|Introduction||Scope||Location||Frequently Mentioned Texts||General Introductions|
|Dictionaries and Encyclopedias||Geographical Sources||Bibliographies and Indices||Journals||Articles|
|Biographical and Hagiographical Sources||Contemporary regulae||Collected Essays||Monographs||About the Compiler|
Women played strong and vibrant roles in all areas of society throughout the Middle Ages, although these roles have often been overlooked both in scholarship and in popular thought. It is not surprising that a religion promising equality for all - old and young, rich and poor, male and female - quickly became popular, and remained popular, with women. The place of women in the medieval Church was especially influential and has been (until very recently) quite misunderstood. From the earliest years of Christianity, women religious (whether ascetics, nuns, anchoresses, abbesses, or canonesses) were actively writing, teaching, praying, even as their masculine counterparts did. Many of these women were wealthy and of noble family, and far from viewing the cloister as somewhere to be put "away from the world," they saw the monastic life as an attractive alternative to marriage (which was much more an exchange between the bride's father and husband than an act of love), a chance to be independent even while dependent on Christ and His Church.
The works included in this pathfinder serve not only as an introduction to the many types of sources available for the study of women religious, but are also examples of the many different scholarly approaches to these women. Modern-day religious composed some of these works; scholars of feminism wrote others. The result is not an exhaustive bibliography on medieval women religious, but a brief taste of some of the ideas surrounding this group of fascinating and influential women.
This pathfinder is designed for the use and illumination of advanced undergraduate and graduate students in the Medieval Institute of Western Michigan University. The focus is on the early and high Middle Ages in England and France, although later dates and other geographical areas are mentioned. Remember, all the works listed here have sources of their own, and new material is being published all the time. If you are new to this area of study, begin with the general sources and dictionary and encyclopedia articles. For more detailed information, take a look at the monographs and collected essays. The newest scholarship can be found in the indexes and journals.
Back to TOC
Most of the resources are available in Waldo Library:
General Stacks (Waldo)
Reference (Waldo Ref)
Rare Book Collection (Waldo RBR)
Some are also available in the Richard Rawlinson Center Library (RRC)
Those unavailable at WMU can be found either in the Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame
University (ND) or in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan (Umich). If you don't want to drive to Ann Arbor or South Bend, you can take advantage of the friendly folks in the Interlibrary Loan office.
Women--Europe--History--Middle Ages, 500-1500
Women--History--Middle Ages, 500-1500
Women--History--Middle Ages, 500-1500--Historiography
Social History--Medieval, 500-1500
Monastic and religious life of women--History
Christian women saints--France--Biography--Early works to 1800
Christian women saints--England--Biography--Early works to 1800
BV676 (women in the Catholic Church - ordination and preaching)
BX4200-BX4500 (women religious - general)
HQ1143-HQ1147 (women in the middle ages - general)
Back to TOC
About half of this narrative history pertains to women religious (section II, "Early Middle Ages" and section III, "High Middle Ages"). The title is a modification of the military metaphor "brothers in arms." The author (a lay sister in the Network for the History of World Religious) explains that "ascesis (military training), self-control, obedience, and self-sacrifice are the virtues of soldiers, and they are most perfectly realized among the soldiers of Christ."
With a total of 70 essays, this three-volume set is a treasure for anyone interested in medieval women religious. Volume one includes 14 essays spanning the 4th to 16th centuries, and focuses on the achievements of the women and their contributions in their own time. Volume two includes 8 essays on various topics and sections of essays on Claire of Assisi, the Cistercian monastery of Helfta, Julian of Norwich, and Teresa of Avila. Volume 3 (in two books) focuses solely on Cistercian nuns. Contributors include highly notable medieval scholars, both secular (Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg, Jo Ann McNamara, and Suzanne Foney Wemple) and religious (Charles Dumont, Chrysogonus Waddell, and Jean Leclercq).
