Mary Wellesley

Mary Wellesley’s Hidden Hands came out last year. Encounters with Medieval Women, copresented with Irina Dumitrescu, can be found via the LRB podcast.

From The Blog
10 June 2022

The first uses of the verb crave in English are in legal and quasi-legal contexts – to crave was to demand a thing, or to issue a summons, requiring the presence of a person at a tribunal. Pregnancy cravings are a summons issued by the mind. Expecting my second child, I find myself thinking, over the course of an hour’s car journey, about the salty tang of tuna and capers, or the crunch of toast laden with a buttered ooze of marmite, topped with a slice of cucumber. As though rolling a boiled sweet around in my mouth, I roll imagined tastes around, sampling them from every angle, first bite, first chew, first swallow.

In Hereford: The Mappa Mundi

Mary Wellesley, 21 April 2022

Sevencenturies ago, an artist made a perforation with a compass on a large piece of parchment. The pinprick formed the centre of his universe. Around it he drew the circular shape of a city, with crenellated towers – Jerusalem. Radiating outwards from this point, the artist and perhaps six others portrayed the world as they knew it. It was a circular world, hemmed by a great ocean....

‘St Jerome in His Study’ (1521)

AlbrechtDürer arrived in Antwerp in August 1520. The journey from his home in Nuremberg had taken just under a month and he had recorded it in his journal. His main concern was to itemise his expenses. No expenditure was too small to note: ‘Ten pence for a roast chicken … I paid one stuiver for a pair of short...

Naked Hermit: Blessed Isles

Mary Wellesley, 5 March 2020

Medievalstories of paradisal islands had common tropes: the temptations of delicious food and delicious women; magical flora, like golden fruit trees; improbable constructions – ships made of crystal or bridges made of glass. A persistent theme is the unheeded warning. Characters are told not to kill cattle, not to eat the food offered by the host, not to come ashore, not to steal,...

The cell was the size of a large cupboard. There wasn’t enough room to lie down. I’d come late on a winter afternoon; the light was seeping away. What light there was came through the ‘squint’ – the small window that looked onto the sanctuary. It was a cruciform shape and through it I could see a single candle standing on the altar. I turned on the torch on my phone. In front of the squint was an oak shelf with a dark circle on its edge where the wood had been rubbed smooth. Above it was a notice that read: ‘Please put nothing on the ancient sill. This was the prayer-desk of the anchorites for several centuries.’ I knelt in front of it.

Saint Boniface used a manuscript to shield himself when attacked by robbers; the slashes it suffered make it a relic of his martyrdom. Pages of many books are marred by dirty fingerprints, wine stains...

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