Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Religious Life for Women C.1100-1350: Fontevraud in England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Religious Life for Women C.1100-1350: Fontevraud in England

Article excerpt

Berenice M. Kerr, Religious Life for Women c.1100-c.1350: Fontevrand in England, Oxford Historical Monographs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999). xix + 299 pp. ISBN 0-19-820752-2. L45.00.

The development of the Order of Fontevrault was an unlikely success story: founded by an outspoken, chain-mail wearing, and unkempt religious enthusiast who was required by the church authorities to impose constraints upon his large and unruly company of admirers, who initially included ladies of the night and other raffish persons, but also, and increasingly, members of the nobility. The itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel (d. 1116) had a way with women, which extended to an extreme form of penance: the consortia mulierum, keeping company chastely, that is, with young women in bed, not a practice likely to commend itself to church authorities. Robert had not intended to found an order, but, like other eleventh- and twelfth-century hermits, found that, with success, a community depending upon religious eccentricity became impossible to sustain. He had the worldly wisdom to entrust the governance of the mother house of Fontevrault to two noblewomen, and noblewomen were appointed as prioresses to the other foundations. Some pauperes Christi were more equal than others; they were also more used to command obedience.

By the time of his death, Robert had founded about eighteen priories, richly endowed. …

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