Extensive study of English nunneries in general - also gives stories from the primary sources. Includes chapters on the novice nuns (who they were, generally, and why they entered), the superiors (how they were selected and how they lived), income and expenses of the houses, servants (yes, indeed, they had paid servants!), financial difficulties, education (of the nuns themselves, and the children - including "secular" children who were never expected to take a monastic vow - boys too!), routine life (and examples of reactions against the routine), privacy and private property, enclosure, secular visitors and their impact on enclosure, celibacy (or lack thereof), monastic reform, and the nun in medieval literature. Also includes a list of English nunneries, c. 1275-1535.
In this work, which includes research on over 2,200 female saints and was 25 years in the making, Schulenburg examines the independent nature of those women who were "forgetful of their sex" (a term first used by St. Jerome), their treatment by the Church, and how this treatment changed and developed over time. An excellent study that discusses women religious not only as nuns but also as wives, mothers, and friends.
If you are coming to the study of women religious with very little prior knowledge, this is the book to start with. This is a short, easy-to-read survey of women religious from the 4th through the 17th centuries. Ranft identifies it as a "selective history," a general survey of major events, places, people, and modern interpretations. Based entirely on secondary sources, it includes an extensive and relatively up-to-date bibliography.
Thompson traces the foundation of nunneries in England between 1100 and 1250 and relates the expansion of monasticism for women in England to the development of the religious orders developing at the same time in Europe - Cluny, Citeaux, Fontevrault, and the canonical orders (who used the Rule of Augustine as their guide). This work is included because of its examination of the links between nunneries and male monasteries, as well as the place of double monasteries. Includes an appendix which lists monasteries, their probable year of foundation, and primary source citation.
Concentrates on the foundation and early history of monasteries for women. This is a survey of the growth of monastic women from the early 10th century through the early 13th century. Discusses the contributions of men, both secular, religious, and canonical. The main primary sources are charters, as opposed to hagiographical sources. The author's main argument is that the widespread belief that women's houses declined in influence after the Norman Conquest is incorrect. Includes valuable maps locating the monastic houses by foundation year.
These are entries on women religious in general.
Bolton, Brenda M. "Nuns and nunneries" in Medieval England: An Encyclopedia, edited by Paul E. Szarmach, M. Teresa Tavormina, and Joel T. Rosenthal (New York: Garland Publications, 1998) pp. 553-555.
Waldo Ref and RRC -- DA129 .M43 1998
A good introduction to the history of women's monasticism in England from the beginnings through the fifteenth century. An emphasis is placed on the influence from Gaul in the beginning of the period, and on the contrast between pre- and post-Conquest communities. She also includes short discussions of the Gilbertines and the Brigettines, two feminine orders from the later Middle Ages. The bibliography is long and quite good, containing a number of "classic" monographs and essays (this also means that it is not the most recent material - there is nothing more recent than 1990).
Wemple, Suzanne Foney. "Women's Religious Orders" in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol. 12 (New York: Scribner, 1982-) pp. 682-689.
Waldo Ref and RRC -- D114 .D5 1982
The DMA is the classic reference for general information regarding the Middle Ages. This article is an historical introduction to women's monasticism from the earliest ascetics of the 4th century through the Brigittines of the 14th century. It includes short discussions of some of the same issues discussed in great detail in the other works in this pathfinder (the influence of the Norman Conquest and the Mendicant orders, for example). Cross-references reveal many other entries of interest, including a few for specific women.
These are more general sources that include information on monastic women.
Hammack, Mary L. Dictionary of Women in Church History. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984)
Waldo Ref - BR1713 .H33 1984
Includes women who were influential on the history of the Church (both positively and negatively), from the foundation of the religion through to modern times. Includes entries on fifty women who lived in the Middle Ages (which the author defines as 590-1500). Both well-known and obscure women are included, although there must be "reliable, sufficient," information available (the inclusion of a name in a charter is not enough to grant inclusion). The entries are short and include basic information. The bibliography is short, listing mainly reference sources.
Lawler, Jennifer. Encyclopedia of Women in the Middle Ages. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001)
Ordered, not yet available.
This is brand-new and has not yet been catalogued. I will update this entry when the book becomes available. It may well be a valuable resource.
