Religious Women in Early Carolingian Francia: A Study of Manuscript Transmission and Monastic Culture

Religious Women in Early Carolingian Francia: A Study of Manuscript Transmission and Monastic Culture

Religious Women in Early Carolingian Francia: A Study of Manuscript Transmission and Monastic Culture

Religious Women in Early Carolingian Francia: A Study of Manuscript Transmission and Monastic Culture

Synopsis

Religious Women in Early Carolingian Francia, a groundbreaking study of the intellectual and monastic culture of the Main Valley during the eighth century, looks closely at a group of manuscripts associated with some of the best-known personalities of the European Middle Ages, including Boniface of Mainz and his "beloved," abbess Leoba of Tauberbischofsheim. This is the first study of these "Anglo-Saxon missionaries to Germany" to delve into the details of their lives by studying the manuscripts that were produced in their scriptoria and used in their communities. The author explores how one group of religious women helped to shape the culture of medieval Europe through the texts they wrote and copied, as well as through their editorial interventions. Using compelling manuscript evidence, she argues that the content of the women's books was overwhelmingly gender-egalitarian and frequently feminist (i.e., resistant to patriarchal ideas). This intriguing book provides unprecedented glimpses into the "feminist consciousness" of the women's and mixed-sex communities that flourished in the early Middle Ages.

Excerpt

The best-known emplotment of the rise of feminist consciousness, history, thought, activism, and the like considers such phenomena to be characteristi; cally modern (as well as Euro-American). For instance, Miriam Schneir’;s 1972 reader, Feminism: The Essential Historical Writings, the classic introduction to the field for over four de cades, places the origins of “;old feminism”; (represented by the likes of Abigail Adams and Mary Wollstonecraff) “;in the eighteenth; century democratic revolutions of the propertied middle class.”; Accordingly, the collection begins with those authors, who have come to represent the be; ginnings of feminism for most students. Yet Schneir also mentioned the works of Christine de Pizan (1364-c. 1430), Moderata Fonte (1555-92), and Franç;ois Poulain de la Barre (1647-1725) in her introductory remarks, albeit without including selections from their writings among those considered as “;essen; tial.”; Clearly, specialists in the history of feminist thought have long consid; ered “;medieval”; figures such as Christine de Pizan to be part of the story.

Furthermore, already in the 1970s, feminist scholarly activists were pushing the genealogy of Euro-American feminism back beyond Christine. In 1975, Eleanor McLaughlin labeled the twelfh-century philosopher Peter Abelard’;s work on the dignity of women as an example of “;feminism,”; but guardedly so, retaining quotation marks around the F-word. There was probably no need for such hesitancy. Indeed, had not Herbert Grundmann already in 1935 spo; ken of a religious women’;s movement, or Frauenbewegung (the same term used to describe modern feminist movements) as characteristic of the European Later Middle Ages, when beguines and female mystics played a central role in the cultural life of Christendom? McLaughlin was far less hesitant in another 1975 article, in which she advanced the thesis “;that Christian tradition under certain conditions and at certain times was radically supportive of women”;; she illustrated her thesis with “;glimpses of a feminist heritage in the Christian tradition,”; taken from the Life of Christina of Markyate and the Revelations of Divine Love of Julian of Norwich. A slightly abbreviated version of this essay was included in another classic, and still used, feminist reader of the 1970s, Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow’;s 1979 Womanspirit Rising.

Thus, from its beginnings as a field of academic inquiry in the 1970s, femi; nism has been recognized by specialists as more than a modern revolutionary movement. Since that time, much work has been done to incorporate the cen; turies of Abelard, the beguines, Christina, Fonte, and Poulain into the schol; arly narrative of the history of feminist thought. The Middle Ages even boasts subtypes of feminism, such as “;matristic feminism”; and “;marian feminism,”; as well as a genuine superstar figure, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen and her “;the; ology of the feminine.”; If there is reluctance to push the origins of European . . .

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