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Prophecy, Alchemy, and the End of Time: John of Rupecissa in the Late Middle Ages

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Overview

In the middle of the fourteenth century, the Franciscan friar John of Rupescissa sent a dramatic warning to his followers: the last days were coming; the apocalypse was near. Deemed insane by the Christian church, Rupescissa had spent more than a decade confined to prisons—in one case wrapped in chains and locked under a staircase—yet ill treatment could not silence the friar's apocalyptic message.

Religious figures who preached the end times were hardly rare in the late Middle Ages, but Rupescissa's teachings were unique. He claimed that knowledge of the natural world, and alchemy in particular, could act as a defense against the plagues and wars of the last days. His melding of apocalyptic prophecy and quasi-scientific inquiry gave rise to a new genre of alchemical writing and a novel cosmology of heaven and earth. Most important, the friar's research represented a remarkable convergence between science and religion.

In order to understand scientific knowledge today, Leah DeVun asks that we revisit Rupescissa's life and the critical events of his age—the Black Death, the Hundred Years' War, the Avignon Papacy—through his eyes. Rupescissa treated alchemy as medicine (his work was the conceptual forerunner of pharmacology) and represented the emerging technologies and views that sought to combat famine, plague, religious persecution, and war. The advances he pioneered, along with the exciting strides made by his contemporaries, shed critical light on later developments in medicine, pharmacology, and chemistry.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review - Chara Crisciani

DeVun's book is well-constructed, thoroughly documented, instructive, and very useful.

SPECULUM - Stanton J. Linden

[H]ighly readable text, amply supported by some fifty pages of endnotes, a bibliography, and a usefully compiled index, Leah DeVun has produced an original and valuable book.

Church History - David E. Timmer

This book offers the reader a tour of one of the more peculiar corners of medieval thought, a corner defined by the intersection of three enterprises: Spiritual Franciscanism, Joachite apocalypticism, and alchemical speculation.

Medievalia et Humanistica - Laura Ackerman Smoller

DeVun has written a splendid book about medieval alchemy and apocalyptic prophecy that is truly a pleasure to read. Prophecy, Alchemy, and the End of Time will be an essential item for anyone hoping to understand the history of science and religion in the later Middle Ages.

American Historical Review
DeVun's book is well-constructed, thoroughly documented, instructive, and very useful.

— Chara Crisciani

Speculum
[H]ighly readable text, amply supported by some fifty pages of endnotes, a bibliography, and a usefully compiled index, Leah DeVun has produced an original and valuable book.

— Stanton J. Linden, Washington State University

Journal of Church History
[Devun's] book is a valuable addition to recent scholarship on late medieval "ousiders," following in the footsteps of Robert E. Lerner and Bernard McGinn.

— David E. Timmer, Central College

Speculuma Journal of Medieval Studies

In 163 pages of highly readable text...Leah DeVun has produced an original and valueable book that illuminates the activities and writings of the Franciscan Friar John of Rupecissa

H-German - Gregory J. Miller

An excellent study.... not only for its careful description of an underappreciated figure, but also because of the important theoretical contributions [DeVun] makes to a more holistic approach to our understanding of the history of science and to late medieval culture.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231145381
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Leah DeVun is associate professor of history at Rutgers University. Her research focuses on the history of the human body in premodern Europe and the legacy of that history in the modern world. Her published work centers on issues of gender and technology.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsAcknowledgments1. Introduction2. The Proving of Christendom3. John of Rupescissa's Vision of the End4. Alchemy in Theory and Practice5. Artists and the Art6. Metaphor and Alchemy7. The End of Nature8. ConclusionBibliographyNotesIndex

Columbia University Press

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