Levin, Carole, et. al. Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: a biographical dictionary. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000)
Waldo Ref - HQ1143 .E93 2000
Seventy short biographies on women from a broad cross-section of medieval and renaissance society, including both women religious and saints. Use this resource for introductions to women you may have heard mentioned - the most well-known personages are purposefully left out; more obscure ladies are included (Joan of Arc and Hildegard of Bingen are notable exclusions; Mechthild of Magdeburg and Catherine of Siena are here).
Back to TOC
These works are helpful for finding information about specific monastic houses.
A short description of the place of women in British monasticism from the Norman Invasion through the High Middle Ages. Of special value is the map, which shows the locations of all religious houses for women founded in Britain before c. 1300.
A classic directory, though not nearly as extensive as the Monasticon (see below). Knowles and Hadcock divide the houses according to monastic order, and within these sections list the names and locations of the houses, and include short entries for each including (if known): patron saint, founder, number of nuns when founded and at the disillusion, and information on income.
One of the truly fantastic sources for factual information on women's communities. The central area of Matrix is the Monasticon, an extensive list of profiles of 2647 religious women's communities in the whole of Europe dating from 400 to 1600 CE. The Monasticon can be used to find individual histories of communities or can be searched as a database. The information contained in these profiles is basic, relating to dates of foundation and disillusion, geographical information, and financial information. The term "community" is defined very loosely - some are well-documented monastic houses; others are perhaps mentioned only a few times in contemporary sources. Matrix also includes sections of biographies, charters, an archive, and a glossary, though these sections are quite disappointing. The bibliography is extensive, containing over 5000 citations from monographs, essays, and serials. The biggest disappointment? No maps!
These sources are helpful for finding journal articles, book reviews, and other scholarly resources.
This bibliography includes a list of general sources, but the majority of information is arranged according to named woman (including Heloise, Julian of Norwich, and Margery Kempe). Different types of sources include both primary and secondary sources, and autobiographies where available. Women are included from every part of Europe and from every century of the Middle Ages (though mostly from the later years). Sadly, the bibliography is a single long text file - to search, select "Find in Page" under "Edit" in your browser's toolbar.
This index was compiled while the authors were researching their book Between Pit and Pedestal. Entries include brief biographies "which present these females not as one-dimensional, genealogical appendages to males, but rather as flesh and blood women." These entries include the names of women (including variant spellings), date, brief biography, and bibliographical citations and categories. These categories are listed in a section of cross-references. Some of interest include nuns, abbesses, anchoresses, beguines, and religieuses. The bibliography includes general texts, printed primary sources (focusing on England and France), and mainly English-language articles and monographs.
The MFI is the most extensive source for information on women in all areas of life throughout the middle ages. Item included are journal articles, book reviews, and essays; works by one author (monographs) are not included. The index can be searched by keyword, author, title, subject, source, primary evidence, article type, geographic area, century, author's affiliation, year of publication, language, or any combination of these. Lists of all subject headings and broad topic headings are included to aid the searching process. Topic headings of interest include: Monastic Elections; Monastic Enclosure; Regula; Monasticism; Active Orders; Contemplative Orders; Nuns; Monasticism- Affiliation; Monasticism and Debts; Monasticism- Endowments; Monasticism- Governance; Monasticism in Literature; Monasticism- Suppression of.
These are a few journals that have published articles on medieval women religious. Unfortunately there is no serial dedicated solely to that study; these are all rather general in scope. They are indexed in the Medieval Feminist Index and it is suggested that anyone searching for journal or book articles search that resource before advancing to individual journals.
Published by the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB), includes articles and book reviews concerning all aspects of the history of the Benedictines (including Cistercians), from the time of Benedict himself up to today. Since 1996, the ABR has been available online.
Published by the American Catholic Historical Association since 1915. Devoted to the history of the Catholic Church worldwide, includes articles, review articles, book reviews, and lists of books received in all areas of church history. Also available online.
Replaced Vox Benedictina (published by Peregrina Publications 1984-1993), Waldo BX4275 .V69x. Published semi-annually. Articles from the fields of history, literature, women's studies and other areas of the arts and humanities. Works are by academics, artists and contemporary religious on spirituality of any time period and all faith traditions.
