Elizabeth, Julian, and Gender

Much talk of gender in my world recently.  I had my students watch Elizabeth to warm them up for our studies of Renaissance literature, a wonderful movie which emphasizes (or at least heavily dramatizes) Queen Elizabeth I’s rise to power, particularly with regard to her identity as an unmarried woman.  The movie offers a symbolic parallel to Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary (Elizabeth became known as the Virgin Queen).  The question arose in class “Did she give up her identity as a woman to maintain her power, or was her identity as a woman necessary to maintain her power?”  Certainly she faced challenges that her father Henry VIII did not have to consider.

As for my own personal studies, I am currently focused on reading (actually focused is the wrong word to use as I am getting very sporadic in my reading habits) Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, the medieval English anchoress.  In it, she takes time to explain her understanding of “Christ as Mother.”  After the “birth pangs” of Crucifixion, she perceived Christ as giving birth to our redemption, and then feeding us through the sacrament of the Eucharist:

So next he had to feed us, for a mother’s dear love has made him our debtor.  The mother can give her child her milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most generously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament which is the precious food of life itself.

I have yet to dive into Hildegard of Bingen‘s works, but I did order a copy of Secrets of God, a compilation of her major writings.


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