Kathleen Lynch, Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World

The cover of Kathleen Lynch's 'Protestant Autobiography'.

Kathleen Lynch’s Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World, published by Oxford University Press earlier this year, is a major new study of early modern spiritual autobiography, with a particular emphasis upon the testimonies collected together, discussed, and laid out in print by members of England’s and America’s gathered churches in the mid-seventeenth century. Continue reading

Visualising Augustine’s Conversion on wordle

Wordle: Augustine2

I’ve just been having fun in Wordle, creating a word cloud for the moment in book 8 of Augustine’s Confessions when he rushes into the garden in Milan, picks up his book (St Pauls epistle to the Romans) and is instantly converted. Some beautiful — and telling — collisions: concupiscence and wantoness; ‘heart arose’; ‘Jesus coming’; chambering and drunkenness; ‘God’, ‘treasure’, ‘open’; rioting and weeping; and — of course! — heard and read. Click on the image above to see a larger version.

Augustine and Islam

Saint Augustine has always had a close relationship with North Africa: he was born in Thagaste (now Souk-Ahras in eastern Algeria) and later became Bishop of Hippo (modern Annaba). A little known legend however claimed that Augustine had been born in Tagaoust, Morrocco (perhaps a confusion with the similar sounding Thagaste). One tradition identified Augustine with Abu-l-’Abbas Sabti (d. 1204), a Sufi saint, ascetic and teacher famous for caring for the poor. After his death the saint became associated with providing protection for all the unfortunate, including Christians and Jews who were able to approach his tomb without prior conversion to Islam. Continue reading

Petrarch on Mont Ventoux: where holiday snaps and research collide

Photograph of Mont VentouxThis is a photograph (taken by Helen!) of Mont Ventoux in Provence. It was the site of one of the most influential literary conversions in early modern Europe: that of the Tuscan poet Francesco Petrarca (known in English as Petrarch), whose poems in his native tongue were admired and imitated throughout Europe. In April 1366, along with his brother and two servants, Petrarch climbed the mountain — not a mean feat, since it stands at more than 6000 feet tall. In a letter to his friend and confessor, the Augustinian monk Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro, he claimed that he was driven by a desire to admire the view: ‘My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer’. Yet the letter, re-telling the event with the benefit of hindsight, makes it clear that this was a trip concerning religion as much as rambling. Continue reading

Guest post: a conference report


Many thanks to Lizzie Swann, a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, who has allowed us to post this report on our recent conference on ‘Conversion Narratives in the Early Modern World’. Sadly, Lizzie was’t able to attend every one of our parallel sessions(!),and we hope to publish one or two additional accounts over the next weeks. Continue reading

Augustine’s Confessions


Augustine’s Confessions: A Model for Conversion?

Above is the title page from the 1631 edition of the Confessions – note the flying cherubs/children who direct a stream of speech towards Augustine, ‘take up and read, take up and read’. In the bottom left hand corner is a Bible open at the passage from Paul to the Romans (13: 13-14) which brought about Augustine’s conversion.

Augustine writes the Confessions at the end of the fourth century AD, eleven years after his conversion in Milan, when he is Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. In many respects it was designed to refute the accusation that he was still a Manichee (a member of a sect who followed the teachings of Mani).

The conversion stories of Victorinus, Ponticianus, and Paul (mentioned briefly in relation to his change of name from Saul to Paul following his conversion) precede Augustine hearing the disembodied words ‘tolle, lege, tolle, lege’ (‘take up and read, take up and read’) in a garden in Milan. He picks up the book of the apostle Paul ‘opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit’. After reading the following passage, ‘All shadows of doubt were dispelled’:

‘Not in riots or in drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.’ (Rom. 13:13-14) Continue reading