Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Women in the Medieval Monastic World

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Women in the Medieval Monastic World

Article excerpt

Women in the Medieval Monastic World. Edited by Janet Burton and Karen Stöber. [Medieval Monastic Studies.] (Turnout: Brepols. 2016. Pp. ix, 377. €90,00. ISBN 978-2-503-55308-5.

This excellent volume collects the work of fifteen scholars from ten countries who focus on subjects including history, spirituality, archeology, art, and architecture. It is not, as the editors put it, "a comprehensive history of female monasticism in medieval Europe" (p. 9) for good reasons that this brief review tries to demonstrate. Rather, the book presents new research, much of it quite exciting, from different eras across a wide swathe of Western Christendom.

The geographical scope ranges from Ireland to the west, Sweden to the north, Transylvania to the east, and Iberia and Italy to the south, and together the studies take in the entire Middle Ages, from the sixth century to the sixteenth. Most contributions have regional and chronological foci, even when regions are large and the time-span is in centuries. (The most notable exception is Anne Müller's discussion of the symbolic meanings of space, which ranges from the era of Caesarius of Arles to the thirteenth century, with examples from across western and central Europe.) Several themes emerge: the relationship of women and their communities to male authority figures, from the Mass priest to bishops and kings; the place of women's communities within pan-European monastic federations, especially the Cistercians; patrons and patronage; the internal workings of nunneries and lived experience in the spaces within them; and women's contributions to monastic and other forms of cultural life.

Even in more focused studies, the accent is on diversity. Regarding Cistercian nuns in northern Italy, Guido Cariboni notes an "extreme variety [. . .] of origins, social extractions, relations with the ecclesiastic structure, and aims" (p. 69), while Carmen Florea concludes that "Transylvanian women living in a monastic life in the Middle Ages . . . had several choices they could opt for when deciding to join a religious order" (p. …

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