Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Saint Walpurga, Writer and Missionary

Saint Walpurga of Heidenheim (died 25 February 777/9)

Born in Devon, England, probably about the year 710, Walpurga was the daughter of Richard of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon chieftain under King Ine, and a noblewoman named Wuna, who seems to have died about the time of Walpurga's birth. (At some point, both of Walpurga's parents are recognized as saints--Saint Wuna's feast day is 7 February.)

A sixteenth-century portrait
of St. Walpurga
by the Master of Messkirch
In 720, Richard is convinced by his two sons--Walpurga's brothers (both of whom also become saints)--to undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While preparing for this journey, Richard of Wessex decides to leave his daughter, then about eleven years old, in the care of the abbess of Wimbourne Abbey. According to some traditions, however, it is the girl herself who asks to be left in the abbey rather than with relatives.

Wimbourne was a double monastery, housing both monks and nuns who followed the Rule of St. Benedict under the direction of an abbess.* Walpurga spent twenty-six years at Wimbourne, where she received an excellent education. The nuns of Wimbourne were trained in Latin and at least some Greek, and they put their language study to use with both sacred texts and the work of the early Church Fathers. The abbey also specialized in producing manuscripts and fine needlework.

Walpurga's father never got to the Holy Land. He reached Rome, then traveled with his sons to Lucca, where he died. (Willibald, the older of Walpurga's brothers, completed the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, then went on to Byzantium, eventually returning to Italy to live as a monk in Monte Cassino. Winebald, the younger of the two brothers, stayed in Rome and entered a monastery).

In 737, Wuna's brother Winfrid (later St. Boniface) recruited both of his nephews to accompany him on a mission to Germany. His call for evangelizing eventually included women--evidently Boniface was the first to include women as missionaries. In 748, a group of nuns from Wimbourne, Walpurga among them, traveled to the Franks to undertake their missionary work.

As part of their successful mission, Willibald and Winebald founded the double monastery of Heidenheim in 752, with Winebald serving as abbot. Walpurga was established as the abbess, governing the nuns. After Winebald's death in 761, Abbess Walpurga became the head of the double monastery.

On 25 February 777 or 779 (accounts vary), Walpurga died and was buried at the monastery founded by her brothers, where she had lived for some twenty-five years. About a hundred years after her death, her remains were translated--that is, they were removed to the cathedral of Eichstatt (Bavaria), with the aim of interring hart remains with those of her brother, Wllibald, who had been consecrated as bishop there.  According to tradition, the beasts pulling the card with Walpurga's body stopped at a small church used by the canonesses at Eichstatt and refused to move further--so her relics were interred there. Later, a church was built in her honor.

Walpurgis Night (30 April) celebrates her feast day, 1 May, which commemorates her the arrival of her relics in Eichstatt and Walpurga's canonization.

An extended account of St. Walburga's life is Emmanuel Luckman's "St. Walburga: Medieval Nun, Free Woman," in Miriam Schmitt and Linda Kulzer's Women Monastics: Wisdom's Wellsprings.

*In this, Wimbourne Abbey might be compared to Hilda's Whitby.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Back to the Future, Part 15: Here We Go Again

Back to the Future, Part 15: Here We Go Again

I've put off writing about this year's Global Gender Gap Report--I just didn't have the heart for it. But with today's publication by the CDC of "Maternal Mortality Statistics," I was reminded of something my son once write when he was forwarding a link to me: "Mom, here's more good news for the woman who loves bad news."

On to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Report 2020.* First, some good news: "This year the progress has not only been larger than in the previous edition, but also more widespread: out of the 149 countries and economies covered both this year and last year, 101 have improved their score and 48 have seen their performance unchanged or reduced."

But before we in the U.S. get too excited, the U.S. is among those countries that have seen their performance fall--the U.S. ranks 53rd (of 153 countries), down two spots from the last year's calculations. By way of contrast, our two nearest neighbors rank much higher, Canada at 19, Mexico at 25. 

