The Sisterhood of the Traveling Relics: The Escapades of Four Medieval Relics

This was originally posted on an old blog of mine in June 2019. I have moved it to The Mediaeval Monk as it fits here better.

 

What exactly is a relic? According to Wikipedia (as they have the clearest explanation) a relic “usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint or venerated person preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial.”

 

Royal MS 18 D II f.148r pilgrims on road to canterbury from John Lydgate’s Prologue of the Siege of Thebes

Pilgrims on the Road to Canterbury from John Lydgate’s Prologue of the Siege of Thebes | Royal MS 18 D II f.148r | Source: The British Library

 

During the Middle Ages, having a relic of a saint was a pretty big deal. It would bring your abbey/monastery prestige, holiness, and of course, lots of money. Pilgrims would come so they could get favors from the saint and see some miracles. Offerings were left and the place they relic was at collected that money. So naturally, when you have a culture surrounding relics, shenanigans ensue. And some of these shenanigans are WILD.

*   *   *

One such shenanigan happened in Bonneval Abbey in France. Bonneval Abbey was home to Saint Florentius’ relics. Then in the 11th century, there was a big famine. Thanks to that famine, the monks had to start selling stuff for food. Gradually, they sold all of their stuff off. Well, almost all of it. The monks eventually had to sell Saint Florentius. But they didn’t sell all of Saint Florentius. They sold everything except his head. So the guy who bought it, Aelfsige, brought a headless corpse back to Peterborough Abbey.

Honestly, I would have loved to see how they decided how much of poor old Saint Florentius they were going to sell. How do you barter for the majority of a body? It wasn’t until I learned about this, did I realize how silly the concept of buying everything but the head is. People will want skulls of things, but what happens to the rest of the body?

*   *   *

Another funny thing concerning people buying parts of saints’ bodies happened to Saint Bartholomew. During a famine in Italy, the Bishop of Benevento kept Saint Bartholomew’s arm precisely to make money. The bishop traveled around Italy and France with the arm, getting gifts. The bishop eventually went to England because the country was pretty wealthy at the time and the queen, Queen Emma, had no problem giving money to the church. But then the bishop realized that he hadn’t gotten enough money on his travels.

So he asked Queen Emma if she wanted to buy Saint Bartholomew’s arm. Queen Emma was like, sure, but is it real? Then the bishop was like, yeah, of course, it’s real and swore an oath. Queen Emma bought the arm.

*   *   *

We can’t talk about relic shenanigans without mentioning the duplicates. Because of Viking raids, people were naturally a bit on edge concerning their monastery’s relics getting destroyed or stolen or something equally unfortunate. So people started lying about where the relics were and who had them and replacing what people thought were relics with random bodies. For example, a Danish king (or just a bunch of Vikings, the book wasn’t clear) stole Saint Albans and took him back to Odense. But a sacrist allegedly stole him back. That’s why three different places claim to have the body of Saint Albans.

Saint Albans’ relics aren’t special in this matter. Two different places claim to have Saint Benedict. There are more stories like these, but these are the two I read about in the book I have.

*   *   *

Our last story for today is that of Saint Faith. She died in the 3rd century but in the 5th century, a basilica was built for her at Agen. Then in the 9th century, her body was stolen and taken to Conques, which according to Google maps is about 111 miles away from Agen. And because Saint Faith was now at Conques, people started visiting the town. Also, apparently, if you asked the monks at Conques who lived there, they would mention Saint Faith, as if she were still alive. Also, when people who admired her or her relics traveled, people would set aside land to make a new home for her. The little places were as far away as London as there was a parish built there for her.

 

 

Source:

Brook, Rosalind, and Christopher Brook. Popular Religion in the Middle Ages: Western Europe 1000-1300. Barnes & Noble Books, 1996.

Prioress Eleanor Series by Priscilla Royal

Content Warning: Discussion of Sexual Violence at the End

 

Usually, I analyze historical texts on this blog. However, I want to do something a bit different. Today I want to discuss a book series that I’ve been enjoying.

