Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence

Article excerpt

The Life of Saint Douceline, a Beguine of Provence, trans. from the Occitan with introduction, notes, and interpretative essay by Kathleen Garay and Madeleine Jeay (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001). 180 pp. ISBN 0-85991-629-4. L40.00/$75.00.

The blessed Doucelina of Digne (1215 or 1216-74) was a figure similar to the better-known Flemish Marie of Oignies (d. 1213) and, like her, accepted designation as a beguine. Doucelina introduced this communitarian form of spiritual life for devout laywomen into southern France, founding houses in Hyeres (Var) and Marseilles, Her life, which survives in a single manuscript (BN fr. 1303), was composed in Occitan by a woman in one of these communities. This publication of an English translation and commentary responds to the tide of interest in the spiritual experience and literary activity of medieval women. Its tone is reverential, its two authors continuing the 'hagiobiography' of Doucelina initiated by their Occitan forebear.

The best part of the volume is the forty-five-page interpretative essay which presents the world of the female mystic as a paradoxical conjunction of asceticism and delight. The practices of mortification adopted by Doucelina transform the body into a vehicle of spiritual communication. Its message is addressed primarily to God who acknowledges receipt by rewarding her with visions and raptures. But it has institutional and political repercussions too. Doucelina not only founds, regulates, and seeks to secure the future of her order, she also establishes a reputation as a spiritual counsellor to others. Her public levitations are staged to impress. Whereas the Flemish beguines are mainly drawn from the bourgeoisie, Doucelina's are often aristocratic, giving her connections in high places. She both promotes a Franciscan model of piety and fosters close ties between her community and the Franciscan order in which her brother was an influential preacher. The multiple strands of Doucelina's mystical, social, and institutional involvement are effectively drawn out in this essay. …

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