Saturday, August 8, 2009

Anna Maria van Schurman

Flemish Educationalist & Preacher

Anna Maria was a prolific linguist. At age 7yo, she learnt Latin and by age 10yo could translate it freely. Anna Maria also acquired Dutch, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Samarian, Arabic, Chaldaic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Turkish, Persian, in addition to English, Spanish and Italian.

Initially instructed by her mother who wished to confine her daughter to more conventional pursuits such as needlework, Anna Maria had her own ideas. She attended Utrecht University, where she was accorded special facilities. Although Anna Maria graduated in Law, she taught History and Philosophy. She also dabbled quite seriously in Medicine and worked in hospitals - though was unsuccessful in her attempts to find a cure for blindness.

In addition to working on her main academic subjects and indulging in a strong religious inclination, Anna Maria developed a wide variety of artistic activities - delicate engraving by use of diamond on glass, sculpture (which she became expert at), ivory and wood carving, wax modelling, and painting (especially portraits). Anna Maria soon acquired renown - she was consulted by scholars and honoured by royalty.

But Anna Maria was extremely modest and tried to avoid the adulation. She was even reluctant to publish her own writing for this very reason - in fact her first poem was printed 12 years (1636) before her death. This was soon followed by other works, including "Apology for the Female Sex" which was written in response to a paper entitled "Advantages of the Female Sex", and dedicated to her. Anna Maria was an early and influential supporter of women's rights.

Later in life, Anna Maria lived simply in Cologne. And it was here that she met (1664) Jean de Labadie, a Jesuit who had converted to Protestantism and who had founded a breakaway religious sect. Anna Maria was fascinated by Labadie and his ideas. He favoured a contemplative approach to religion - and was excommunicated (1670) for preaching this. Anna Maria became his principal helper with his work.

Anna Maria published her last work "Eucleria" (1673) with Jean's support. After Jean's death (1674), Anna Maria took the lead in preaching his ideas in Holland. She died (1678) having used all her wealth in service to the poor. Labadism became extinct 70 years later (1750).

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