Last year I really got sucked into mystery novels. There are a lot of subgenres in this particular genre. My personal favorites are historical ones where the detectives are clergy. I know that is a very specific niche, but you would be surprised just how many series there are out there with that premise! One such example is the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters. But I don’t want to discuss those today. Instead, I want to talk about the Prioress Eleanor books written by Priscilla Royal. (As you’ve probably guessed from the title!)

 

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My Copy of A Killing Season | Source: Viktor Athelstan

 

The series takes place in late thirteenth-century England a few years after the Second Baron’s War. (The first book is set in 1270.) The story begins when twenty-year-old Eleanor of Wynethorpe is sent to Tyndal Priory to be their new prioress. It should be noted that Tyndal Priory is part of the real-life Order of Fontevraud, an order exclusively run by women. It should also be noted that the only reason Eleanor is prioress is thanks to King Henry III. The king elected her (with the Abbess in France’s approval) as a political move to thank Eleanor’s father for his loyalty during the war.

Due to this, as well as her inexperience and the fact Eleanor actually plans to rule the priory (instead of just letting the prior do it like the last prioress did), she faces quite a bit of hostility from the community of nuns and monks. However, Eleanor is a clever, witty woman who learns quickly. As the series goes on, she manages to gain not only the experience she lacks but the respect of others around her.

Then there’s Brother Thomas. He’s definitely a much more interesting and intriguing character. Unlike Eleanor, Thomas never wanted to be a monk. Instead, he was forced into the priesthood. How does one get forced into the priesthood? Well, that was actually a common occurrence in medieval society. But unlike other characters who were forced by their parents or joined because their spouse joined (as well as other reasons), Thomas did it to save his life. Before the start of the first book, he was caught in bed with his beloved childhood friend (another man) and imprisoned. Before he could be burned at the stake, a mysterious priest rescued him and gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse: become a monk and work as his master’s spy or burn.

Needless to say, Brother Thomas took the offer.

 

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My Copy of The Sanctity of Hate | Source: Viktor Athelstan

 

Several of the series’ overarching plot threads is Thomas’s trauma, PTSD, and his own personal conflicts with his faith. As I write this, I’m only on book nine out of the fifteen. By this book, Thomas has processed much of his trauma but in earlier ones, it is the main thing he is dealing with.

One thing I do like about these mysteries is that not every book takes place at Tyndal. While that can be annoying if you enjoy the characters who live near the priory (such as Crowner Ralf, Signy, and Gytha) I find it more realistic concerning the murders. If everyone kept getting murdered around Tyndal it eventually gets a little ridiculous. (It asks the question, why is everyone being murdered at this tiny priory in the middle of nowhere?) Granted, you could also ask why people keep getting killed around Eleanor and Thomas, but in some books, they arrive at the location after the crimes occurred.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I can suspend my disbelief if they stumble across a murder but not if they keep happening where they live. After all, they are supposed to be clergy, not professional/amateur detectives who go out looking for this type of thing.

Another thing I enjoy is how much Royal captures the culture of the time period. Often times in historical literature you will have characters who very much have modern-day views. For me personally, I’m not a fan of this. If I’m reading a book that takes place in the Roman empire or wherever, I want them to have the cultural views of that time period. For example, if a story takes place in Ancient Athens, a female character isn’t going to be frolicking around freely without consequences. Royal does a very good job of portraying medieval views. You can tell she has done a lot of research for each story. (And as a bonus Royal includes a historical note and a bibliography in the back of each book so you can do further research as well!)

 

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My Copy of Covenant with Hell | Source: Viktor Athelstan

 

While I do love Prioress Eleanor, there is one aspect I find a bit off-putting: the amount of sexual violence throughout the series. It’s important for authors to be careful when writing these topics. Royal usually handles her portrayal of rape and assault well, especially in regard to the effect it has on characters, of all genders. So many stories treat men being raped as some sort of joke when in reality it’s not funny at all. In fact, it’s extremely far from funny. Instead of it being a punchline, we see just how serious it is and just how much it has traumatized the characters (especially Thomas). However, sometimes the sexual violence feels gratuitous and irrelevant to the plot. Other times it is very relevant. Sexual violence is a horrible reality of the world we live in but the sheer amount of it in these texts becomes too much. I enjoy the Prioress Eleanor series (and will keep reading it) but I do wish Royal would find other ways to move the plot. 

