Skip to main content

Dr Rachael Matthews

Senior Strategic Projects Manager

Senior Strategic Projects Manager in the Research and Innovation Services07899 858356
The Book, the Body, and the Mirror: The Use of Metaphor in the Writings of Marguerite Porete and Marguerite d'Oingt in the Department of History 


My thesis, 'The Book, the Body, and the Mirror: The Use of Metaphor in the Writings of Marguerite Porete and Marguerite d'Oingt', examines the writings of two medieval French mystics, and Marguerite d'Oingt. The first, Marguerite Porete, the author of the Mirroeur des Simples Ames, was accused of heresy by the Inquisition on the grounds of her unorthodox writings and publicly burnt at the stake in Paris in 1310. Whilst her text continued to circulate throughout the high medieval and early modern periods in a number of vernaculars (originally having been composed in Old French), it was not until 1946 that the historical figure of Marguerite Porete was reunited with her text: changing both the historiographical and literary identities of author and work.

The second writer under scrutiny, Marguerite d'Oingt, was a contemporary of Porete who also composed mystical literature in the vernacular - a form of Francoprovençal, with a clear dialectal tendency suggesting that her mother tongue was from the Lyonnais region -who also died in 1310. Unlike Porete, her peers hailed Marguerite d'Oingt as a paradigm of female spirituality: as a Carthusian, she belonged to one of the most austere monastic communities of her day and as prioress, her role as head of her charterhouse required her to act as both the leader of her fellow nuns and as the external face of her cloister. Marguerite d'Oingt wrote a number of works; the Pagina meditationum, the Speculum, and the hagiography Li via Seiti Biatrix virgina de Ornaciu - works that survived only due to the bookish nature of the Carthusian scribes of the Grande Chartreuse.

Modern scholarship has only recently begun to critically examine the works of these two women and to re-insert them into a thirteenth-century spiritual tradition. My doctoral research, jointly supervised by Professor David Cowling (MLAC) and Professor Corinne Saunders (Dept. of English), questions the way in which these modern perspectives have chosen to represent these medieval authors - in particular the frequent decision to analyse their works through a gendered lens, at the expense of other, arguably more nuanced and less anachronistic perspectives - and seeks to better understand, compare and contrast their use of language. In particular, my work focuses on their manipulation of three images: those of the book (or codex), the human body, and the mirror in their recounting of their mystical experiences, and explores the extent to which these three constructs are actually three different strands of the same metaphor. Against a backdrop of shifting religious, intellectual, and scientific understanding of how truth, experience, and knowledge could best be communicated and recorded, my thesis explores how these images may have made their way into the works of Marguerite Porete and Marguerite d'Oingt and how they are subsequently manipulated in order to communicate two strikingly similar mystical experiences by two women at opposing ends of the female religious spectrum at the turn of the thirteenth century.

In addition to my doctoral research, I am also Chair of the Medieval and Early Modern Student Association (MEMSA), the Year Abroad Assistant for Spanish, and an Assistant Tutor at University College. I am an active member of the Institute of Medieval and Renaissance Studies Seminar Series and a participant in MLAC's 'Literature History Theory Research Group.