In 1384, a poor and illiterate peasant woman named Ermine moved to the city of Reims with her elderly husband. Her era was troubled by war, plague, and schism within the Catholic Church, and Ermine could easily have slipped unobserved through the cracks of history. After the loss of her husband, however, things took a remarkable but frightening turn. For the last ten months of her life, Ermine was tormented by nightly visions of angels and demons. In her nocturnal terrors, she was attacked by animals, beaten and kidnapped by devils in disguise, and exposed to carnal spectacles; on other nights, she was blessed by saints, even visited by the Virgin Mary. She confessed these strange occurrences to an Augustinian friar known as Jean le Graveur, who recorded them all in vivid detail.
Was Ermine a saint in the making, an impostor, an incipient witch, or a madwoman? Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski ponders answers to these questions in the historical and theological context of this troubled woman's experiences. With empathy and acuity, Blumenfeld-Kosinski examines Ermine's life in fourteenth-century Reims, her relationship with her confessor, her ascetic and devotional practices, and her reported encounters with heavenly and hellish beings. Supplemented by translated excerpts from Jean's account, The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims brings to life an episode that helped precipitate one of the major clerical controversies of late medieval Europe, revealing surprising truths about the era's conceptions of piety and possession.
Chapter 1. Ermine and Her World
Chapter 2. Ermine and Her Confessor, Jean le Graveur
Chapter 3. Ermine's Piety and Devotional Practices
Chapter 4. Ermine and Her Demons
Chapter 5. Ermine and the Discernment of Spirits
Appendix. The Visions of Ermine de Reims
Late-medieval accounts of illiterate peasants are few and far between, making this in-depth study of Ermine de Reims (c. 1347-96) and her otherworldly encounters a welcome addition to medieval studies . . . Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski explores the world of Ermine in broad strokes, telling Ermine's intriguing story and filling in the corners with context. The Catholic Historical Review
[A]ccessible and engaging . . . Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, well-known for her work on late medieval sanctity, mysticism, and the intersection of religion and politics, has provided scholars with a penetrating account of the life of Ermine de Reims, whose visions constitute a limit case of orthodox belief and practice (particularly female and lay) that illuminates the uncertain boundary between the demonic and the divine. The Journal of Religion
Building on the interests established by her earlier work on the intersection between visionary culture and the religious, social, and political upheavals of the Great Schism, Blumenfeld-Kosinski shows how texts and figures long viewed or dismissed as marginal are in fact central to fourteenth century culture. [The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims] offers new perspective not only on the gendered history of classifying and diagnosing-even pathologizing-women's mystical experience, but on the confluences of these diagnostic impulses with the literary hermeneutic tradition. . . . Blumenfeld-Kosinski's nuanced, comparative approach to Ermine's Strange Case opens avenues for future research far beyond any single figure or text; and thanks to this marvelous book, others can take them up for years to come. The Medieval Review
The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims tells the story of an ordinary French peasant, a widow whose harrowing tale illumines many hot-button issues of the late Middle Ages-the Papal Schism, the history of witchcraft, the discernment of spirits, the social construction of mental illness. A near-contemporary of Joan of Arc, Ermine emerges from Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski's pages as a haunting figure that no reader will soon forget. Barbara Newman, Northwestern University
[Blumenfeld-Kosinski] facilitates our understanding of a range of issues central to late medieval religious thought and life, from the political consequences of the Great Schism to devotional ideas and practices, the essence of female sainthood, and emerging notions of witchcraft and demonic possession. Parergon