Despite this, Prioress Eleanor is an excellent series overall. I recommend anyone who enjoys medieval mysteries give it a read.

 

Books in Order:

  1. Wine of Violence
  2. Tyrant of the Mind
  3. Sorrow Without End
  4. Justice for the Damned
  5. Forsaken Soul
  6. Chambers of Death
  7. Valley of Dry Bones
  8. A Killing Season
  9. The Sanctity of Hate
  10. Covenant with Hell
  11. Satan’s Lullaby
  12. Land of Shadows
  13. The Proud Sinner
  14. Wild Justice
  15. The Twice Hanged Man

 

If you want to learn more, you can find Priscilla Royal’s website here.

 

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter Twenty, Reverence at Prayer and Some Historical Examples of Clergy Not being Particularly Reverent

For this blog post, I’ve jumped a bit ahead in The Rule of Saint Benedict. In my last post, I covered chapter seven. I’ve decided to skip chapters eight through nineteen as they mostly detail how Divine Offices were said. While there are a lot of good insights into the praying aspect of monastic life, I’m not super interested in dissecting the offices. I may come back to those chapters in the future, but for now, I want to talk about what was and was not considered the proper way to pray.

Add. 39636  f.10 (full page and detail)

Benedictine monks chanting | BL Add 39636, ff. 10, 13, 28, 29, f. 10 | Source: PICRYL.com

Chapter Twenty is titled ‘Of Reverence at Prayer.’ As you might be able to tell from the title, this chapter is about praying respectfully. Saint Benedict tells his monkish reader that praying to God should be similar to making “any request to men in power” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). Meaning that you should only “do so…with humility and reverence” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). God isn’t your friend so you must pray to Him “with all lowliness and purity of devotion” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). God also doesn’t have all day to listen to you so your “prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,” except of course you are lucky enough to have it “prolonged by the inspiration of Divine Grace” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41). That being said, when praying as a community prayer should be kept short and the “all [should] rise together” at “the signal given by the Superior” (Saint Benedict, pg. 41).

If Saint Benedict was telling his monks to pray respectfully and to keep it short, was long, disrespectful prayer a problem? Admittedly I haven’t done much research into prayer during Saint Benedict’s life (he lived between the years 480 AD and 547 AD) but I have done some research into monasticism during the later medieval period. And the answer is yes. Yes, disrespectful (for lack of a better term) prayer was an issue at some monasteries. Three of my four examples weren’t exactly bothersome to God but to the people around the worshipper.

(I’ll note that the people I’ve listed as examples were Cistercians and not Benedictines. However, the monastic Order of Cistercians also follow The Rule of Saint Benedict. Ironically, it can be argued that the Cistercians are more strict about The Rule than the Benedictines!)

660px-São_Bento_e_São_Bernardo_(1542)_-_Diogo_de_Contreiras

Saint Benedict and Saint Bernard (1542), by Diogo de Contreiras | Note: St. Benedict is in black and St. Bernard is in white | Source: Wikipedia

 

 

Caesarius of Heisterbach documents an incident where “one nun genuflected overenthusiastically…and injured her knee” (Kerr, pg. 98). As a result of this injury, the nun had to go to the infirmary. While recovering, the Virgin Mary visited her. The Virgin Mary wasn’t exactly pleased with the nun showing off and she was “reprimanded” (Kerr, pg. 98). The nun was also “warned that in the future she should be modest and discreet in her prayers” (Kerr, pg. 98).

