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The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  210 ratings  ·  26 reviews
In The Forgotten Desert Mothers, Laura Swan introduces readers to the sayings, lives, stories and spirituality of women in the early Christian desert and monastic movement, from the third century on. In doing so, she finally sets the record straight that women played an important and influential role in early Christianity, indeed a role that has been long overshadowed by m ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 1st 2001 by Paulist Press (first published January 1st 2000)
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Russell Fox
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It's primarily a work of genuine devotion, though Swan's contextualizing of the sayings attributed to these Christian mystics, hermits, and solitaries (great term!) who went into the desert, either alone or as part of monastic communities, to draw closer to God in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries A.D., reflects solid scholarly scaffolding. As distant from our lives today as these women were, their words about simplicity, suffering, and silence as part of the quest to hear God's ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Five stars easily, and if there were more I'd give more. Prioress Laura Swan brings again to public awareness the frequently lost or overlooked voices of women who were leaders in early Christian mysticism and spiritual direction. However, the voices of the desert mothers are so strong that anyone could have done that just by even quoting them. What this author does differently is categorizing and commenting on their teachings in ways that are immediately, timelessly relevant. I especially found ...more
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: christianity
I was excited to read this book because I think female saints don’t get enough press and I am interested in the desert mothers. I enjoyed the brief lives of the lesser known mothers, but was disappointed with the Sayings portion. The whole point of these sayings is to meditate on them and allow their meanings to arise organically in your own life. The author spoils this aspect by inserting her own tangentially related and overdone interpretations, focusing too much on the personalities of the mo ...more
Siân D
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book that looks at the lives, stories, sayings and spirituality of women known as Desert Mothers who helped spread early Christianity around the world and are often forgotten.

I’ve loved learning about women in the early Church, about the lives of deaconesses, of ammas and of life as ascetic.

I would really recommend reading this book.
The sinews of an excellent book are here, and I hope Swan writes that book someday. However, the subtitle of the book is exactly what the book is: sayings, lives, and stories. This book is a collection of blurbs about the desert women, whose customs, Swan reminds us time and again, are not what our modern sensibilities would allow (e.g., an eight-year-old running away from her home to wander until she finds a monastery to adopt her (Blessed Hermit Susan)).
Based on Swan’s other books, I expected
May 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
The Forgotten Desert Mothers: sayings, lives, and stories of early Christian women, by Laura Swan.

Having read several books by and about the Desert Fathers, this is a refreshing addition to what we know about the female Christian monastics who chose to live ascetic lives for various reasons, but primarily out of devotion to Jesus Christ.

Women played an important role in the life of the Early Church, but that history has largely been swept aside given the dominant role of male leadership as the C
Joel Wentz
Oct 01, 2019 rated it liked it
There is much to commend in this short book. The 'desert mothers' were an influential voice in the formative early centuries of the Christian church, and as the title rightly notes, they are largely forgotten in common memory. Swan has done great research, and provided a gift to the modern church by compiling biographical notes and sayings into one short, accessible volume like this. In particular, the summaries of the lives of these women are fascinating, at times heart-breaking, and always ins ...more
Finished reading ... The Forgotten Desert Mothers : sayings, lives, and stories of early christian women / Laura Swan ... 13 September 2017
ISBN: 9780809140169

I was expecting more of a narrative history – which only goes to show I should have paid attention to the subtitle, because that's what this book is.
In the introduction, the author says (pp.2-3):
“... I grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of information on the women who had also dwelt in the desert.
I began to pursue and collect traces
I'm down for any nonfiction where names like "Susanna Blessed Hermit" and "John the Dwarf" are bandied about like they're the family next door. The biographies, prayers/liturgy and timeline of these desert women were interesting, but the commentary was textbook-y and basic.

Discussions of male-centric language of the day were noteworthy. Also interesting that the virtuous desert fathers were frequently tempted by harlots and overcame the lust of their bodies, whereas the virtuous desert mothers
Zach Hollifield
Jul 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, theology
I truly enjoyed this book. Many viewpoints and perspectives from so many of the earliest saints who are often forgotten or ignored, and for that I am grateful. I was left wanting more primary source material. Obviously there is only so much primary source material and you can't add what isn't there, but the primary sources felt overshadowed by Swan's own interpretation at times.

All in all, a great read and an important addition to the study of the life and thought of the early church.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good historical information about early ascetic women in the Christian church. Couple of chapters are just lists of women with a little bit of information (think Lives of the Saints style) and finishes up with the author's personal thoughts on how the topic affects her own life and spirituality. I read it for the history, but the whole book was pretty good. ...more
Ed Oakes
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
While the book had some intriguing parts, the generality of these women's stories became routine. I enjoyed the first and last but the middle lagged. I will say it has spurred my interest to other women's experiences. ...more
Deborah Blair
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a book of stories of the Desert Mothers - - - Many people do not know that along with the Desert Fathers there were also women of the time who were devoted to the path of discovering their relationship with God through leaving behind civilization.

With a good many decades of my life devoted to a chunk of every day in prayer, meditation and solitude - I have found good inspiration in this book. I keep it on a shelf and refer to it at least several times a year.

Women on the serious spiritu
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am grateful that this book shines light on the intellectual and spiritual gifts and dedication of these early Christian women who gave their all for their ideals and the quest for authentic communion with the divine. A substantial weakness of the book is the lack of an index, a feature I often wished for when a story of one of these women referenced another.
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Rare find with many scholarly references which is a plus.
But when I picked up this book, I thought it was a thorough study of selected desert mothers and their lives, but instead was a glimpse of many unknown mothers, which the briefness of their stories left me curious.
Kim Shively
Mar 05, 2015 rated it liked it
It was certainly interesting to read about all the various female ascetics of the early Church. This book was really written for people who want to pursue the contemplative life, and as attractive as such a pursuit seems at times, I'm not really one of those people. ...more
Jan 30, 2016 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this book, but when she does a mini-biography for each Amma she finds the book gets a bit redundant. If I could just rate the first three chapters and the epilogue, I would give it a 4 or 5 star rating.
Jan 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
nice little book that has a lot of info in one small volume.
Ramonita Rodriguez
Oct 11, 2014 rated it liked it
good comments, histories, tidbits, dayings of early Christian women who decided to live ascetic lives and tend to the poor and needy.
Jon Cooper
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great read. Swan's commentary is as invaluable as the sayings she records. ...more
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Five stars so far.
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Introductory text with interesting vignettes that serve mostly as springboards for further study of various desert mothers. Swan provides a pretty good list of sources to consult.
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
An excellent place to start with the Desert Mothers or Fathers. A good framework for understanding these wonderful, but obscure and sometimes harsh asetical lives.
Nov 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
An interesting book about these forgotten women. Thanks to Swan these desert mothers are no longer forgotten.But because they were forgotten, not many sayings are left and that is a pity.
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Apr 28, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: spiritual-growth
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