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This article is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

From Chetham’s Library
03: Sea of Love
Michael Powell
A page from Rhapsodical Meditations and Visions
A page from Ann Bathurst’s
Rhapsodical Meditations and Visions. Image © Chetham’s Library,  2017

‘RHAPSODICAL MEDITATIONS AND VISIONS’ is a two-volume autobiographical manuscript written at the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century by Ann Bathurst (c. 1638–1704), a prophet and one-time leader of the short-lived Philadelphian Society. The manuscript consists of a series of visions written in diary form and the work is probably the longest piece of mystical writing in English ever produced by a woman.

The known facts of Bathurst’s life are fleetingly referred to at the start of the journal. Brought up in a pious household, she appears to have fallen dangerously ill in her late teens and experienced extreme religious turmoil which prompted her lifelong regime of spiritual enquiry. By 1697, when the Philadelphian Society was founded in London by Jane Lead and Francis Lee, Bathurst was considered one of its prophets and the Society’s meetings were held every Sunday at her house in Baldwin Gardens. The diary is interspersed with verse, possibly hymns composed by Bathurst to be sung as part of the Philadelphian liturgy.

In contrast to her fellow Philadelphian prophet Jane Lead, who penned over a dozen books, Bathurst wrote only this one work, which was never realised in print. Until recently it was thought that the journal existed only as a single copy at the Bodleian Library but three further copies have now emerged in Edinburgh, St Petersburg and here ...

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