Mystical Desire, Erotic Economy, and the Wooing Group

  • Lara Farina
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


My readers may find it odd that mysticism, that most obvious source of devotional eroticism in the Middle Ages, has been only tangentially discussed in chapters 1 and 2. If we take the term “mystical” loosely, as designating a direct experience of the divine, or “union with God,” then the monastic and anchoritic texts I have examined certainly have mystical elements. Christ I’s concentric analogies play with the idea of being “inside” divine bodies, even if the possibility of unmediated experience of those bodies is foreclosed. More directly, the Bernardine tropes of the Ancrene Wisse center on the motif of the Sponsa Christi, the “bride” of Christ, bound to the divine in a spiritual-physical union. But few would consider either of these texts to be examples of mysticism at work. First, there is the obvious issue of genre, especially in the case of Ancrene Wisse. As a guide to anchoritic ritual, the Wisse’s mission is not to witness spiritual union, but to outline the means by which to achieve it. When compared to the writings of later English mystics, such as Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, the Wisse lacks the mystic’s personal testimony and consequent visionary authority. Second, and perhaps more important, neither Christ I nor the Wisse aim at producing “transcendant” spiritual experience. As we have seen, both encourage their readers to remain in constant awareness of their material surroundings, to use the church, refectory, or anchorhold as visual and spatial tools for belief.1


Thirteenth Century Gift Exchange Romance Convention Monetary Transaction Gift Economy 
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