A Social History of the Cloister: Daily Life in the Teaching Monasteries of the Old Regime

Article excerpt

Research on religious life in the period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has been overshadowed by the tremendous interest in medieval nuns. After the Reformation, it is sometimes assumed, religious life faded away into obscurity or continued in a few Catholic areas much as it always had. The growth of the teaching orders, especially in France, has been of interest primarily to the many women religious in North America whose foundations were the product of that time and place.

This book offers a sweeping academically historical analysis of the period, with emphasis on the Notre-Dame and Ursuline congregations. There are sections on their origins, their practices and such roles as that of novice and of lay sister. There are also extensive demographic lists and charts at the end of the text.

Although the title, and much of the text, use the word "monastic" to identify these communities, the focus is on the evolution from the "traditional" lifestyle of nuns to the more outward activities of the apostolic congregations. Oddly enough, the publicity release uses the words "teaching convents." This is, of course, a minor point to most readers, but does continue the historical and contemporary confusion regarding what constitutes a "monastic" life. …