The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 30, Nr. 3, October 2000             Richardton, ND 58652

Brief Book Reviews

The most recent volume in the British series the Library of Medieval Women is entitled Women Saints' Lives in Old English Prose by Leslie A. Donovan (Suffolk, Gt. Brit. and Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 1999, 142 pp., ISBN 0-85991-568-9). In addition to chapters offering most readable lives of eight women from late antiquity and the Middle Ages, there is a most informative introductive essay which covers the origin and development of saints' lives in this period and the traditions and conventions which cover women saints' lives. It also gives an overview of the religious background in Anglo-Saxon England and women's contribution to its religion and culture.

Some of the lives are of women fairly well known, such as Agatha, Agnes, Cecilia and Lucy, but also included are such lesser known as Æthelthryth, Eugenia, Euphrosyne and Mary of Egypt. The stories of these women read easily and give inspiration and empowerment by providing the reader with relevant role models and experiences to admire and imitate even today. These women managed to elude the pall of patriarchy by escaping unwanted marriages, dealing with male relatives and authorities on a level playing field, acquiring advanced educations, living autonomously as hermits and gaining political and social authority. Their legends were told in many versions throughout Europe and the Middle East, but the translations given in this book represent their earliest vernacular expressions.

Women Saints' Lives closes with an insightful, interpretive essay entitled "The Gendered Body as Spiritual Problem and Spiritual Answer in the Lives of Women Saints"as well as recommendations for further reading and a helpful index.


Albert Holtz, OSB, a monk of the Benedictine abbey in Newark, NJ, has recently published two books of short essays, vignettes of how life presents profundity in the most mundane of people and places. In them, he shows himself to be a gifted chronicler of what he sees. A Saint on Every Corner: Glimpses of Holiness Beyond the Monastery (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1998, 167 pages, $14.95, ISBN 0-87793-640-4) offers brief reflections from Father Albert's pilgrimage to Europe.

From his visit to a Hungarian battlefield to his train ride through the Channel, from the chapel of Fatima to the people on an Italian street, he looks and listens to the landscape around him with the eye of a spiritual traveler. The text is further enhanced by small drawings of each of the locales, a feature which demonstrates one of the other talents of this author.

Downtown Monks: Sketches of God in the City (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2000, 192 pages, $10.95, ISBN 0-87793-696-X), his second collection offers a journey into a landscape which many would find harder to appreciate, that of the severely impoverished inner-city neighborhood which has been Father Albert's home for over thirty years. Here is an example of lived lectio, the author's ability to find Christ in all of the people and circumstances of ordinary life. He describes students, adults, the monastic community, each in a short and vivid description of some incident or conversation.

At the end of each sketch, he reflects on the deep truths which the story reveals. In addition, there are a few questions that readers may use to stimulate their own reflection. Thus, the book can also be a lectio tool for others. It might also be used by groups, as perhaps a parish social concerns committee or a high school religion class, as the stories are straightforward and vivid and the questions both simple and challenging.


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