Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mary Mother of God by Miri Rubin

Miri Rubin's Mother of God is reviewed in today's Guardian by Kathryn Hughes and by Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury) in the FT. Katheryn Hughes summarizes:

Mary was for the people who had been left out - women, peasants, monks and nuns. And here, suggests Rubin, is one of the key reasons for her extraordinary geopolitical reach. In becoming the consoler of the stateless the Virgin was able to make a home wherever she was called. Untethered from civic life she could roam from Iceland to Africa, grafting herself on to local cultures along the way. Thus in Bruges she figures as a bourgeois housewife busy with porridge while in Ethiopia she sits in judgment on cannibals. In the chivalric Burgundian court she is a high-born lady pursued by a unicorn, while in Rouen she is, quite simply, queen of heaven.

Rowan Williams calls Miri Rubin "one of the most interesting and original of British medieval historians" and describes the book as charting the way Mary is used to think with:

Somehow, the mother of Jesus came to be employed as a means of making sense of an exceptional range of human experience – not only virginity but motherhood and family life, not only poverty and humility but the world of power and patronage, not only the triumphant celebration of God’s epiphany in flesh and blood but also that distinctive kind of suffering that is blind helplessness in the face of the suffering of someone you love.

He has a critique:

In short, Mother of God is a treasury of raw material but doesn’t quite add up as a single work. In the last few chapters especially, the reader has a feeling of research that has been a bit rushed in order to touch as many bases as possible. This would have been a more satisfying book if it had concentrated on the Middle Ages and avoided the earlier and later eras. On these subjects, there are, as Rubin’s excellent and copious references make plain, better and fuller studies.

But what it does is implicitly alert us to the basic fact about the cult of Mary that has made it such a resourceful set of images for understanding all kinds of cultural identities.

2 comments:

Jane said...

Thank you for this. I haven't got to the review part of yesterday's Guardian yet but I shall now read it in full. I was contacted by the local Swiss TV this week and asked to take part in a programme about Mary - they wanted a feminist. Anyway this is certainly something I should try and read as I prepare for that.

Deirdre said...

Jane,
Can you post a link to the program website in case it has your interview?