Great Mystical Book Covers

Great Mystical Book Covers February 17, 2019

The other day I wrote a post about a dream I had back in the 1980s. I mentioned in that post that I used to shop at an old Catholic Bookstore that used to carry the old Image Books editions of the mystics.

That was back when you could buy a mass-market paperback edition of the writings of St. John of the Cross or St. Teresa of Ávila or Julian of Norwich for just a few dollars. Ah, the glory days of exploring the literature of the Christian mystics!

I loved those old Image books, not only because they were inexpensive and easy to carry, but also because many of them had truly beautiful and distinctive cover designs.

Yes, yes, I know — “you can’t judge a book by its cover” — but whoever designed these book covers had an eye not only for interesting design, but also for finding distinctive ways to express something of the splendor and hiddenness of mysticism in a visual manner.

So for today’s post I thought I would share a few of my favorite “mystical” book covers (and what I mean by that is simply cover art for books some of the great Christian mystics). I’m including several of my favorite Image Books editions of the mystics, and I’m throwing some other interesting covers from other publishers as well.

In all fairness, some of these designs are better than others — for an obvious example, the old Dutton paperback cover of Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism has not aged well at all! In fact, I think it’s rather garish. But there’s something about that hand-drawn rose, even surrounded by fuchsia and purple (!), that I find compelling and evocative, if not necessarily aesthetically pleasing.

I’m linking each book title to its page on Amazon — but keep in mind that most of these cover designs are 30 to 50 years old, and so if the books are still in print, they very likely have new designs.

What do you think of these book covers? Do they say “mysticism” to you? Can you think of other books that also express the beauty and silence of Christian mysticism in terms of their design?

The Fire of Love and the Mending of Life
Richard Rolle
Image Books, 1981

Revelations of Divine Love
Julian of Norwich
Image Books, 1977

The Stairway of Perfection
Walter Hilton
Image Books, 1979

The Way of Perfection
St. Teresa of Ávila
Image Books, 1964

The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Ávila
Image Books, 1961

Ascent of Mount Carmel
St. John of the Cross
Image Books, 1958

Dark Night of the Soul
St. John of the Cross
Image Books, 1959

Spiritual Canticle
St. John of the Cross
Image Books, 1961

Living Flame of Love
St. John of the Cross
Image Books, 1962

The Cloud of Unknowing
Anonymous
Image Books, 1973

The Cloud of Unknowing
Anonymous
Image Books, 1996

Revelation of Love
Julian of Norwich
Image Books, 1996

Mysticism
Evelyn Underhill
E. P. Dutton, 1961

Practical Mysticism
Evelyn Underhill
E. P. Dutton, 1961

Centering Prayer
M. Basil Pennington
Image Books, 1982

The Seven Storey Mountain
Thomas Merton
S.P.C.K., 1999

The Book of Margery Kempe
Margery Kempe
The Folio Society, 2004

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism
Bernard McGinn, ed.
Modern Library, 2006


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