Medieval Women You Should Know: Anna Laminit

Anna Laminit (c.1480-1518) was one of late medieval Europe’s popular “living saints” or “holy women,” modern terms for women who were considered to have a privileged relationship with God during their lives as well as after death. For nearly fifteen years, she provided spiritual advice and (possibly) physical healing to everyone from pious laywomen to university professors to the Holy Roman Emperor. She was famous as far away as France, compared to living saints in Italy.

And she may have been one of late medieval Europe’s most successful con artists.

Our major sources for Laminit’s life are three Augsburg chronicles written after the fact but by men who were present in the city during her reign and fall. Regarding Laminit, the three offer different details but agree on all major points, and they are uniformly hostile to her.

Laminit came from a family of Augsburg artisans. She was supposedly exiled from the city as a teenager for “mischief,” probably some sort of sexual misconduct, but the punishment may have been largely symbolic. By seventeen or eighteen, she was back in the city and living at a charity-funded group residence for pious widows and unmarried women. Shortly thereafter, it seems, more and more people around her started to believe she was surviving on no food except the Eucharist—the surest sign of God’s special favor. The divine provenance of her inedia was certified by the fact that she tried to eat but was unable (it was not a human feat), and her confessor’s approval of her foregoing earthly food (demonstrating her obedience to the clergy).

Unlike most holy women, Laminit seems to have lacked the typical “powerful (male) cleric” promoter. The only places her confessor are even mentioned are her own supposed legal statement included in Rem’s chronicle, and his later charge that she lied to her confessor. Nevertheless, her fame spread throughout Augsburg and beyond.

Chroniclers stress the high social status of her local visitors; a pre-Reformation Martin Luther stopped to consult with her on his way home from Rome. Some people visited her for advice (sourced from God’s communications to Laminit, of course), others simply to experience proximity to a vessel of God’s grace, and probably others to observe something exotic and exciting. Some copies of Clemens Sender’s chronicle add an interesting detail: Laminit and a group of her women friends used to travel around the countryside outside Augsburg providing healing services.

Other people took advantage of her spiritual power from afar. Many devout Augsburgers donated their money to Laminit for her to distribute to the poor, thus increasing the amount of God’s good will that would reflect back on the original donors. Others donated money and goods to Laminit herself, including a private house near one of Augsburg’s most prestigious churches.

Unlike with other holy women, sources make no mention of a particular powerful (male) cleric who supported and promoted Laminit. However, the Church gladly offered a vehicle for her mutually beneficial social and spiritual climb. She received a designated seat for weekly Mass in the church near her house, drawing more people (and money) to it. Her response to outbreaks of apocalyptic fear in Augsburg and beyond was to call for Church-led penitential processions through the city (also featuring her, of course). Indeed, the sources agree that in the first decade of the sixteenth century, Anna Laminit was “St. Anna” to everyone in Augsburg and beyond.

Everyone except the duchess of Bavaria.

Daughter of one emperor and sister to another, Kunigunde of Austria had retired to a Munich convent after the death of her husband Albrecht, duke of Bavaria, in 1508. And when she invited (“invited”) Laminit to Munich in 1513, she had more in mind than a consultation with a saint. She and the other sisters gave Laminit her own private chamber—a chamber specially prepared with holes in the door. And the first night, they observed Laminit do the one thing a holy woman was not supposed to do: eat. Food under the bed and excrement outside the window confirmed the charade.

According to her supposed confession, Laminit claimed that God had allowed her to eat that one time because she was so weak from travel. But nobody was interested in listening. The discovery that she ate one time was enough to unravel more than a decade of adulation and trust. Despite the animosity reflected by the invective used against Laminit in some of the chronicles, her only punishment was exile from Augsburg—apparently with a good piece of the money people had donated to her over the previous decade.

As for Laminit’s life after sainthood, Rem provides the most (and most colorful) details. Apparently she got married and ended up in Freiburg. And if Rem can be believed, she and her husband spent the next five years running a con based on, of all things, child support fraud. But the game was up when the non-existent child’s father wanted to meet him, and Laminit was executed by drowning in 1518.

Laminit’s end has led to her neglect as a late medieval holy woman in modern scholarship. But despite—or perhaps because of—the ultimate belief that her sanctity was a fraud, the sources that discuss her life are invaluable for insight into popular devotion to living saints and the lives of those saints at the end of the Middle Ages.

