Academic journal article Parergon

Clausura Districta: Conceiving Space and Community for Dominican Nuns in the Thirteenth Century

Academic journal article Parergon

Clausura Districta: Conceiving Space and Community for Dominican Nuns in the Thirteenth Century

Article excerpt

The institutiones formulated and inscribed for the Dominican nuns during the thirteenth century form a valuable case study for understanding conceptions of space and enclosure for religious women in the period. Enclosure consisted not simply of the imposition, and protection, of walls, doors, and locks. It also required the vigilant shaping and monitoring of behaviours, and, most importantly, the development of a state of mind that enabled the individual nun to ensure her own personal enclosure. Thus, enclosure is not simply statutory; it is an ongoing exchange between institutiones, community, and the individual nun.

Monastic rules, by their very nature, define spaces and the behaviours appropriate to those spaces. A monastic rule assigns each space within a monastic community with its particular values and establishes it as a place for the performance of particular activities. The understanding of these spatial relations and performances, therefore, should underpin our study of both the monastic rules and the lived experience of monastic communities. In particular, the developing expectation for enclosure for women's monasteries during the twelfth to thirteenth centuries is clearly discernible in the rules and institutiones developed for the new orders. (1) The rules and institutiones for religious women linked to the new male orders were intended to establish the women's communities as traditional, enclosed monasteries. (2) For the most part, enclosure for nuns was achieved by placing them under the Benedictine Rule, but an exception occurred with the foundation of the Dominican women's order--Dominic established his women's order under the Augustinian Rule, which does not require enclosure. The requirements for enclosure for the Dominican nuns, therefore, were mapped out in the order-specific institutes he wrote for them and which were elaborated over the course of the ensuing forty years. These institutiones provide a valuable case study for the nature and quality of enclosure for women religious in the period, and the textual mapping of their lives.

The apostolic movements of the twelfth century regarded the lifestyle of the earliest Christian community of believers, as portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles, as the model for their own vocations. Likewise, the Gospels offered examples for a life committed to the imitatio Christi and to continuing the ministry of Jesus and His Apostles according to His injunctions. The preaching mission this implied was not available to women, and indeed women who wished to achieve orthodox forms of religious life set themselves apart from heretical movements by eschewing any claim to such apostolic activities as preaching. (3) Likewise, religious women were discouraged from participating in the itinerant lifestyle that the charismatic preachers and their followers led, and were usually expected to retire from the world and live quietly enclosed. Nevertheless, the women who insisted on retaining associations with the new orders fought for religious lifestyles that reflected their commitment to the same Gospel ideals that formed the basis for the men's vocations. The authors of the institutiones for the new women's orders of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were chiefly men (with the exception of Heloise and Claire of Assisi). However, it is clear that some of the women who founded orders and communities collaborated in the writing of institutiones or adapted them to their own vision for the religiones (4) of their communities.

The study of monastic rules and institutiones as evidence for monastic life must confront the reality that a rule does not necessarily reflect the lived experience of a community or order. Institutiones contribute to the construction of communal spaces, and inform spatial relations and order within communities. A nunnery enclosure is a complex construct based in the tensions between institutiones, spaces, people, and behaviours. The institutiones draw upon existing understandings of spaces and behaviours, and contribute to their ongoing definition and construction. …

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