Sensual Encounters: Monastic Women and Spirituality in Medieval Germany

By Ehrenschwendtner, Marie-Luise | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Sensual Encounters: Monastic Women and Spirituality in Medieval Germany


Ehrenschwendtner, Marie-Luise, The Catholic Historical Review


Sensual Encounters: Monastic Women and Spirituality in Medieval Germany. By Erika Lauren Lindgren. [Gutenberg-e Online History Series.] (New York: Columbia University Press. 2009. Pp. xvi, 190. $60.00. ISBN 9780-231-14238-0).

Erika Lindgren's Sensual Encounters has a very interesting scope: The author tries to unravel the interaction between environment and experience of Dominican sisters in the upper Rhine area; she chooses six convents from a wide range of possibilities (Unterlinden in Colmar, St. Katharinenthal, Diessenhofen, and three convents in Freiburg/Breisgau: Adelhausen, St. Agnes, and the Penitents of St. Mary Magdalene). These houses offer her a broad variety of sources; three of them left so-called Sisterbooks to posterity (which Lindgren, unfortunately, uses quite uncritically). The author includes liturgical and other manuscripts, economic and legal documents, materials related to architecture, and artwork. However, Lindgren does not provide a reason why she refers to these particular convents. She does not justify her inclusion of the Freiburg Penitents, which, strictly speaking, were not part of the Second Order of St. Dominic at its inception, despite its close links to the Dominicans. On the other hand, she excludes, for example, Töss and Oetenbach, the Strasbourg houses. Her decision to concentrate on the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries prevents her from using the rich source material extant from the reformed convents since the end of the fourteenth century. In the first chapter Lindgren turns to the "spatial environment" (p. 27), moving from the center (church and choir) to the- arguably- less spiritually charged areas (such as kitchen, dormitory, and garden); here, she detects a tension between the legally prescribed uses of these spaces and "the female Dominicans subverting the specific officially designated functions of monastic spaces" (p. 50). The second chapter explores the visual environment that has already received wide-ranging scholarly attention, especially through the groundbreaking research of Jeffrey Hamburger; Lindgren relies predominantly on remains of St. …

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