The report examines four key areas in assessing gender: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. Again, here's a bit of good news: "The time it will take to close the gender gap narrowed to 99.5 years in 2019. While an improvement on 2018 – when the gap was calculated to take 108 years to close – it still means parity between men and women across health, education, work and politics will take more than a lifetime to achieve." Yup, that's about as good as the news gets . . . 

While political "empowerment" is "on the rise," it remains the "the worst-performing dimension": "it will take 95 years to close the gender gap in political representation, with women in 2019 holding 25.2% of parliamentary (lower-house) seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions." 

At the same time, women's economic situation is still not showing improvement: "In contrast to this positive progress in the lofty world of leadership, women’s participation in the wider labour market has stalled and financial disparities are increasing."

And the disparities in political power and their economic situation are all the more distressing because women have reached parity (almost) in health and, most important, education: 

So, it will take only 99 years instead of 108 to close the gap . . . If you're a glass-is-half-full kind of reader, here's a link to the full report.

I am not a glass-half-full kind of reader, however. (Nor am I a glass-half-empty reader--I'm a why-the-hell-are-there-only-two-glasses? kind of reader.) Even so, it took today's new maternal mortality statistics to knock me out of my funk. 

Perhaps the most shocking thing in the just-published CDC report is that the National Center for Health Statistics has not published maternal mortality figures since 2007--yes, over a decade ago! Thirteen years without official data . . . It has taken all that time (well, since 2003, actually) for a new "coding method" that would allow the NCHS to "resume the routine publication of maternal mortality statistics."

The figures are not good: "The maternal mortality rate for 2018 was 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, and the rate for non-Hispanic black women (37.1) was 2.5 to 3.1 times the rates for non-Hispanic white (14.7) and Hispanic (11.8) women."

As reporter Julia Beluz notes, "If you compare the CDC figure to other countries in the World Health Organization’s latest maternal mortality ranking, the US would rank 55th, just behind Russia (17 per 100,000) and just ahead of Ukraine (19 per 100,000)."

But whether there are "official" counts or not, it's not as if maternal mortality rates in the U.S. are a big secret--click here for a recent USA Today report, and here for the World Health Organization's Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015, 2000 to 2017.

Update, 13 February 2020: As if the news about material mortality rates weren't bad enough, ProPublica reports that there are "gaping holes" in the research:
In order to come up with a number that allows the United States to be compared with other countries, the National Vital Statistics System was required to use the World Health Organization’s definition of maternal mortality: “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy … from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management.” The global standard encompasses the traditional, acute, obstetric causes of maternal death — hemorrhage, infection, blood clots, strokes — but excludes “accidental or incidental” causes. . . 
The 42-day cutoff for calculating maternal mortality excludes many maternal deaths:
In the U.S., as many as 24% of pregnancy-related deaths are happening from 43 days to 365 days after delivery, according to a CDC report last fall. In Texas, the proportion is closer to 40%. Even the new NVSS data confirms an enormous number of such deaths. Hidden in its report is a calculation for late maternal mortality for 2018: an additional 277 deaths. That brings the CDC estimate for maternal deaths up to a year postpartum to a much higher figure than it reported in the official U.S. rate: a total of 935 lives lost.
Causes of maternal deaths that are not included in the CDC report include heart-related conditions (which is the leading cause of uncounted maternal deaths), accidental overdoses, suicide, complications that lead to the deaths of older mothers, and, most horrifically, homicide (a study co-authored by [Joia] Crear-Perry, of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, shows that in Louisiana, homicides were the leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum women from 2016-17).

In other words, "Since 2007, the government had held off on releasing an official estimate of expectant and new mothers who died from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. It waited for the data to get better. But the new, long-anticipated number falls short."

For Nina Martin's piece in ProPublica, click here.

*In previous years, the December publication was dated for the year in which it was published. This year, instead of the report being titled "2019" when it was published on 17 December 2019, it was titled "2020." For my previous posts on the report, click here (2016), here (2017), and here (2018). Rereading what I wrote in 2018, I said then that I "didn't have the heart" for a writing a whole post about it--talk about "back to the future"!!!