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The Apostelesse's Social Network: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene in Fifteenth-Century East Anglia
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This dissertation examines how the construction of Saint Mary Magdalene as a symbol participated in a network of political, social, and religious practices in fifteenth- century England. That symbol both changed and was changed by shifting understandings of lay piety. In the second half of the fifteenth century the saint as a symbol became affiliated with the Yorkist side in the War of the Roses in ways that would have repercussions for her interpretation well into the early Tudor period. Rooted in an analysis of relationships among medieval artifacts and the cultures of their production, my argument employs a synthesis of Actor-Network Theory and Peircian semiotics. This theoretical approach enables my analysis of a network of relationships among individuals, objects, and concepts through which Mary Magdalene travels as a semiotic “packet” of linguistic, visual, and conceptual signs. Only part of this packet’s intended information is transferred while it travels through the network, however. This process of change, stemming from differing emphases regarding the saint, allows new ideas to be deliberately added to the packet over time. The author or authors’ immediate needs regarding the saint are always reflected, but elements of previous interpretations of Mary Magdalene’s symbolism remain. I trace uses of the Middle English term apostelesse throughout the dissertation as a means to follow fifteenth-century ideas regarding Mary Magdalene as they evolve. I begin my analysis of the status of the saint is by considering the interactions of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, The Book of Margery Kempe, and Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Christ. Next, I examine the transplantation of the word into a contemporary, politicized context in Osbern Bokenham’s mid-century Lyf of Marye Mawdelyn. I then turn to the Digby Mary Magdalene play to discuss Mary Magdalene as an apostelesse due to her personal authority and evangelical mission to Marseilles. Finally, the dissertation concludes by noting how the specific changes analyzed in each chapter reflect the changing role of the saint over the course of the fifteenth century and by looking briefly ahead to her symbolism in two early modern works: the Life and Repentaunce of Marie Magdalene and An harborowe for faithful and trewe subiectes.
Digby Mary Magdalene
Book of Margery Kempe
Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ
Meditaciones Vitae Christi
Revelations of Divine Love
Queen Mary Psalter
Davis, Matthew Evan (2013). The Apostelesse's Social Network: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene in Fifteenth-Century East Anglia. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from