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Case 4 - Varieties of Religious Writing

Women practiced many kinds of religious writing in addition to translating Psalms. Their work—among Protestants, Catholics, and splinter groups—ranges from private meditations and sermons to prophecy, polemics, and didacticism. Katherine Parr, Vittoria Colonna, and Marguerite de Navarre revealed a deeply personal spirituality in their verses, while Eleanor Douglas was led to prophesy publicly. The Quaker Margaret Fell defended women’s right to speak in public about religious matters. Georgette de Montenay expressed her Protestant beliefs by creating a book of Christian emblems. Religious writing provided a major outlet for self-expression among women, whose piety set an example within their own households and in their religious groups.

Catherine Parr. Prayers or meditacions, wherein the minde is stirred. London, ca. 1550

Georgette de Montenay. Emblemes ou devises Chrestiennes. Frankfurt, 1619

Vittoria Colonna. Rime. Venice, 1559

Margaret Fell. Touch-stone. Part 2. London, 1666

Eleanor Douglas. The bill of excommunication, for abolishing henceforth the Sabbath. London, 1649


Queen Katherine Parr's Prayers or meditacions was influenced by Marguerite de Navarre’s Mirror of the Sinful Soul, a text which her stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, had presented to her. Katherine was the sixth wife of Henry VIII, highly educated, and served as an intelligent companion to the aging king. Her book was written around 1546/7 but published after the death of Henry VIII, probably because of its Lutheran and more radical Protestant leanings.


Other religious writing took the form of emblems, such as those by Georgette de Montenay. The emblem is a literary form that reveals its message through a combination of image, motto, and poem. Montenay created the first emblem book used for religious propaganda, in support of the Calvinist faith. Her book was republished many times in several languages. In the frontispiece portrait, de Montenay is depicted as a writer with pen, ink, and paper.


Another writer, Vittoria Colonna, is known mainly for her secular love poetry and her friendship with Michelangelo, but in her later life, she turned to spiritual poetry in which she expresses love for Christ.
She writes:
He is the author of peace, rest from war,
Quiet is found in him.

She was influenced in her religious thinking by the English cardinal Reginald Pole, who resided in Italy and became her mentor.


Although most women had never been encouraged to preach openly by established churches, Quakers believed that because men and women could equally receive God’s spirit, both could preach. Margaret Fell, married to Quaker founder George Fox, justified women’s claim to speaking by looking at biblical women who testify to the truth. As examples, she cites Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James who followed Jesus, as well as women in the early Christian church, mentioned in the book of Acts.


Also shown are the tracts of Eleanor Davies, a well-educated woman who, in 1625, had a vision of the Day of Judgment. She associated herself with the Old Testament prophet Daniel and began writing and publishing many prophetic tracts. A number of them were kept and bound together by her daughter, Lucy Huntingdon, in the volume seen above. Many of the tracts show Davies’ own annotations in preparation for the publication of corrected versions. She denounced Charles I, supported Oliver Cromwell, and believed that the end of the world was at hand.


(Translation by Ellen Moody)

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