Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Cistercian Nuns and Their World

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Cistercian Nuns and Their World

Article excerpt

Cistercian Nuns and Their World. Edited by Meredith Parsons Lillich. [Studies in Cistercian Art and Architecture, 6.] (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications. 2005. Pp. xii, 366. $49.95.)

This is the first book to be devoted to a broader study of the arts of medieval Cistercian nuns. While considerable attention has been given to the architecture of monks in the Order, little has been written on the women's houses. Professor Lillich must be given credit for compiling eight articles that successfully provide a groundwork on which future studies can be based.

The edition begins with an excellent analysis of the iconography of Bernard of Clairvaux and his sister Humbeline.The author, James France, traces the surviving medieval images of these two early Cistercian religious and proves that Humbeline enjoyed a privileged position within the Order because of the brother as weE as her status as a nun in the foundation years of the twelfth century. Her most well-known image appears on the cover of Hidden Springs: Cistercian Monastic Women (Kalamazoo, 1995), in which she sits front and center under a tree of holy nuns as found in a painting dated in 1635 from the convent at La Paix Dieu.

Next is a series of regional studies of the architecture of Cistercian nuns. Constance Berman's study of the remains of four houses in southern France follows the same lines as her controversial study of The Cistercian Revolution: The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth-Century Europe (Philadelphia, 2000). The Low Countries come next with Thomas Cooman attempting an overview of what little remains of the eighty-five nunneries founded there in the Middle Ages. Using old photographs, documents, and some archaeological evidence, he focuses on the nuns' churches, cloisters, ranges, abbess lodgings, and gate houses. Christine Kratzke follows with her study of the architecture of Cistercian nunneries in Northern Germany, where more physical evidence survives. As with the preceding articles, however, she was forced to consider what it is to be called "Cistercian" and to determine if the convents were similar to houses of monks. …

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