A minor knee injury isn’t the only documented example of overenthusiastic worship. A twelfth-century nun called Ida the Gentle had a tendency to “fall into ecstatic trances after receiving the Eucharist” where she would lose “all physical control” (Kerr, pg. 153). These trances would involve Ida crying out during services, falling down, “unable to speak or move,” her face would change color, “and her eyes flashed” (Kerr, pg. 153). Despite Ida’s spiritual journey, her worshipping style was considered to be a bit too much by the nuns and priests she lived with:

“The community acknowledged that Ida’s turns were a mark of her spirituality and considered her privy to Divine Knowledge, but her behavior was nonetheless regarded as disruptive and irreverent and Ida was consequently barred from attending the Eucharist.” (Kerr, pg. 153)

Of course, not only nuns had issues with reverence at prayer. In Villers in Belgium, there was a lay brother named Arnulf who “was periodically overcome with jubilant laughter” as a result of “an inward flow of Heavenly Grace” (Kerr, pg. 153). Whenever this happened Arnulf would leave wherever he was and “run into the church to be alone” (Kerr, pg. 153). There he would ‘”dance until the wine of his drunkenness was gradually digested”‘ (Kerr, pg. 153-154). Like Ida the Gentle’s trances, Arnulf’s laughing and dancing did get him into a bit of trouble. Sometimes he found this laughing to be embarrassing, especially when people didn’t understand that it was very much “involuntary” (Kerr, pg. 154). To make matters worse for Arnulf, “some considered it evil” (Kerr, pg. 154).

 

Bernard_of_Clairvaux_-_Gutenburg_-_13206

Bernard of Clairvaux | Source: Wikipedia

 

Bernard of Clairvaux also had some problems when it came to reverence at prayer. However, his problems weren’t necessarily because of the way he worshipped. Instead, his problems were a consequence of “years of austerity” and by “his later years” (Kerr, pg. 154) he had completely destroyed his digestive system. But I wouldn’t necessarily consider that disrespectful worship, at least not in regards to God. What was an issue was how Bernard of Clairvaux tried to get around his tendency to vomit up his latest meal.

Instead of accepting that he was too sick to “participate fully in the liturgical day” (Kerr, pg. 154) Bernard decided the best solution was to install a basin in the choir for him to throw up into. Julie Kerr wonderfully describes the monks’ reaction to the vomiting during services as such:

“This was not, however, a satisfactory arrangement.” (Kerr, pg. 154)

Needless to say, the monks found his constant throwing up extremely gross. In the end, Bernard of Clairvaux was “compelled to withdraw from communal activities” (Kerr, pg. 154).

 

 

Main Sources:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. You can purchase my edition of it here.)

Kerr, Julie. Life in the Medieval Cloister. Continuum, 2009.

(This book can be purchased here. Some of it can be found here on Google books. It can also be accessed on ProQuest Ebook Central.)

Other Sources:

Wikipedia’s overview of The Rule of Saint Benedict to double-check my interpretations of the text. Link to that article here. (Accessed on February 15, 2020.)

Solesme Abbey’s translation of The Rule of Saint Benedict can be found here as a PDF. I used this to cross-check the translation.

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter One, Why Cenobites Are the Best Type of Monks and Why the Others Are Terrible (According to Saint Benedict)

Today I will continue my analysis of The Rule of Saint Benedict. In this post, I want to focus on Chapter One of The Rule. Each of the chapters in The Rule is titled according to what it is about. This chapter is appropriately titled “Of the Several Kinds of Monks and their way of Life” (pg. 15). Needless to say, Saint Benedict spends this chapter describing the types of monks that exist during the time he’s writing. However, not all of these categories are equal in the saint’s eyes!

Who are the different kinds of monks? Saint Benedict categorizes them in the ways they operate, not their orders. The types of monks Saint Benedict describes are the Cenobites, the Anchorites/Hermits, the Sarabites, and the Girovagi. Each group worships God in their own way.

