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The Making of the Magdalen:
Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages
Katherine Ludwig Jansen

Winner of the John Gilmary Shea Prize, American Catholic Historical Association

Paperback | 2001 | $41.95 | £34.95 | ISBN: 9780691089874
408 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 48 halftones
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Best known during the Middle Ages as the prostitute who became a faithful follower of Christ, Mary Magdalen was the most beloved female saint after the Virgin Mary. Why the Magdalen became so popular, what meanings she conveyed, and how her story evolved over the centuries are the focus of this compelling exploration of late medieval religious culture. Analyzing previously unpublished sermons, Katherine Jansen uses the lens of medieval preaching to examine the mendicant friars' transformation of Mary Magdalen, a shadowy gospel figure, into an emblem of action and contemplation, a symbol of vanity and lust, a model of perfect penance, and the embodiment of hope and salvation. She draws on diverse historical sources to reveal the laity's devotion to Mary Magdalen, which departed significantly from the friars' image of the saint, signaling a major development in popular religious practice and personal piety. Finally, the author comprehensively addresses the question of the House of Anjou's alliance with the Magdalen, and illuminates the relationship between politics and sanctity in southern France and Italy.

Jansen shows how perceptions of the Magdalen merged with errors and misunderstandings to shape the social, spiritual, and political agendas of the later Middle Ages. She brings to life the rich complexity of medieval culture, which condemned female sexuality and women's preaching and yet popularized the veneration of Mary Magdalen as a former prostitute chosen by Christ to be the "apostle of the apostles," the first to witness and preach the Good News of the Resurrection.


"Jansen's book is both a superb study of the character of Mary Magdalen as interpreted by later medievals as well as a paradigmatic methodological study for approaching the intriguing question of the reception of the medieval sermon. . . . [It will be] a standard for both women's studies and the study of sermon literature. . . .The book should enjoy wide readership, not only by those interested in the Magdalen, but also by students and professionals alike who might look to this study for scholarly guidance--such its intellectual scope and methodological competence."--Joan Mueller, Theological Studies

"Jansen shows that the issue of gender was close to the surface in every phase of the Magdalen cult, bound up with the continuing debate over women as preachers and with questions of authority. On the whole she employs gender analysis convincingly to clarify some puzzling texts."--Donald Weinstein, Renaissance Quarterly

"[An] elegant and learned book. . . . it goes beyond it predecessors in several ways. . .. Jansen has produced a disciplined, tightly focused historical monograph. . .. The final result is theologically sophisticated and sociologically interesting."--Augustine Thompson, American Historical Review

"An ambitious and important book. . . . Having read it one is guaranteed to see medieval representations of the Magdalen with new eyes."--Jussi Hanska, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

"Jansen has a genuine gift for relating the story of the Magdalen to the larger religious and social history of the period. It is highly readable, learned, full of interesting material gleaned from primary archival research, and amply illustrated."--Lawrence S. Cunningham, Commonwealth

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgements xi
A Note on Transcriptions Translation, and Names xvii
Introduction 3
ONE "In Memory of Her": From History to Legend 18
TWO The Vita Apostolica 49
THREE The Vita Activa 100
FOUR The Vita Contemplativa 116
FIVE "Vanity of Vanities, All Is Vanity" 145
SIX "There Was a Sinner in the City" 168
SEVEN The Exemplar of Perfect Penance 199
EIGHT Responses to the Scriptural Saint 247
NINE Responses to the Legendary Saint 265
TEN In the Shadow of the Virgin 286
ELEVEN The House of Anjou: A Royal Response 307
EPILOGUE "In Memory of Her": From Legend to History 333
Bibliography of Works Cited 337
Unpublished Primary Sources 337
Published Primary Sources 339
Secondary Sources 348
Index 371

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File created: 7/11/2017

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