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Convent AutobiographyEarly Modern English Nuns in Exile$
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Victoria Van Hyning

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266571

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266571.001.0001

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‘A pattern how to dye’

‘A pattern how to dye’

(p.37) 1 ‘A pattern how to dye’
Convent Autobiography

Victoria Van Hyning

British Academy

Medieval and early modern nuns and anchoresses, upon entering their enclosures, became metaphorically ‘dead to the world’ in order to join in a spiritual marriage with Christ that would (hopefully) lead them to heaven. Yet this death or exile rarely marked a complete departure from the world. It is within this context that the loving letters written to her family by Winefrid Thimelby (Prioress of St Monica’s from 1668 to 1690) are examined. This chapter argues that Thimelby was anxious to promote religiosity and right living among her family members in order for them all to unite in heaven. The letters reveal how nuns, even when limited to writing one or two letters per year, could articulate a clear selfhood, a clear convent identity, and a clear sense of familial identity without diminishing any of these identities for the sake of the others. Thimelby’s decades-long engagement with the theme of longing for death—‘that gate of lyfe’, in her words—is crucial to our understanding of the language of love and longing at the heart of her identity.

Keywords:   death, enclosure, letters, love, longing, exile, family, heaven, selfhood, identity

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