 

monk-leading-hermit-from-bl-royal-10-e-iv-f-118v-68755f

Monk leading hermit | BL Royal 10 E IV, f. 118v | Source: Picryl.com

 

Saint Benedict defines the Cenobites as “those in monasteries, who live under a rule or an Abbot” (pg. 15). This is the most description the Cenobites get in chapter one. Well, until the end when Saint Benedict makes his favoritism really known. He ends the chapter by calling the Cenobites “the strongest kind of monks” (pg. 16). A footnote in my copy of The Rule clarifies that the Latin words Saint Benedict uses are fortissimum genus. While fortissimum does mean “strongest” in Latin, he’s not exactly calling Cenobites the strongest monks. Instead, there is an implication that “cenobitical life consists in the perpetual and absolute submission to the will of another which that life entails” (pg. 16). This is certainly appropriate as Saint Benedict wants the Cenobites to follow and not stray from The Rule. In fact, The Rule was written specifically for Cenobites!

The Anchorites/Hermits are the second kind of monk. As the word hermit suggests, these monks go out into the wild to pray and worship on their own. However, not just anyone is allowed to be an Anchorite or a Hermit. Saint Benedict says that you cannot be “in the first fervor of religious life” (pg. 15) if you want to be one. It is only after a “long probation in the monastery” (pg. 15) will you be allowed to go out on your own. After all, going out by yourself “to fight against the devil” is not a great idea as you will be “without the support of others” (pg. 15). Even Christ was tempted by the devil when he was alone. If you are to be a hermit it’s vital for you to be able “to fight by the strength of their own arm” (pg. 15). Thus, if you are new to the monastic life you won’t have the tools you need to fight temptation. And the only way to gain these tools is “by the help and experience of many” (pg. 15).

The Sarabites are the third type of monk. Saint Benedict is not exactly fond of them. He describes them as the “most baneful kind of monk” (pg. 15). Sarabites have no abbot to rule them, nor do they have a community to support them. Instead, they go out “in twos or threes, or even singly, without a shepherd” (pg. 15). Because they aren’t part of a larger community, Saint Benedict claims that they are “shut up, not in the LORD’s sheepfolds, but in their own” (pg. 15). He also describes them as follows:

“Whatever they think fit or choose to do, they call that holy; and what they like not, that they consider unlawful” (pg. 15).

Saint Benedict lacks some self-awareness here as he’s basically doing the same thing with The Rule. Anyone who doesn’t follow it is unlawful and disobedient.

But if you think Saint Benedict hates Sarabites, he really hates Girovagi. Girovagi spend their lives “wandering” (pg. 15) and don’t stay in the same place for very long. They have “no stability” and they have “given up to their own pleasures and to the snares of gluttony” (pg. 15). Saint Benedict describes them as being “worse in all things than the Sarabites” (pg. 15). He hates them so much that he won’t go into further detail about them, saying that “it is better to say nothing than to speak” (pg. 15).

 

Main Source:

The Rule of Saint Benedict, With Explanatory Notes. Ichthus Publications.

(I bought my copy of The Rule of Saint Benedict on Amazon. A link to that is here.)

A Golden Age for Nuns? More Like The Nickel Age

An essay answering the question, “Was there a golden age for women in the Middle Ages?”

For some context, the source cited as “???” came from a book I had scanned, but forgot to write down the title and author for. I spend about an hour trying to find it in the Bodleian Library again, but due to the library’s sheer size I was unable to locate it again.

Posted with permission from  faithsaysstuff.wordpress.com 

There was not really a Golden Age for women in the Middle Ages. However, there were periods in the span of 500-1500 where conditions for women were slightly less awful than they were before or eventually would become. The quality of life for religious women, in particular, fluctuated over the course of the middle ages. Nuns, in particular, had an unstable golden age before it quickly was destroyed during and after the Viking invasions. After their golden age, the lives of nuns generally deteriorated. However, depending on what region and century of the medieval period they lived in, their lives afterward varied in quality.

