Strong Voice - Hroswitha - The One Year Women in Christian History Devotional

Strong Voice - Hroswitha


Some people think Europe was a cultural wasteland in the years 500 to 1400—that medieval folk muddled through life with little education or art. That’s not entirely true. There were still a few blazing beacons in these “dark ages”—people like the German nun Hroswitha. (Sometimes her name is spelled Rosvitha, Hrotsvit, or other variants; if you pronounce it “gross-feet,” you’re pretty close.)

Living in the Abbey of Gandersheim in the late 900s, Hroswitha had opportunity to study and write. It seems she was of noble birth, which would have entitled her to a strong education in her youth, and she entered the abbey as a “canoness,” a status that provided a great deal of freedom for personal projects. Overseeing the abbey was a young woman named Gerberg, sister of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, a great patron of the arts.

A gifted writer, Hroswitha took full advantage of these opportunities. She wrote narrative poems on biblical themes, histories of Otto’s exploits, and plays in the Roman style. She found a pun in her own name, which sounds like the Saxon for “strong voice,” and she used that strong voice in various ways. The range of her ability—prose, poetry, and drama—is remarkable, as is the sophistication of her work. Hroswitha is hailed as Germany’s first female “literary” writer, but her work would stand in comparison with that of any man of the time, and for several centuries thereafter.

Why did she write? “I was eager that the talent given me by Heaven should not grow rusty from neglect, and remain silent in my heart from apathy, but under the hammer of assiduous devotion should sound a chord of divine praise,” she wrote in the preface to one collection of poems. “If I have achieved nothing else, this alone should make my work of some value.” Well aware of the public criticism she might receive, she urged readers to evaluate honestly, and if they found anything good, to “give the credit to God.”

What artistic talents might you have? Are they “growing rusty from neglect” or “remaining silent from apathy”? If you explored those abilities, hammering out some offering of design, poetry, communication, or music, could you “sound a chord of divine praise”?

Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.

Psalm 45:1

From the Book:

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The One Year Women in Christian History Devotional
By Randy Petersen and Robin Shreeves

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