The first panel I attended was 'Transmission, Translation, Integration and Early Modern Women Religious', which saw papers from scholars all linked to the 'RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550-1700' project. Marie-Louise Coolahan opened the panel with a paper which cautioned scholars to engage with sources by and about women religious with diligence and forensic insight, noting how many of the surviving sources contain different 'layers of reading' within them when circulated by subsequent generations. Some later nineteenth and twentieth-century sources even entirely overlooked the role women played in preserving and circulating texts by women religious, a fact Coolahan reminded us was highly problematic. Problematizing sources was also a theme of Bronagh Ann McShane's paper, which focused on the sources preserved in the Bon Sucesso Dominican Convent in Lisbon. McShane noted the lack of an Irish counterpart to the 'Who Were the Nuns' project, which focused on English nuns, and highlighted the fragmented and scattered nature of the sources for Irish women religious. Finally, Emilie K. M. Murphy gave an excellent paper on language barriers in English convents in exile. Murphy noted that precious few nuns within the convents spoke fluent French or Dutch, thus making those that could very valuable and often to be found in important 'public facing' roles as a result. Murphy also revealed that many of the nuns muddled through with a form of 'Franglais', a curious mix of English and French that often resulted in some unusual phrases!
|The devil and a Jesuit work together to seduce Cadiére.|
The final day saw my paper presented as part of a panel entitled 'Spirituality: Engagements and Experience'. The panel started with a paper by Victor Houliston which explored the works of Robert Parsons, especially in the context of Jesuit and Dominican spirituality and the role of Luis de Granada's works. Houliston interestingly noted that in many ways Protestants and Catholics shared an enthusiasm for such spirituality in a way which blurs religious identities in the period. My paper focused on the reception of mysticism among the English Philadelphians, a topic which featured heavily in my PhD research and has been at the forefront of my mind while drafting my first monograph. The paper explored how millenarianism and a belief in the second coming of Christ allowed some radical Protestant groups, both in England and on the continent, to actively absorb Catholic works of mysticism and reference them as proof of the spiritual outpourings they believed would precede the end of the world. The final paper of the panel was a thought-provoking paper by Jessica McCandless on mysticism and the role of space in the visionary accounts of English Carmelite nuns. McCandless argued that mysticism was not only an inner experience, but also contributed to an 'atmosphere' or space within convents whereby mysticism could be facilitated and encouraged. Most of the mystical experiences among the nuns took place in spaces that were important to the convent, highlighting the role this space must have had in inspiring their mysticism. McCandless argued that inner mysticism and outer spacial sanctity thus fed off each other and were mutually beneficial to the nuns.
Overall the conference proved to be a space for stimulating discussion and debate. I was happy to see many papers on women religious, as well as a growing number of papers which addressed the interactions, both physical and spiritual, between Catholics and Protestants. Like Ushaw two years before, which I also attended and reported on, the conference was well organized by James Kelly, Hannah Thomas and Cormac Begadon.
My attendance was supported by a Durham University Centre for Catholic Studies travel bursary. Without this I would have been unable to attend. I am grateful to Durham and to the conference organizers for making this support available.
The conference programme is available to view online here.