Spiritual pregnancy and holy women: exploring the mystical maternity of St Birgitta (d.1373) and Joanna Southcott (d.1814)
thesisposted on 2022-03-29, 00:35 authored by Rachel Allerton
Spiritual or mystical pregnancy is a relatively unexplored phenomenon which occurs repeatedly across time. This thesis examines the meaning of being somatically ‘pregnant’ with the Holy Spirit through the accounts of St Birgitta and Joanna Southcott. It explores how medieval holy women who claimed to experience direct access to God imitated the Virgin Mary’s incarnation of Christ through mystical pregnancy. In mimicking Mary, female mystics like St Birgitta assumed the prophetic wisdom and knowledge that Mary was reported to gain upon the Annunciation of Christ. St Birgitta’s spiritual pregnancy legitimated her role as a spiritual mother and female saviour, as well as authorising her to intervene in political and religious disputes. The Virgin Mary is also known as the Second Eve and is central to early modern accounts of spiritual motherhood. Joanna Southcott, a millennial prophetess who self-identified as ‘the Woman Clothed with The Sun’ from the Book of Revelation, also used the Marian archetype in her spiritual pregnancy to emphasize her sanctity and the divine origin of her prophecies. This thesis argues that spiritual pregnancy is more than an external sign of inward holiness; it is a strategy which holy women used to subvert the patriarchal religious culture, and which enables them to ‘mother’ or minister to their religious community. Holy women used the Christian concept of salvation through spiritual motherhood across diverging time periods, places, and theologies.