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  • The Glory of the Virgin: The Mariology of the Incarnation in Two Early Modern Castilian Mystical Sermons
  • Jessica A. Boon

By far the most popular spiritual guides across Europe during the thirteenth-fifteenth centuries articulated the technique of meditation on the life of Christ.1 Devotees were encouraged to add fresh details to the known gospel narratives as long as the imaginative additions of participants, dialogues, and backdrops did not contradict the biblical accounts or orthodox doctrine.2 The figure of Christ, particularly during his suffering and death, was central to this form of devotion, yet Mary’s role, so brief in the actual gospels, typically received the most elaboration of any individual other than Christ. Mary’s human story shared the stage with Christ during his life on [End Page 35] earth, whether in rosary prayer cycles about the joys, glories, and sorrows of Mary that depicted her reaction to the events in Christ’s life, or in the best-selling (most frequently copied) Latin and vernacular texts presenting the “Lament of Mary” at the foot of the cross (Bestul 111–44, Fulton 204–43, Rubin 243–56, 313–32).3 Medieval authors from the thirteenth century onwards depicted her motherly grief over Jesus’ torture as the ideal model for devotees, whether clerical or lay, male or female, who sought to achieve compassion for her son (Sticca).

These Passion-centered devotional texts so central to lay and monastic spirituality across Europe came late to Castile. Scholars of medieval literature have noted the abrupt shift in the Castilian poetic tradition during the era of the Catholic Monarchs to poems featuring either the full life or the last days of Christ.4 Cynthia Robinson’s analysis suggests that images of a dying savior could have done little effective conversion work among Muslims or Jews in the era of convivencia. Instead, the omnipresent Reconquest devotion to the Virgin and her generosity as a miracle worker, leader of battles, and mediator on behalf of devotees of every rank and station was more accessible (Christian, Pereda, Remensnyder). Arguing for the pivotal influence of translations of Francesc Eiximenis’ Vita Christi in Castile up until the 1480s, Robinson pinpoints the fact that Eiximenis did not dwell on the details of Christ’s physicality but instead repeatedly represented Maria gloriosa as the key humanizing figure in the gospel narrative, a devotional model Robinson [End Page 36] suggests was better suited to a multi-confessional society (chs 1–4).5 In other words, whereas late medieval authors elsewhere in Europe consistently considered Mary’s earthly life only in order to redirect attention to Christ’s human span, Castilian authors during the fifteenth century had available to them an alternative model of spirituality that used Christ’s life to redirect attention to Mary’s eternal glory.6

Robinson’s analysis dates the terminus ad quem of a primarily Eiximenis-inspired spirituality to the end of the Reconquest. Post-1492, spurred on by Archbishop Cisneros’ reform of the Franciscan order in particular and the Castilian church in general beginning in 1495 (García Oro, Rummel), Eiximenis’ work was supplanted by translations of Latin lives of Christ, especially Montesino’s translation of Ludolph of Saxony’s Vita Christi. In addition, Castilian authors began disseminating vernacular treatises and poems on the Passion written for the court of Fernando and Isabel or composed as manuals to instruct an audience of improperly catechized Christians in the new context of Christian monolithic rule.7 While these original texts feature Christ’s suffering humanity, I posit that they do so while maintaining the traditional Castilian interest in the glories of Mary that dominated the medieval Iberian spiritual landscape of Marian shrines, statues, apparitions, and literature. Spanish Vita Christi texts are thus a valuable resource for assessing the developments in popular Castilian Marian [End Page 37] devotion during the period of Christian, primarily Franciscan, reform in the early sixteenth century.

To demonstrate the different manners that Castilian meditations on the life, works, and death of the son impacted representations of the mother, I examine two Castilian texts from the 1510s and the 1530s that bear certain similarities. I argue that in these two Franciscan “mystical sermons” that...


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