The Construction of a Spiritual Network: The Correspondence of Antoinette Bourignon (1616–1680)
This article focuses on the epistolary practice and strategies of Antoinette Bourignon (1616– 1680), a seventeenth-century Flemish mystic and prophetess, who was born in Lille and who moved to Amsterdam in 1667. From her base in Amsterdam (where she purchased her own press in 1669), Bourignon used a variety of textual media to disseminate the message that she was a spiritual leader chosen by God to restore true Christianity on earth, and to consolidate a following around this ecumenical identity. The author argues that Bourignon's letters were central to this programme; over 600 manuscript versions survive, eleven diff erent printed editions appeared during her lifetime, while nine further volumes were subsequently published posthumously. Her correspondents included scholars such as Jan Amos Comenius (1592–1670), Robert Boyle (1627–1691), Jan Swammerdam (1637–1680), and Pierre Poiret (1646–1719), as well as a wide range of socially diverse disciples who wrote to her seeking advice on a variety of spiritual and personal issues, and whose preoccupations and voices are anonymously reproduced in published responses. In consequence, her letters have a dialogic, polyphonous quality, while the same followers who wrote to her seeking guidance in turn represented an important market for the letters in their printed manifestations. Despite her failure to establish a long-term community on the island of Nordstrand, and the fact that in the later years of her life the suspicions of Lutheran clergy forced her into exile in Ostfriesland, Bourignon maintained a prolifi c output of letters, and continued to combine the roles of spiritual leader and publisher until her death in 1680.