women writers

Katherine of Sutton: Abbess and playwright

Late medieval nun with two monksKatherine of Sutton was abbess of Barking Abbey from 1358 to 1376, a position of great religious and political importance. As well as managing the convent and leading services and ceremonies, the abbess was required to provide goods and services for royal wars, as well as housing criminals in the convent until trial. Katherine made several changes to the liturgical process of the convent, incorporating performing arts into their celebrations. In particular she wrote and produced several mystery plays to be performed at Easter: Depositio, Descensus, Elevatio, and Visitatio Sepulchri.

The plays are unusual for the period, and feature detailed stage directions. The aim was to help bring alive the events of Easter in a way that reading scripture or attending a lecture could not, and "dispel" the "sluggishness" of the "faithful."

They seem to have been influential as much European theatrical literature which followed shares some of the same characteristics as the plays at Barking Abbey.

Sources