lead over her feet-the last torture inflicted by no less a personage than Charles of Anjou. …

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