Published by the Medieval Academy of America, Speculum is the oldest U.S. journal devoted exclusively to the Middle Ages. The chronological boundaries of the medieval period are defined as approximately A.D. 500-1500. The primary geographic focus of the journal is on Western Europe, but Byzantine, Hebrew, Arabic, and Slavic studies are also included. There are no restrictions as to subject matter: the journal publishes articles and book reviews on any and all aspects of the Middle Ages, including art, history, literature, philosophy and theology, music, science, law, and economics.
These are a few examples of articles published in the four journals listed above, found in the Medieval Feminist Index (searched subject: "monasticism"). Citations and Abstracts are from the Index.
"The author explores the efforts to reform Niedermünster, a noble foundation of canonesses, and turn it into a more strict Benedictine nunnery; the author uses surviving art and architecture, concentrating in particular on two manuscripts, the rule book and the Uta Codex, both of which feature illuminations of Niedermünster's reforming abbess, Uta." Includes ten illustrations.
"Study of five Middle English translations and one Latin version, examining changes from masculine language as well as feminization of such aspects of monastic life as clothing and the practice of charity."
"Nuns aided the missionary efforts of Boniface and his colleagues in Germany through their prayers and gifts; a few nuns, most notably Leoba, traveled to Germany, founded monasteries, and served as abbesses."
"The author argues that some canonists chose to stretch the definitions to include such quasi-religious women as beguines and canonesses within the protections and privileges of canon law."
"The author analyzes charters from six women's and five men's monasteries from Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou; the women's houses are Sainte Croix and Trinity, Poitiers; St. Loup/Beaumont, Tours; Ronceray, Angers; S. Georges, Rennes; and Notre Dame, Saintes."
These sources include biographies and hagiographies (saints' lives, from the Greek hagio, "holy", and graphy, "writing") on various medieval women.
A short collection concerning the most notable women active in the first six centuries of Christianity. The first chapter is an historical introduction serving to create a context in which to understand these women. The remainder of the work is English translations of primary sources concerning the lives of a variety of women, including Macrina (sister to Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa), Melania the Younger and Melania the Elder, and the Merovingian queen Radegund (one of her lives is also translated in Sainted Women). Also included is a collection of letters from Jerome to a number of women throughout the Roman Empire.
Medieval Saints: A Reader, edited by Mary-Ann Stouck (Peterborough, Ontario and Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press, 1999)
ND -- BX4654 .M43 1999
A collection of English translations of saints' lives from late antiquity through the end of the Middle Ages. Includes mainly masculine lives, but does include sources on some notable women: The Passion of SS. Perpetua and Felicitas (part of which is purported to be in the voice of Perpetua herself), Mary of Egypt (the "Harlot of the Desert"), St. Marina (one of the "transvestite saints," she posed as a man to be allowed into the monastery), St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, and Christina the Astonishing. Also included is the "hagiographic romance" of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins, one of the greatest works of Christian mythology.
An excellent collection of the vitae of some of the most notable Merovingian and early Carolingian sainted women, dating from the fifth through eighth century (though most are from the sixth century). Most of the included women were abbesses, some were queens and widows, though all were noble. The vitae are in English translation and are well annotated with historical explanations and biblical citations. The bibliography is extensive, and includes many works in English.
This collection of biographical sketches includes Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Beatrice of Nazareth, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Marguerite Porete. Also included are short evaluations of their writings and English translations of textual excerpts. Suggested readings are included for each woman, along with general sources on medieval mystics. The introduction discusses the included women in relation to one another.
These are a few rules, or regulae, that were followed by communities of women.
Bishop Donatus of Besancon (France) wrote this rule in the early 600s for his widowed mother, Flavia, and the monastery she had founded. This and the rule written by Caesarius of Arles (see below) are two examples of "house rules" written specifically for groups of women. Donatus was influenced by the rule written by St. Columbanus (not included here), a very strict rule that was followed at the monastery in nearby Luxeuil.