Cait Stevenson
PhD in Medieval Studies
University of Notre Dame

Secondary

Roth, Friedrich. “Die geistliche Betrügerin Anna Laminit von Augsburg (ca. 1480–1518).” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 43 (1924): 355–417.

Weigelt, Sylvia. „Der Männer Lust und Freude sein”. Frauen um Luther. Wartburg-Verlag, 2011.

Primary

Preu, Georg. “Die Chronik des Augsburger Malers Georg Preu des Älteren.” In Die Chroniken der schwäbischen Städte: Augsburg, vol. 6, 18-86. S. Hirzel, 1906.

Rem, Wilhelm. “Cronica newer geschichten.” In Die Chroniken der schwäbischen Städte: Augsburg, vol. 5, 1-245. S. Hirzel, 1896.

Sender, Clemens. “Die Chronik von Clemens Sender.” In Die Chroniken der schwäbischen Städte: Augsburg, vol. 4, 1-404. S. Hirzel, 1894.

Medieval Women You Should Know

Women making pasta, from the workshop of Giovannino de Grassi, Italy, 1390s

Nobody loves a listsicle like late medieval Christianity. You know the seven deadly sins; now meet the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the six sins against the Holy Spirit, the four sins that cry to heaven (but one of which is silent)…and in late medieval didactic literature, enumerated lists are everywhere. Fortunately, twenty-first century versions like “10 Badass Medieval Women” tend to have slightly more cross-cultural appeal. But a funny thing happens when you start reading through those lists: they can be almost as repetitive as their medieval ancestors. They feature a few sentences or a short paragraph about Hildegard of Bingen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Sitt al-Mulk, maybe Jeanne la Flamme or Catherine of Siena.

And so the Medieval Studies Research Blog is proud to introduce our new, non-listsicle series on Medieval Women You Should Know. It aims to use the stories of women around the medieval world to illuminate life in the Middle Ages more broadly. That might mean an examination of the transmission history of a woman-authored text, a look at the relationship dynamic between two women, or the traditional contextualized-biography approach.

Yes, “badass women” will be represented, like the now-nameless mother of eleventh-century vizier al-Afdal, who went undercover as the mother of a deceased soldier to root out opposition to her son’s rule [1]; or Juliana Peutinger, the three-year-old who recited a Latin oration to the Holy Roman Emperor in a premodern version of Toddlers & Tiaras. [2]

But there are also the women known to us only by chance, whose existence is folded into miracle collections or tax registers: women extraordinary only to themselves and their loved ones. Through their eyes and lives we see through the bright lights to the texture of medieval society. As Katherine Anne Wilson points out, we should not look at a photo of a gorgeous tapestry and think only of its master, but also the women who spun the thread, the women who cooked meals for the craftsmen and cared for their children. [3]

To illuminate women great and small also offers the chance to highlight one of my favorite things about medieval studies and our scholars: that is, the ability to draw an entire life story out of a line or two in a court case, a papal petition. Who needs a detailed biography when you can read that nine-year-old Mary de Billingsgate drowned in the Thames, and reconstruct her single mother’s efforts to raise a child, manage a household, and try to earn a living on her own? [4]

And finally, as Medieval Studies Research Blog pageview statistics indicate that the blog is taking on a double life as a medieval studies resource blog, I hope to pay forward a debt from the very beginning of my graduate work. When I first fell in love with medieval women mystics, there was an amazing online resource called “Other Women’s Voices.” It collated biographical data, links to online scholarship, and excerpts from the writing of women from antiquity through the early 1700s. Even more than the Classics of Western Spirituality series and the index of Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast, Other Women’s Voices was my entry to what was for me an unknown and wondrous world. While the Medieval Studies Research Blog has no intentions of replicating that site (which lives on through archive.org’s Wayback Machine), we hope the posts in this series can provide a similar sort of inspiration: not an end, but a beginning.

Cait Stevenson
PhD in Medieval Studies
University of Notre Dame

[1] Della Cortese and Simonetta Calderini, Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam (Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 37.

[2] Jane Stevenson, Women Latin Poets: Language, Gender, and Authority from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2005), 229-230.

[3] Katherine Anne Wilson, “The Hidden Narratives of Medieval Art,” in Whose Middle Ages? Teachable Moments for an Ill-Used Past, ed. Andrew Albin et al. (Fordham University Press, 2019).

[4] Reginald R. Sharpe (ed.), Calendar of Coroners Rolls of the City of London, A.D. 1300-1378 (Richard Clay and Sons, Ltd., 1913), 252-253.

