Great Cloud of Witnesses: Christina Rossetti

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Christina Rossetti, among the more important poets of the 19th 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 19th century. She died of cancer in 1894.


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 benefited from these changes, were revolted by the ugliness and misery that attended urban slums and abandoned rural areas.


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 the 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.

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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.