Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England: Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich 1350-1540

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England: Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich 1350-1540

Article excerpt

Marilyn Oliva, The Convent and the Community in Late Medieval England, Female Monasteries in the Diocese of Norwich 1350-1540, Studies in the History of Medieval Religion 12 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1998). 271 pp. ISBN 0-85115-576-6. L50.00.

This book could be read for its introduction alone, which provides a lucid and readable account of the 'blindness' which has hitherto afflicted most historians of monasticism when confronted with material concerning houses of women. Rescrutinizing the traditional documents with deadly precision, Marilyn Oliva undermines the views of previous scholars, her dry tone enlivening even the footnotes. She then concentrates on female monasteries in the diocese of Norwich, 13 540.

This choice has the advantage of avoiding the distorting effects of the handful of large, royal, or otherwise famous houses such as Barking, Ramsey, and Syon, and studying instead what might be considered a more representative collection of monasteries. She emphasizes the integration of these mostly small houses into their local communities, from whom came their modest endowments and an interesting cross-section of their members.

Oliva chiefly takes issue with two common criticisms of medieval nunneries. She argues first that their relative poverty is not to be read as a sign of insignificance, incompetence, or failure, pointing out that a simple, isolated life with no superfluities was an essential part of the monastic ideal. …

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