When you compare the lives of nuns’ pre-Viking invasion to post Viking invasion, an argument can be made that the golden age for nuns in Europe was before the Viking invasions in the ninth century.  From the sixth century up to around the ninth century “all the Anglo-Saxon nunneries in Southern England…were founded by members of a royal house, usually by either a reigning monarch or one of his close female relatives” (Yorke 98-99). Due to this information, one would think this guaranteed that the nunnery would be well taken care of. Or at the very least the nunnery would be taken care of until the member of the royal house who founded it died. However, this was often not the case. Many of the religious communities founded by women for women “survived only a decade or so [and] others only a generation or two” (Schulenburg 221). But this did not necessarily mean the establishments were considered failures. Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg makes the observation that in regards to the female religious communities lasting “it seems, the intention [was] that [the female nobility’s] foundations would endure for only the length of their own lifetimes” (221). This is significant because it implies that people were building monasteries for the sake of building them. Founding and throwing money into an institution that will not last could be seen as a status symbol as well.

For royalty across Europe, nunneries/female monasteries/religious houses were an investment. Granted, it might be a short-term investment, but it was an investment nonetheless. The monasteries had multiple different purposes when they were open and operating. They were seen “as a temporary investment in the Church” (Schulenburg 218). Monasteries were also a good way to be sure the founding noble family always had those who had dedicated their lives to God praying for their souls (Schulenburg 219). However, why nunneries and other homes for the femalereligious were so popular amongst nobility was “never explicitly stated” (Yorke 101).

Because these monasteries were “established and endowed by the aristocracy on their own family estates” they were often used by their founders as retirement homes for widows or rejected wives (Schulenburg 218). The queens who founded the nunneries might also use them as a place to retire to or to live at. It should be noted the former queen would often work at her nunnery as an abbess. Working as an abbess was seen as a good thing because the job “would provide [the queen] with a position of power, wealth and independence” (Yorke 101). It seems that a former queen working as an abbess was the modern-day equivalent of a retiree working as a greeter at a superstore or as a substitute teacher: it gave the queens something to do without the job being too stressful. Occasionally, however, married kings would send queens to their nunneries against their will. This would happen when a king either wanted to remarry someone new or to spite the queen’s overbearing male relatives (Yorke 102).

Queens were not the only laywomen who were sent to monasteries. In France, nobility would send their daughters to a monastery so they could receive a proper education (Schulenburg 214). Monasteries would also be used as a place of “refuge for daughters who did not wish to marry” (Schulenburg 218). However, Schulenburg notes that daughters might also be sent to a monastery if their families could not create a “politically or economically” advantageous marriage for them (218). This is important because it implies some families took into consideration their daughter’s wishes for her life while others did not. This evidence of a woman’s lack of agency doestarnish the statement golden age for women was pre-Viking invasion.

However, there were still benefits for being a nun during this time period. One such benefit for the female religious pre-Viking invasion was the double monastery. Many monasteries before the ninth century were double monasteries, meaning both men and women resided there. This type of monastery was beneficial to both monks and nuns. Close living arraignments allowed nuns and monks to interact with one another, thus allowing for the sharing of ideas and knowledge, especially the sharing of the Latin language. In fact, “before the twelfth century [nuns] were usually given the opportunity to be learned” (Hobbs 192). This is significant because it allowed nuns, who might not have had access to learning Latin otherwise, the opportunity to learn the language of the Church.

Another advantage of monks and nuns living either together or close together was the demystification of the other sex. One male monastic leader, Bernard of Clairvaux even said to his monks ‘“To be always with a woman and not have sexual relations with her is more difficult than to raise the dead. You cannot do the less difficult; do you think I will believe that you can do what is more difficult?”’ (Bynum 16). While this seems to be true for Bernard of Clairvaux, for others the best way to come to terms with the fact not every woman is constantly scheming ways “to arouse desire in people, so that they will want to lie with them” (De Meun, The Romance of The Rose16 (9013)), is to just be around women every day. By separating the sexes and not allowing men and women to interact in nonsexual contexts, the Church furthered their misogynistic ideas about women. After all, the nuns who willingly joined their monasteries wanted to live celibate lives just as the monks did.

