England has one of the richest and most distinctive histories of medieval mystical experience in all Europe. Resonant echoes of that history linger at places like Walsingham and Norwich.The shrine of the Holy House, destroyed at the Reformation, became one of the leading pilgrimage centres of the Christian west. It emerged out of the visions of Richeldis de Faverches, an eleventh-century Saxon noblewoman, who believed she had been instructed by the Virgin to build in Walsingham a replica of Nazareth's famous hut of the nativity. Twenty miles away in Carrow, a village just outside Norwich's city walls, the solitary anchorite Julian later explored her own profound intimations of divinity in her sensuous Revelations of Divine Love. Both women were moved profoundly to change their lives through a direct sense of personal encounter with the transcendent. They exemplify many religious and spiritual figures in England who claim to have experienced the mystery of God through ascetic discipline and contemplative longing.
Vincent Gillespie here introduces some of the greatest mystics of English history: Julian; Ailred of Rievaulx; poetic visionary Richard Rolle; the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing; charismatic Margery Kempe; and Walter Hilton. He vividly places these enigmatic but always fascinating thinkers in the wider context of medieval Christian contemplation.
Vincent Gillespie is J R R Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language in the University of Oxford. He is the author of Looking in Holy Books: Essays on Late-Medieval Religious Writing in England (2005) and co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Mysticism (2011).