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Christina Rosetti, among the more important poets of the nineteenth century, was born in 1830 to a professor and his devout, evangelical wife. Her eldest sister, Maria, entered an Anglican convent and her poet-painter brother, Dante, was a leading ﬁgure in the Pre-Raphaelite movement of the nineteenth century. She suffered from poor health most of her life, being diagnosed variously with tuberculosis or angina and led a retiring, somewhat cloistered life. In spite of this she produced an enormous quantity of verse and was in lively and ongoing conversation with members of Dante’s “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.” She died of cancer in 1884.
Mid-nineteenth century England, during the Industrial Revolution and the establishment of the British Empire, experienced enormous political and cultural change and social displacement. The old, agrarian society was being swept away by the movement to cities and the creation of a new middle class. Many people, even those who had greatly beneﬁtted from these changes, were revolted by the ugliness and misery that attended urban slums and abandoned rural areas alike. One response was a nostalgic attempt to recover England’s mythic and legendary past. This produced a rather romantic interest in the Medieval. “Gothic,” originally a derogatory term meaning rude or barbaric, became both a term of approval and a style of architecture and decoration that swept the country.
The Tractarian or Oxford Movement shared these concerns and protested against modernity by seeking a recovery of much of the doctrine and sacramental practice of the Medieval Church. Tractarian emphasis on the sacramental taught that the ordinary things of nature: water, oil, bread and wine were the means of God’s grace and indeed God’s presence. They also taught that a life of personal holiness dedicated to the service of others is the road to union with Christ.
Unlike some of the Pre-Raphaelites with whom she was in relationship, Rosetti embraced Christian faith and practice. Over ﬁve hundred of her poems were devotional. They were related to the liturgy, to the feasts and fasts of the liturgical year, and to biblical “dialogues” with Christ.
I O God, whom heaven cannot hold, who didst inspire Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
II O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Preface of the Incarnation
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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