The golden age of nuns came to a startling halt during the Viking invasions. During this time, the willingness of either parents sending their daughters to nunneries or of women going there willingly themselves decreased dramatically (??? 62). This is due to the fact when Vikings raided female monasteries they would destroy the monastery, rape, then murder the nuns who resided there. The Vikings did this so often, nearly all of the female monasteries in England alone were completely distroyed (Schulenburg 222-223). Needless to say, if you had a daughter you were thinking of sending to a nunnery, and you heard reports these attacks, you would be a lot less likely to send her off to a place where these horrible things are happening. It was only sometime after the invasions stopped were women slightlymore willing to join monasteries.

However, after the Viking invasions female monasteries were in devastating states of poverty. This was another reason women were not exactly keen to become nuns (Schulenburg 225). Because Christianity was then flourishing in Europe, the Church no longer depended on contributions from anyone who was willing to donate (Schulenburg 233). This meant the Church was no longer obligated to treat women with respect, thus they figured they could treat women anyway they saw fit. And they most certainly did. It did not help that during “the tenth and early eleventh centuries…religious leaders showed little concern for encouraging women’s religiosity” (Bynum 14).

In Normandy during the eleventh century, Bishop Eudes Rigaud essentially ran his female monasteries into the ground by leaving the nuns to live in extreme poverty (???). Bishop Eudes Rigaud refused to supply the nuns with resources. When the nuns resorted to selling “silk purses, lace and lace collars, [and] other silk accessories” as well as ‘“needle cases”’ and even ‘“bonnets [and] firewood’” (??? 64) the bishop forbid them from doing so. However, it seems that the nuns ignored him and kept trying to support themselves without the Church’s support because throughout the years, Bishop Eudes Rigaud was recorded several more times telling the nuns to stop (??? 64). However, Bishop Eudes Rigaud must have realized he was both fighting a losing battle and making himself look bad to the people the nuns were selling to because he finally relented and ordered the nuns ‘“a sufficient supply of things needful to them”’ (??? 64).

Besides forcing nuns to live in terrible poverty, clergymen used their new freedom to shut down female monasteries and replace them with male only monasteries. The ways they shut down female monasteries varied from mildly terrible to a plan worthy of a comic book super villain. Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg explains that sometimes bishops would simply evict the nuns. There is also a story where an Earl Godwine sent his nephew to a convent in Berkeley to impregnate as many nuns as he could so they had a valid reason to shut it down (Schulenburg 231). While, the authenticity of this story is debated by historians, “other sources verify…a flourishing community of nuns at Berkeley and that the house was suppressed in the reign of Edward the Confessor” (Schulenburg 231). If we assume the story istrue and not just propaganda or a medieval urban legend, it can be safely said that by the time these events occurred the golden age for nuns had long passed. The mere fact men were willing to go so far as to impregnate nuns, thus defiling them in the eyes of medieval society just to get their monastery speaks volumes about how little men regarded women during this time period. It also says a lot regarding how much time and effort a man was willing to put in just to get a building and some land.

Over all, medieval nuns did not exactly have a golden age, especially when it came to terms of stability. Even when queens founded their monasteries, they were not maintainable, nor did their founders seem to care if they were. After all, a queen’s nunnery was expected to be solely a place for her benefit with little regard for the nuns who lived there.  While nuns were able to learn Latin and become educated, they were only given this opportunity due to the men they lived with or nearby. Once the men were gone, nuns had that opportunity snatched from them. The fact that the clergy did not care about religious women and the way they treated them further emphasizes how the golden age for nuns was long over as well as not exactly a golden age at all.

Works Cited

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. University of California Press. 1987.

Hobbs, Kathleen M.. “Blood and Rosaries: Virginity, Violence, and Desire in Chaucer’s ‘Prioress’s Tale’”. Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the Middle Ages, edited by Cindy L. Carlson and Angela Jane Weisl, MacMillan Press. 1999, pp. 181-198.

De Meun, Jean. “The Romance of the Rose”. Woman Defamed and Woman Defended, edited by Alcuin Blamires, Karen Pratt and C.W. Marx, Clarendon Press. 1992, pp. 148-166.

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Yorke, Barbara. ‘“Sisters Under the Skin’? Anglo-Saxon Nuns and Nunneries in Southern England.” Reading Medieval Studies, vol. 15, 1989, pp. 95-117

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