Images and Self-Reflection in the Meditationes Vitae Christi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Personal prayer books often contained portraits of their patrons engaged in devotion, which were gazed at during prayer or meditative reading and could shape the readers’ devotional state of mind and conduct. In this article, I examine images that allowed a female reader to see herself in an illuminated manuscript of a different sort: the well-known Franciscan text, the Meditationes Vitae Christi, now Oxford, Corpus Christi College, MS 410. I will show that the book’s illuminations compel the reader’s identification with the accompanying text through their emotional intensity or singularity, illustrating and constructing various facets of contemplation. These images are not portraits of the patron or reader that appear in personal prayer books nor are they designed solely to allow the reader to imaginatively place herself within the vita Christi narrative. Rather, they depict figures who take part in the biblical story and invite the reader’s identification. This article considers two images of Mary and other, less prominent figures that could project the manuscript’s reader, very likely a Poor Clare, into the text and teach her how to use it to achieve contemplative ascent. The illuminations instruct her to remain focused on her ceaseless search for God, relentless prayer, and Passion meditation, which will ultimately lead to an unmediated encounter with the divine.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-58
Number of pages26
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Meditation
  • Passion
  • Meditationes Vitae Christi
  • Prayer books
  • Illuminations


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