A translation of and commentary on the most influential monastic rule in the West. First composed in the sixth century by Benedict of Nursia, the RB is still followed in Benedictine and Cistercian houses today. This particular translation and edition was written to celebrate the 1400th anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict (believed to be in 480) in order to "give the general reader a better understanding of the monastic tradition." Far more than just a translation, this work includes an "historical orientation" (history of monasticism from its eastern origins through the influence of the RB in history), seven appendices, a Latin concordance, three indices, and of course the translation itself -- facing-page Latin and English with notes. Also available is the English translation alone (RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English). If you write a paper concerning the RB, you will be expected to use this edition!
This is a translation of the Regula sanctarum virginum, written by Caesarius in the early 6th century for the community he founded for his sister in Arles. Caesarius emphasizes the importance of enclosure of women, but his rule was interpreted more strictly later in the Middle Ages, especially after Benedict of Aniane. Although used as a source for the rule written by St. Benedict of Nursia (see below), the rule itself was only used in a few houses besides the one in Arles (notably, it was used by St. Radegund in her house in Poitiers).
This short, simple rule was written by St. Augustine around 397 for a monastery of clerics in Hippo. It was quite popularly used in conjunction with other rules before 1000; in the eleventh century its use spread and by the high Middle Ages it was used by hundreds of separate orders (many of which were women). Augustine emphasizes the communal life: "The main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart." Despite the title, Augustine only wrote one rule - the masculine and feminine versions are identical except for the pronouns (this particular translation was made to be used by modern communities). Most of the book is extensive commentary, giving biblical citations and historical context.
Some notable essay collections.
This is a fascinating collection of articles that focus on the ways in which female saints in the middle ages were 'interpreted' by their male hagiographers, confessors, and other companions. The more popular saints covered include Hildegard of Bingham, Elisabeth of Schonau, Clare of Assisi, and Catherine of Siena. A helpful addition is a bibliography of primary sources in the original languages located after the substantial (over 60 pages) endnotes. If you particularly like one of the articles, bibliographies of the contributors are also included.
This collection of articles covers issues of women in medieval France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, England, and the Mediterranean. There are also articles on women's representation in Canon Law, medieval obstetrics and gynecology, two articles on gender issues, and one of direct interest to this pathfinder: "Saints' Lives as a Source for the History of Women, 500-1100," by Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg. As the title indicates, the focus of the articles is on the primary sources available for research, not on narrative history. This may be a good starting place for those interested in doing their own primary research, but unsure about what is available.
These are a few works by single authors, more specific in topic than the general introductions above.
This fascinating book "focuses on the relationship between material culture and the social construction of gender in later medieval English monasticism." The result is a breakthrough archaeological study detailing the lives of monastic women. The discussion includes comparing the monasteries for men and those for women - the buildings, their situations within the landscape, and their relationship with culture outside the cloister. Full of black and white photographs and drawings.
Unlike the other books in this pathfinder, Horner's work focuses on literature, not history. Specifically, it examines the influence that female monasticism had on Old English literature. Horner argues that "the female subject of early English literature is enclosed by many layers ... all of which image and reinforce the powerful institutions of the Christian church that regulated the female body." Of special interest is chapter 4, "Bodies and Borders: the Hermeneutics of Enclosure in Aelfric's Lives of Female Saints."
In this short (150 pages) monograph, van Houts challenges the widely held view that women played no part in the conservation of history during the middle ages. First, van Houts examines the two main sources of narrative history: chronicles/annals and saint's lives. In the second section, she examines how memories of women were preserved in writing, art, object, and memory. The final section is an examination of the Norman Conquest and the place of women in the transmission and remembrance of this event.
Warren's work examines the strength and influence of English female religious in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Like Venarde above (see General Introductions), Warren argues that the traditional viewpoint of the decline of female monasticism in the later middle ages is false. The work is divided in two parts. The first part examines the theory of monasticism and its day-to-day practice. The second part examines the influence that female monasticism had outside the monastery in society.
An interactive website, produced by the folks at McMaster University in Canada, following the adventures of a 15 year old girl living in France in the later Middle Ages. Aimed at younger users, the site is nevertheless great fun. Bring Clare to the nunnery, and learn about daily life and important women in the history of monasticism. Through the "scriptorium" link, access an extensive bibliography, links to a variety of sites, and image and music files.