Suddenly love severed a little girl from herself. That was young God
Where she first walked, sweet pasture of pasture where the last sister trod.
Inward vision actually eviscerated her expanding, growing heart,
Opening new air where Christina flew the black coffin with bird’s art.
The burning shades of so many were a tongueless sight to see,
Hell’s all-too-familiar halls a terrible, impossible place to be.
Exiting Paradise to better return where she is was no choice at all.
To cavelessly suffer the dank body-cave is more free flight than fall.
Let no one be disturbed by what you are about to see.
Above understanding is my pain-work for you and me.
Divine horror drives her to the desert, far from sick human smells of every ilk,
Only to escape via their chains into further purity, fed from her own virgin milk.
At Liége she communed in mouth with the living body of the eternal slaughtered Lamb
And, consumed by the sacred taste, leapt aflame through a deep river, yet barely swam.
Howling in labor-pangs, coal-hot fires and scalding water are nothing to her clean skin,
And everything. Suffering the musical art of suffering is the one narrow way to burn sin.
Drowning herself days at a time became routine. Only losing all life to its flowing source
Will satisfy this thirst moving the universe, dragging you to heaven or hell with force.
Unafraid of everything, burning with knowledge of true torment, the virgin boldly gave
Body to all instruments of death: stretching on rack, hanging on gallows, lying in grave.
Running through thickets from dogs at midnight works to drive more thorns into flesh.
And more thorns means more pricking and more bleeding of more lovely blood so fresh.
Not even the neverest-taking-thought-for-the-morrow little sparrow was light as she,
Nor as subtle. Like a living eidolon she held to the sublime branches of the highest tree.
Intolerable contradictions of praying slave-like on the ground kept Christina flying
Into the body-form of an anagogic ball where sphere speaks to sphere without lying.
Embarrassed by the ‘demonic possession’, friends and kin conspire with an evil brute
Who breaks her holy leg. Homeward like a peasant queen in a cart, she savors the fruit.
All doctors denied save the One who saves, she dances in dungeon whole and unbound,
Then pierces the prison wall with a stone and flies through the opening without a sound.
Seeing the oil of from her vestal breasts serve as spice, aliment, and purifying balm
For putrid flesh, sister and friend at last return to sanity, weeping the fifty-first psalm.
Horror: that bestial minds of blind wonder-seekers turn my work against His wish.
Time now to return to the throne-less thrones of bird and the hall-less halls of fish.
Violent charity so welled in her body at Wellen that full immersion in the octagonal font
Spontaneously caused rotten humanity to stink a little less, somewhat less than its wont.
What this diminutive Christ actually takes by begging alms at the door
Is your own perversely treasured garbage, not anything given to the poor.
The fat wicked sinner-pig who slaked her God-thirst with wine,
Contrary to popular opinion, will come death be doing just fine.
Whatever evil ones provide, even the fanciest spiced cakes,
Is in her throat as viscera of toads or intestines of snakes.
God teaches her hands exactly how to maintain a singular, perfectly motley garment:
Linden thread, mismatched sleeves, all sewn over with wood spikes to bar defilement.
The wild shapes mystic sorrow sculpts with Christina’s light body no voice can tell.
To see her thus is to know contrition, a true contortion-image of your special hell.
Christian and Jew drunk alike from the poisonless well of her compassion.
The clear sweetness of her Lord-speaking transcended all fad and fashion.
Science of purgatory was wholly hers via pure, immediate theory,
For example, how the more pain a shade suffers the less it is weary.
She is the haunting asocial woman who divinely interrupts your shallow day
With things you want not to hear and must, dark true things truth must say.
Both problem and solution are seen in her prophecy,
At once the nun’s reinstatement and her apostasy.
A nobleman was returned safe from Jerusalem as required,
Just in time to be with wife and child on the day he expired.
From the castle of Loen she cheered in secret spirit the taking of Jerusalem,
The soldiers’ salvation, their capture of Cross and Tomb from the Saracen.
