Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Octavia Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Octavia Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers

Article excerpt

Octavia Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers. By Jane Shaw. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 201 1, Pp. xx, 398. $35.00.)

Truth is stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to envisioning a female Messiah who will live forever. On one hand, Jane Shaw's arresting history, Octavia Daughter of God, provides such a fascinating portrayal that I had to keep on reminding myself that Octavia and her largely middle-class community, the Panacea Society, were not fiction. On the other hand, the richness of Shaw's historical analysis of the spiritual malaise and post-Victorian challenges facing believers in Britain after the "war to end all wars" is so vividly documented, that it is a wonder that there were not little "Bedfords" popping up across the country.

The basic dimensions of the story tell of a vicar's widow, Mabel Barltrop, who in 1919 founded a millenarian community in Bedford, England. With a local community of over seventy "sealed" members, at its height, and a far-flung healing and corresponding membership that reached over 130,000, the Panaceans were a millenarian community that believed Mabel, renamed Octavia and identified by her followers as the daughter of God, would lead them to immortality on earth. England, and the middle-class suburb of Bedford in particular, was the Newjerusalem. The return ofjesus and Octavia, their own messiah, were eagerly awaited. Houses were kept in order as they were on the day members died in order to be re-occupied by them after the anticipated Second Coming. Octavia Daughter of God traces the development of the community, its beliefs, expectations of local members, publications, activities, healing mission, its survival, and its growth after its leader's death in 1934. …

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