On the Process of Writing a Pop History Book


Reviewer #1: This is an important article. Although the topic is quite specialized, the application of a methodology normally applied to the Middle Ages to a neglected early modern topic is a useful tool for further investigation of less documented subjects.

Reviewer #2: The author’s argument is unoriginal and uninteresting. There is room for a retelling of the story, but this piece of writing is not it.

As medievalists, our scholarship and self-esteem are to a large extent governed by Reviewer #2. Or rather, they are shaped by an entrenched system of abstracts, standardized book proposals, peer review, impostor syndrome, and desperate self-scrutiny in hopes of avoiding that Reviewer #2. In the course of writing a medieval history book aimed at a popular market, however, I (and my self-esteem) fell headlong into a rather different process. After my earlier post concerning my book, How to Slay a Dragon: A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle Ages (Tiller Press, 2021), some readers expressed interest in hearing more about the process of producing a pop history book.

A small disclaimer: I cannot adequately compare the scholarly and popular processes, unfortunately, because I am currently working on my first academic book proposal, also unfortunately. Nevertheless, I hope that my experience can prove helpful and even hopeful—if I can make it through this process, so can you.

The Ambush(es)

Relieved that academic conferences might be dwindling in the Zoom era? I was actually approached by a representative from Tiller Press (a Simon & Schuster imprint) after an in-person conference panel on Internet public history. It was not an open-ended conversation, however: she had a specific book for me to write, a coffee-table volume on people of color in medieval Europe. Since everyone wants to write that book right now, I was eager to set up a later meeting to discuss the possibility.

I decided in the meantime that such a book really needed to be written by a junior scholar of color, and I am white, so I thought the meeting was going to be short. Instead, now was the time the editors on the other end of the call asked me what I would like to write. Sure, I have plenty of ideas—but I did not have a practiced elevator pitch for any of them. I stammered out several, and miraculously, they jumped on A Fantasy Hero’s Guide to the Real Middle Ages.

Well, “jumped on” meaning I would have to prove the viability with a book proposal.

Image of Christine de Pizan (Cristina da Pizzano) lecturing from her works in British Library, Harley 4431, f.259v (1413).

The Book Proposal

Fortunately for us, this bears some similarity to the academic version, except with a far stronger focus on potential sales. The publisher wanted:

1. A short abstract: a 1-2 sentence publicity blurb to entice readers quickly.

2. A long abstract: 250ish words in which to:
(a) describe the premise in more depth
(b) explain that the book would be based on proper primary and secondary sources
(c) present the desirable “P crossed with Q crossed with R” description of the contents (in my case, “Rejected Princesses meets Lords of the Rings meets TV Tropes”)
(d) set out the probable audience
(e) justify its current relevance (its gender- and race-inclusiveness, in light of Internet discussions)
(f) finish with an “awesomeness” factor (“How to Slay a Dragon reveals a Middle Ages far more outrageous than any fantasy fiction could hope to be.”)

3. An author profile

4. A projected outline

5. Multiple sample chapters

Fun fact: only one of my three sample chapters made it into the book.

Don’t Panic

This was—and remains—the hardest part for me. If you think you struggle with impostor syndrome when submitting an article, imagine how it feels when your contract mentions royalty shares from the potential sale of audiobook rights and other people being hired to write a sequel. I know to say that may sound like I’m bragging, but trust me, all I feel inside are knots around my heart and maybe a little nausea. So please be aware before you start the process of writing and publishing a pop history book: it’s not a matter of “pick a manuscript illumination to plop on the cover, contact the archive, and get the rights.” Your editor is going to mention “cover art” and “hiring an illustrator,” and your job is to not panic.

I was not good at this.

Writing and Editing

Rather than deliver a full book and then revise it wholesale, my editor (the wonderful Ronnie Alvaredo) required me to work in pieces. The nature of my premise means my book has around forty short chapters, and she set up a schedule for me to submit three new ones or three revised ones at a time. She also asked me to start with a few chapters that I thought might make good advance chapters to show the sales team and potential corporate buyers. No pressure! So I was always revising other chapters as I was writing new ones.

Another important factor for medievalists to keep in mind is that we are the experts, not the editorial team—not just in terms of information, but in terms of how medieval as a field works. I lost count of how many times I had to explain, “We simply don’t know exact dates or a location and also the author’s name is probably a pseudonym.”

The Best Part

There is no Reviewer #2.

The Worst Part

That means you have to be your own.


Cait Stevenson
PhD in Medieval Studies
University of Notre Dame