Tell us about your thesis!
My thesis, Mater matris domini: Holy Motherhood and the Early Cult of St. Anne, is about the creation and evolution of medieval veneration of St. Anne, who was the Virgin Mary’s mother. In the later Middle Ages, Anne was honored in liturgy and art as an exemplary mother, but how exactly that came about was unclear. My thesis attempts to fill in the gaps by considering the evolution of female sanctity more broadly. By studying early Latin liturgical sources, such as prayers and sermons, I found that, in the early medieval period, Anne was venerated on the basis of her role in salvation history, not as a mother. It wasn’t until other female saints began to be honored for their maternal prowess, around the year 1000, that Anne was seen as a mother par excellence.
How did you choose your topic?
I worked on some medieval French liturgy for St. Anne for my junior essay and I really loved it. Working on the liturgy is such a revealing way to get to the heart of what medieval people were thinking and caring about. I also have always worked academically at the intersection of gender and religion. When I began researching possible thesis topics, I knew that liturgical materials about women would form a major part of my source base, and I was so fascinated by Anne’s story that I stuck with her!
Did you encounter any surprises along the way?
I mean, the pandemic was a pretty big surprise! And it certainly made the research I had been planning since my junior spring impossible to carry out. As a result, I had to shift my focus from the French archival sources I had wanted to work with to sources that had already been digitized. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Harvard had access to so many medieval Latin texts online, and it was through running a lot of keyword searches in Hollis that I found many of my primary sources, most of which I hadn’t known about before.
What advice would you give to juniors?
This won’t work for everyone, but try holding yourself to writing a set number of words each day. When I was seriously writing my chapters, I wouldn’t allow myself to work on anything else until I had checked five hundred words off my to-do list for the day. Also, don’t be scared of revising: I think my first chapter went through five or six drafts before I decided it was done.