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.

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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.

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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.

Library of Congress Subject Headings:

To search WestCat for works concerning medieval women religious beyond those included in this pathfinder, use these subject headings.

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

Shelf Browsing:

Works on women religious are scattered throughout BR, BV, BX, and HQ. These suggestions for browsing are those shelf marks that have a significant number of sources together.

BV676 (women in the Catholic Church - ordination and preaching)
BX4200-BX4500 (women religious - general)
HQ1143-HQ1147 (women in the middle ages - general)

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Frequently Mentioned Texts

These texts are often mentioned and their contents cited in scholarly works.

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General Introductions

These texts are broad in scope and relatively short, good introductions to the topic of medieval women religious.

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Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

These are entries on women religious in general.

These are more general sources that include information on monastic women.

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Geographical Sources

These works are helpful for finding information about specific monastic houses.

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Bibliographies and Indexes

These sources are helpful for finding journal articles, book reviews, and other scholarly resources.

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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.

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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.

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Biographical and Hagiographical Sources

These sources include biographies and hagiographies (saints' lives, from the Greek hagio, "holy", and graphy, "writing") on various medieval women.

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Contemporary regulae

These are a few rules, or regulae, that were followed by communities of women.

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Collected Essays

Some notable essay collections.

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These are a few works by single authors, more specific in topic than the general introductions above.

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Other (just for fun)

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