The authors of ecclesiastical history tend to be theologians and church leaders. Traditionally speaking, they are usually men, and women play a relatively obscure role in their writings. But many women were active in the multitude of revival movements that sprang up in the nineteenth century. New structures gave rise to different kinds of literature, and the spiritual currents of the Nordic countries rippled with female writers, hymnists, and preachers.As a major ingredient of Norwegian spiritual and cultural life, Haugianism was one of the many Nordic revival movements that emerged in the nineteenth century. Haugianism paved the way for Camilla Collett’s indefatigable struggle and for other forces of women’s liberation in Norway.
In their everyday stories, essays, and novels, the female Romantic prose writers had to express themselves in relation to a male Romantic rhetoric that, in the work of a number of male theologians, served to provide the myth of innocence with substance and sociality in the bourgeois home. Female worthiness becomes a central issue for many female writers of the day.
Queen Christina was the reigning queen of Sweden between 1644 and 1654. Her reign ended when she abdicated, after which she converted to Catholicism – an action which has greatly tasked historians in their attempts to offer an explanation. Her interest in cultural and scientific topics started at an early age, and she associated and corresponded with a number of the most eminent scholars of the era.Christina’s literary works consist of two collections of aphorisms, an autobiography, two essays – one on Alexander the Great and one on Julius Caesar – and her letters. The Queen did not publish these works during her lifetime. They were first published by Johan Arckenholtz in Mémoires concernant Christine, reine de Suède, pour servir d’éclaircissement à l’histoire de son regne et principalement de sa vie privée (1751-1760; Memoirs of Christina, Queen of Sweden, to Shed Light on Her Reign and Especially Her Private Life).Christina wrote in French, the language used by educated people of the day.
Dorothe Engelbretsdatter drove a wedge into patriarchal male society. She is known as the first female hymn writer in Denmark-Norway to assume a sermonising poetic voice representative of the genre. Her verse found its way into the oral and popular tradition, the realm of most women, as well as the ceremonious, male-dominated, and learned house of God. Depictions of the virtuous and the female were themes that linked low and high, the nursery and the church. Unlike her male poet colleagues, she had no other occupation than that of writing. She faced the God of the old ‘estate society’ not as bishop, officer, or schoolmaster, but as woman. She wrote between sixty and seventy hymns and prayers, mostly collected in Siælens Sang-Offer (1678; Song Offering of the Soul) and Taare-Offer (1685; Offering of Tears), a versified rendering of devotions. She ended up making her livelihood by writing, supplemented by a paltry widow’s pension. Dorothe Engelbretsdatter thus became an early example of the professional author who made her living through the pen. This was exceptional at the time.
Birgitta of Vadstena (Saint Bridget of Sweden), founder of the influentiel Birgittine order of nuns, is by virtue of her individuality considered to be one of the first Swedish writers. She emerges as a strong-minded woman who viewed the gradual changes of her day with open eyes, but at the same time she had no clear awareness of her own self. She allowed herself to be encircled and absorbed by making God her hiding-place. A sense of self gradually developed, meanwhile, through identification with Christ.
The view taken by the Christian Church of women who wrote on holy matters, evangelised, preached, prophesised or in other ways acted as God’s mouthpiece has been inconstant: at times accepting, at times non-committal. Opinions have been determined by the Church’s need for messengers and by pressure exerted on the Church by various interest groups. We can identify four periods of relative latitude as regards these speaking and writing women. First, the period preceding the official establishment of an organised Church (c. second century AD); secondly, the expansion of the Church in Europe during the seventh to ninth centuries; thirdly, lay Pietism of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and fourthly, the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Pietist movements in the wake of Reformation and Counter Reformation.
If nineteenth-century women could not become pastors and if they could not without conflict devote themselves to intellectual work, the closest they could come to the pulpit was by way of writing hymns. Lina Sandell called herself “a good scribe’s pen”, an expression that combines lack of pretence with high self-esteem. The hymn-books of the free-church communities came to be, and still are, totally dominated by Lina Sandell, beginning with the first edition of Pilgrimsharpan (1861; The Pilgrim’s Harp).In order to create a female tradition, the female Christian writers were looking for models among the figures of the Bible. Together with Charlotte af Tibell, Lina Sandell wrote the book Bibelns qvinnor (The Women of the Bible), and Betty Ehrenborg-Posse chose the Bible’s Deborah, Miriam, and the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist as her models. These learned and poetical women, she thought, had been authorised by God to write spiritual songs, even though some might consider this task to pertain exclusively to the clergy. But the position she obtained offered more room for her preaching than she would ever have had as a pastor.
Witch persecutions were institutionalised with the papal bull and the later renowned Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published in 1487 and written by Sprenger and Institoris. From then onwards, secular and ecclesiastical authorities were obliged – whether they wanted to or not – to see it as their legitimate duty to get witchcraft under control. The accused were submitted to interrogations that often resulted in physical mutilation and death. They must confess, at any price. This would last 300 years. The last official witch-burning in Europe took place at the end of the eighteenth century. It is highly unlikely that the persecutions came to an end because it was thought that the ‘offence’, which the papal bull and Malleus Maleficarum had attempted to pin down, had been eradicated. The below treats of confessions in Danish witch trials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
No woman and no deity in the Middle Ages attracted the poets like the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. Marian poetry was initially written in the international language of religion, Latin, and might later have been translated. Original poetry was also written, in many genres and in the ‘vernacular’.Lyrical, epic, and dramatic Marian poetry is found throughout the Nordic area. There are approximately fifty extant Marian texts in the Norse language. Some of these Norse Marian poems might have been written in Norwegian monasteries. In Sweden, poems to the Virgin Mother were written in Latin and in Swedish. Swedish-language Marian poetry exercised influence on its Danish counterpart through, in particular, the Birgittine order. Marian poetic work in Denmark comprises Latin poems written by Danes as well as original and translated poems in the Danish language.
In Denmark and Sweden in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, women sometimes recorded hymns and sacred songs, either from collector’s zeal or for use in private worship, and on occasion perhaps purely as material for a translation or writing exercise. Towards the turn of the seventeenth century, an increasing number of women, primarily in Denmark, not only made copies of other people’s hymns but also wrote their own. There is a marked difference between women’s hymn writing in Denmark and in Sweden. In Denmark we can find the names of writers with an extensive output, women who published a number of collections in their own name. These women found themselves in the contemporary spotlight, the subjects of tribute poems and requests for reprinting of their song collections. In Sweden, on the other hand, women primarily wrote single hymns for Pietist and Herrnhuter communities. The hymns were included in hymn books published from around 1730 onwards.