The Correspondence of Antoinette Bourignon (940 letters)

Primary Contributors:

Mirjam de Baar


Portrait of Antoinette Bourignon. Posthumous engraving made for the edition of her collected works, 1686. (Source of image: Mirjam de Baar)

Antoinette Bourignon (1616–1680)

The mystic and prophetess Antoinette Bourignon is one of the most intriguing women of the seventeenth century. She was born in Lille, the child of Catholic merchants. Bourignon chose to devote her life to God and escaped marriage by running away from home in 1636. In her spiritual autobiography La Parole de Dieu (1663), she relates that in 1635 Saint Augustine appeared to her in a vision. Supposedly he instructed her to restore his Order. This mysterious request marked the beginning of Bourignon’s spiritual voyage of discovery, one that eventually led her to take a critical and independent stance in relation to the Church and its doctrinal authority.

In 1663 Bourignon met in Mechelen the priest Christiaan de Cort, who persuaded her to travel with him to Amsterdam and from there on to the island of Nordstrand off the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein. Previously, as ‘director’ of Nordstrand, he had invested huge sums in the island’s dykes, and he was convinced that this was where Bourignon’s community of true Christians should be established. In December 1667 she arrived in Amsterdam, planning to travel on to Nordstrand the following spring. Her plans were thwarted, however, for De Cort was imprisoned at the request of his creditors and died.

The freedom of the press that prevailed in the Dutch Republic made it possible for Bourignon to publish her work for the first time. To avoid dependence on commercial printers, she bought her own printing press in 1669 and had a printing establishment set up in her own house. Being confronted with the religious pluriformity within the Dutch Republic, Bourignon felt herself to be under an obligation to gather true Christians together and considered herself to have been chosen by God to restore true Christianity on earth. Her belief was that the Last Judgment was imminent and that only true Christians would be saved. From 1669 onwards, Bourignon propagated her message in numerous epistles and writings, without professing to establish a new church or sect.

In 1671 and 1672 Bourignon entered into agreements with three Amsterdam merchants whose plans were designed to lay the financial basis for her community of true Christians. Not only merchants, doctors, and theologians, but also skippers, painters, and artisans joined Bourignon’s flock. Her best-known followers included the natural scientist Jan Swammerdam (1637–1680) and the theologian Pierre Poiret (1646–1719).

In 1671 Bourignon left Amsterdam with the intention of claiming De Cort’s contested inheritance on Nordstrand. She never set foot on the island, however. Conflicts in Schleswig-Holstein with Lutheran preachers forced her to change residence constantly and in 1680 she decided to return to Amsterdam. Illness forced her to interrupt her journey at Franeker, where she died on 31 October 1680.


Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for this catalogue was collated and published by Mirjam de Baar as an appendix to her inspirational biography of Antoinette Bourignon,  ‘Ik moet spreken’. Het spiritueel leiderschap van Antoinette Bourignon (1616–1680) (Zutphen: WalburgPers, 2004).

Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank EMLO Editorial Assistant Mark Thakkar and Digital Fellow Martha Buckley for their help in preparing the metadata for upload into the union catalogue.


Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Mirjam de Baar, ‘Ik moet spreken’. Het spiritueel leiderschap van Antoinette Bourignon (1616–1680) (Zutphen, 2004).


Contents

Bourignon’s sizeable oeuvre comprises forty-six works in French. Many of these writings were translated by her followers into Dutch and German and published during her lifetime. Bourignon also had some of her work translated into Latin. After her death, Poiret brought out her as-yet-unpublished letters and writings. He assumed responsibility also for producing an unabridged edition of her work titled Toutes les oeuvres ['The Complete Works'], published in nineteen volumes in 1686 by Hendrik Wetstein in Amsterdam. It was thanks to Poiret’s publicity campaign that the Scottish theologian George Garden became interested in Bourignon’s work at the end of the seventeenth century. He translated some of her writings into English, with the result that in the late-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries a series of English publications appeared which took a critical stance against what was then termed ‘Bourignonism’.


Further resources

Bibliography

Mirjam de Baar, ‘Ik moet spreken’. Het spiritueel leiderschap van Antoinette Bourignon (1616–1680) (Zutphen, 2004).

Mirjam de Baar,Ik moet spreken’. Het spiritueel leiderschap van Antoinette Bourignon (1616-1680), Doctoral dissertation, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 2004; does not include the appendices.

John Björkhem, Antoinette Bourignon. Till den svärmiska religiositetens historia och psykologi (Stockholm, 1940).

Claude Louis-Combet, Mère des vrais croyants. Mythobiographie d’Antoinette Bourignon (Paris, 1983).

Marthe van der Does, Antoinette Bourignon. Sa vie (1616–1680) — son oeuvre (Dissertation, University of Groningen, 1974).

Leszek Kolakowski, ‘Antoinette Bourignon. La mystique égocentrique’, in idem, Chrétiens sans Église. La conscience religieuse et le lien confessionel au XVIIe siècle (1965; 2nd edn, Paris, 1987), pp. 640–718.

Antonius von der Linde, Antoinette Bourignon. Das Licht der Welt (Leiden, 1895).

Alex. R. MacEwen, Antoinette Bourignon. Quietist (London, 1910).

Xenia von Tippelskirch, ‘Antoinette Bourignon. Légitimation et condamnation de la vie mystique dans l’écriture (auto)biographique: enjeux historiographiques’, in: Jean-Claude Arnould and Sylvie Steinberg, eds, Les femmes et l’écriture de l’histoire (1400–1800) (Rouen, 2008), pp. 231–48.

 

Additional resources

Women’s Early Modern Letters Online [WEMLO] project page

WEMLO network and resources hub

 

 

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