Creating Cistercian Nuns

Creating Cistercian Nuns: The Women's Religious Movement and Its Reform in Thirteenth-Century Champagne

Anne E. Lester
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Creating Cistercian Nuns
    Book Description:

    In Creating Cistercian Nuns, Anne E. Lester addresses a central issue in the history of the medieval church: the role of women in the rise of the religious reform movement of the thirteenth century. Focusing on the county of Champagne in France, Lester reconstructs the history of the women's religious movement and its institutionalization within the Cistercian order.

    The common picture of the early Cistercian order is that it was unreceptive to religious women. Male Cistercian leaders often avoided institutional oversight of communities of nuns, preferring instead to cultivate informal relationships of spiritual advice and guidance with religious women. As a result, scholars believed that women who wished to live a life of service and poverty were more likely to join one of the other reforming orders rather than the Cistercians. As Lester shows, however, this picture is deeply flawed. Between 1220 and 1240 the Cistercian order incorporated small independent communities of religious women in unprecedented numbers. Moreover, the order not only accommodated women but also responded to their interpretations of apostolic piety, even as it defined and determined what constituted Cistercian nuns in terms of dress, privileges, and liturgical practice. Lester reconstructs the lived experiences of these women, integrating their ideals and practices into the broader religious and social developments of the thirteenth century-including the crusade movement, penitential piety, the care of lepers, and the reform agenda of the Fourth Lateran Council. The book closes by addressing the reasons for the subsequent decline of Cistercian convents in the fourteenth century. Based on extensive analysis of unpublished archives, Creating Cistercian Nuns will force scholars to revise their understanding of the women's religious movement as it unfolded during the thirteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6295-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. On Currencies, Names, and Transcriptions
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. List of Abbreviations and Short Titles
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  8. Introduction: Written Fragments and Living Parts
    (pp. 1-14)

    In October of 1224 Beatrix, the widow of Thomas of St.-Rémy, came before an official of the bishop’s court in Reims and drew up a donation charter for the nuns of Clairmarais, the new Cistercian nunnery taking shape just beyond the city’s walls (fig. 2). She gave the women, among whom was her daughter Sara, an annual rent of 60 s. collected from two houses in different parts of the city. The charter records Beatrix’s gift but goes on to indulge her concerns about the viability of the new nunnery. Beatrix offered her donation contingent upon certain conditions: “If it...

  9. Chapter 1 Concerning Certain Women: The Women’s Religious Movement in Champagne
    (pp. 15-44)

    On a spring day in 1230, a group of religious women gathered to sing the psalms. Their voices resonated across the parish of St.-André, which lay just beyond the town walls of Troyes in a suburb known as Chichéry. The singing carried over the patchwork of farm plots and back gardens and was audible to the nearby monks of Montier-la-Celle. We know almost nothing about these women: nothing of who they were, when they first gathered outside of Troyes, or under whose impetus or direction they took up praying the Psalter together. By 1230 it is clear that this group...

  10. Chapter 2 Cities of Refuge: The Social World of Religious Women
    (pp. 45-77)

    Toward the end of his universal chronicle, the Cistercian monk Aubry of Trois-Fontaines commented dryly that in the year 1231 “the count of Champagne created communes of townsmen and peasants, whom he trusted more than his knights.”¹ Aubry’s text, the only local history of Champagne composed in the thirteenth century, follows the descent of aristocratic families, enumerates their genealogies, describes crusades and their recruits, and faithfully notes the passing of abbots and the founding of new religious houses. His terse remark on a matter of social class is provocative for it alludes obliquely to the series of urban franchises that...

  11. Chapter 3 Under the Religious Life: Reform and the Cistercian Order
    (pp. 78-116)

    Early in the winter of 1234 officials in the county of Champagne seized a widowed townswoman of Provins named Gila. Suspected of heresy, she was imprisoned in the count’s jail and her house and possessions confiscated.¹ Gila was one of many people who the Dominican friar Robert le Bougre accused of heresy in the diocese of Sens between 1234 and 1239. Pope Gregory IX himself had appointed Robert in 1233 to investigate rumors of heresy in northern France and Burgundy.² Philip, the chancellor of the University of Paris, an intellectual and inquisitor in his own right, had worked with Robert...

  12. Chapter 4 The Bonds of Charity: The Special Cares of Cistercian Nuns
    (pp. 117-146)

    Around 1225, Yvette of Huy, a recluse living in the southern Low Countries, took on a final penitential act of conversion to the religious life: she began to wear the rough Cistercian habit under her clothes, a commitment she kept until her death several years later. Yvette’s adult life encompassed a series of personal religious conversions that were indicative of the kinds of transformations many women of northern France experienced as they entered the religious life. Yvette had been a wife and mother of three. After the death of her husband, when she was eighteen, she lived for five years...

  13. Chapter 5 One and the Same Passion: Convents and Crusaders
    (pp. 147-170)

    Late in the summer of 1192, ships began to return to the southern ports of France and Italy bearing crusaders and pilgrims who had defended the Holy Land after the city of Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin. Among the knights, lords, squires, and retainers was an English-woman of middle age, Margaret of Beverley, sometimes known as Margaret of Jerusalem, who had undertaken a pilgrimage in the mid-1180s only to be caught up in the warfare of the Third Crusade. Margaret had been born in Jerusalem in the mid-twelfth century when her parents were on pilgrimage. She returned with them to...

  14. Chapter 6 A Space Apart: Gender and Administration in a New Social Landscape
    (pp. 171-200)

    Late in the spring of 1290 Alice, abbess of the Cistercian convent of St.-Jacques de Vitry, traveled to Paris and appeared before the Parlement of Paris, the high court of the realm, during its Pentecost session. Representing her convent and its interests—financial and spiritual—she pleaded her case for their rightful possession of the leper house of Montmirail. A few years earlier, possibly in 1287 or 1288, the masters of the high court of Champagne known as the Jours de Troyes had confirmed the nunnery’s claim to the leper house, a decision the bishop of Châlons contested. Indeed, the...

  15. Epilogue: A Deplorable and Dangerous State: Crisis, Consolidation, and Collapse
    (pp. 201-210)

    The crisis began almost imperceptibly. Inflation had persisted steadily through the second half of the thirteenth century. Taxes for crusade expeditions became a regular burden. Sometime in the mid- 1280s the price of grain began to rise. A few nunneries borrowed money or put more lands to lease to cope with these conditions and to purchase enough food for the year. It is likely that they did so with the hope, perhaps even the conviction, that prices would drop and the values of their rents would return to what they had been the year before.¹ Yet by the end of...

  16. Appendix: Cistercian Convents and Domus-Dei of Champagne
    (pp. 211-216)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-250)
  18. Index
    (pp. 251-262)