By M. T. Crowley
2008 Doctoral thesis, Australian Catholic University
The written works of the English religious writer, spiritual director and exponent of Christian spirituality, Evelyn Underhill (1875 – 1941), contain numerous references to visual art and church architecture. This thesis explores the influence of art on her spirituality by examining her interpretation and understanding of various works of religious art, cathedrals, churches and chapels. The controlling methodology of the thesis is within the discipline of spirituality. This hermeneutical approach, which seeks to investigate and understand the phenomena of the Christian spiritual life as experience, is structured on three processes: observation and description of the phenomena under investigation, critical analysis of the data, and constructive interpretation of its transformative and integrational character. The study presents Underhill’s early life, reading and education within the Anglican tradition as the backdrop against which … Read more
By Carla Arnell, Lake Forest College
This essay suggests that a deeper understanding of the relationship between artistry and spirituality in Evelyn Underhill’s work depends upon examining how the Arts and Crafts movement, as a vehicle for translating and modernizing idealized aspects of medieval culture, shaped Underhill’s novels and, ultimately, her unique spiritual ethos. Her fiction is everywhere marked by medievalism and, more specifically, by the Arts and Crafts movement’s distinctive reception of medieval culture. A study of Underhill’s complex response to the Arts and Crafts movement illuminates why she sees God as a tool maker and the human soul as a craftsman for whom the material things of this world –architecture, stained glass, jewelry, books – can become vehicles for making this life meaningful and for practically accessing the beauty of a divine Reality beyond. I argue, therefore, that … Read more
By Michael Stoeber, Regis College and the University of Toronto
Mysticism, like spirituality, is a vague word in contemporary culture, used in multiple ways in diverse settings. It can stand for anything esoteric, mysterious, otherworldly or occult-like, and is often used in reference to exceptionally strong aesthetic and religious feelings. This usage has been the norm in modern times. In 1911 Evelyn Underhill, an influential British scholar of mysticism, noted this ambiguity and described mysticism as “the science or art of the spiritual life,” suggesting this to be its older, traditional meaning.1 However, even this characterization is not very helpful in and of itself, insofar as it is a general one and does not draw a clear distinction between mysticism and other aspects of the spiritual life.
I will clarify Underhill’s more specific understandings of mysticism below. However, in … Read more
By Catherine Ann Lombard
Most of us are familiar with writing Christmas Lists. As children we might have been encouraged by our parents to write to Santa Claus, sending him our list of desired gifts. We might have also been told that Santa Claus kept his own “list of who’s naughty and nice.” As we became adults enmeshed in the frenetic holiday craziness, our Christmas lists probably became more numerous and less imaginative – lists of things to do, presents to buy, and greeting cards to send.
Recently, with the help of my friend and colleague Georgie, I discovered that the Christian mystic and writer Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) also wrote a Christmas list – but a kind I had never seen before. In the archives of King’s College London, you can read three pages of her own notes which she … Read more
By Aindrias ó hAilpin
Evelyn Underhill’s biography of Jacopone da Todi is the fruit of a relationship with Italy – and particularly Umbria – that lasted for most of Evelyn’s adult life. But not only was this a long-lasting relationship, it was also a deeply transforming one. Perhaps Evelyn was such a good biographer of Jacopone because her own life shared some features with his, although of course it was very different in most respects. He was a lawyer; she was the daughter and the wife of lawyers. Both were poets. Both were raised, nominally, as Christians but showed little interest in faith before experiencing a form of ‘conversion’ in their fourth decade. After this both were attracted to a mystical expression of faith and – perhaps because of this – both had, at times, an uneasy relationship with the … Read more
By Dana Greene
In 1919 Evelyn Underhill, well-known author of “Mysticism” and many other books on this subject, published a biography of Jacopone da Todi, a thirteenth century Franciscan mystic and poet, one of the earliest to write in the vernacular and probably the author of the famous Stabat Mater Dolorosa. 2019 marks the centennial of Underhill’s publication the first and until 1980 the only biography in English of this important literary personality. Born into a noble family as Jacopo dei Benedetti he studied law and married. On the tragic death of his wife he left his profession and became a wandering ascetic and penitent. His strange behavior won him a name of derision, Jacopone. He ultimately entered the Franciscans as a lay brother who allied himself with that group within the Order who argued for greater poverty and penance. … Read more