All that war ruins and wins is bound for burning at the end of time,
Yet all that war affords the singular soul is eternal, real, sublime.
The saint saw many things inside an untimely horizon that was not ours,
Not only the great famine, but many things yet arriving in coming hours.
The angelic instrumentation of Christina’s limbs whirling in godly frenzy
Was calibrated to distill itself into sound-words making one mystically dizzy.
All the sober nuns found themselves in orbit around the saint’s intoxication,
While blushing true love itself was ever ashamed of its drunken reputation.
Sometimes the impossibly absurd fact of human blindness to divinity’s absolute immanence,
In the radical form of becoming a bitterly lamenting knot of rolling limbs, tested her patience.
Her nine years at Looz with Ivetta the recluse were full of marvels,
Whence my hearing of many revelations and whence my travels.
Even the sweet transhuman songs that danced out of Christina’s mouth after Matins
Were surpassed by the sound-words flowing amid her 4th and 5th chakras in Latin.
All senses of Holy Scripture were illiterately hers by the Holy Spirit’s illumination,
Yet she rarely showed forth this flaming tongue, and never for clerical humiliation.
Count Louis loved Christina like a mother, heeding her tears over his sins
And any injustice. Whether holding court or no, he always allowed her in.
“How beautiful you are, Lord,” she said before Count Louis and soldiers, near his head.
When he explained her words were to God, “Then why do you not love him?” she said.
The saint foretold the Duke of Limburg’s treachery,
Who soon denied it, only to fulfill the prophecy.
Dying in bedchamber, Louis confessed to Christina his life’s sins, nearly the full story.
Soon after, she saw his soul bound to excruciating torment, purifying in Purgatory.
The pious woman promised the Count’s ghost to take upon her own flesh half its torment,
And so burned or froze at night, by day washing his habitual sin-spots with fresh lament.
This remote, desert-loving soul so possessed its body during life’s ultimate year
That she floated through walls and none saw her shadow without spiritual fear.
They saw her throw herself down in sorrow at the altar like a sack of desiccated bones,
Saw her soul-body bewail itself, “Woe to you, to me, whom you keep from flying home.”
Then body-soul would sigh, “What keeps you here, robs me from being the dust I am?”
And the holy one would smile in silence, and kiss the soles of her feet, sweet as a lamb.
Promising herself total perpetual joy at time’s end, Christina’s corporeal self-kisses
Would continue into a cry that seemed to burst her corpus into thousands of blisses.
As if out of her mind with excess sorrow, Christina now mourned constantly the world,
Its state, its malice, the total mundane corruption which all day every day is unfurled.
Plunging under the languor of death—life’s deepest habit—into contemplation profound,
She lay herself to bed. Now silently resting from all things, she no longer looked around.
Beatrice came back to find the lifeless body lying prone on the ground the way corpses do
And wailed, shouting before Christina’s dead mouth that she return to life and speak anew.
Mira res! Suddenly the patient saint sighed herself to life reluctantly like one waking from sleep
And answered Beatrice’s question before passing a third time into BLISS of the eternal deep.
Forty two years she lived after her first resurrection.
Odor sanctitatis perfumed her subsequent translation.
At peril, reader, do you put off penance and trust in ‘your’ power.
“Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.”
Christina’s whole life is a long lamenting shout to the self-hypnotized, sleeping world, Awake!
Who hears? And of those, how many to this diurnal death will actually die, the dream shake?
Be astonished by Christina! May the terror of her gaze turn you to stone!
So that real sculpture will begin, before your little life brittles into bone.
[The preceding couplets are a chapter-by-chapter summary of the Vita Sanctae Christinae Mirabilis Virginis, by Thomas of Cantimpré.]
: : : : :
NICOLA MASCIANDARO is Professor of English at Brooklyn College and a specialist in medieval literature. He is also founding editor of the journal Glossator (glossator.org). Current/forthcoming projects include a book on mystical sorrow, Sorrow of Being, and Sufficient Unto the Day: Sermones Contra Solicitudinem, a collection of essays against worry.