Margery Kempe's German Sisters: Anna Eybin and the Late Medieval Devotional Book
Sponsored by the Department of German Studies, the Department of Religious Studies, and CMEMS
Abstract: As part of a project that explores the roles of literate women in the production and circulation of devotional literature in late medieval Germany, this paper focuses on the book production of one female scribe who, unlike many male and female scribes of her day, signs her name repeatedly in the books she made. Anna Eybin, provost of the Augustinian convent Pillenreuth near Nuremberg from 1461-1476, was according to her sisters the author/producer of "countless" books, though only four of them have survived. All of them are compilations of devotional texts and the most coherent of these is a collection of saints lives that includes an unusual combination of the lives of both ancient and local saints (Nürnberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Hs. 2261). Despite the wide range of lives included (from the Byzantine Julian and Basilissa to the local Achahildis of Wendelstein), it seems quite clear that Eybin put this compilation together with some thought and also that she envisioned others reading it for a particular kind of edification. An analysis of the contents, with a focus on some of the more unusual lives included, reveals a concerted interest in achieving sanctity within the context of both chaste marriage and motherhood. In the paper, I hope to make two points: 1) while the thematic focus might at first appear unexpected or incongruous for a book meant for communities of nuns, placing it in the larger context of late medieval devotional literature, which seemed especially interested in the sanctity of lay women, gives us insights into the specific ways women negotiated socially acceptable roles and their limits in order to do things like write and compose books; 2) the devotional literary context for Anna Eybin's book reveals a larger ideology concerning gender and devotion that can also be seen to inform seemingly exceptional figures like Margery Kempe, a married woman who also wrote a book about lay sanctity, using her own life as a subject.