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The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval England

The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval England

Beth Allison Barr
Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 182
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  • Book Info
    The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval England
    Book Description:

    The question of how priests were taught to think about and care for female parishioners is the topic of this book. As neither misogynist villains nor saintly heroes, clerical authors of pastoral vernacular literature persisted both in their characterization of women as difficult parishioners and in their attempts to recognize women as ordinary parishioners who deserved ordinary pastoral care. Focusing on the important vernacular writings of John Mirk, his ‘Festial’ and ‘Instructions for Parish Priests’, the author reveals how even a small number of influential sermon compilations, exempla, and pastoral guides could have significantly shaped the perceptions, attitudes, and - perhaps - actions of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century priests. Shedding light on the mental universe of the late medieval parish, this study offers important new insights into the reality of how priests perceived and fulfilled their spiritual obligations to the women they served. BETH ALLISON BARR is Assistant Professor of European Women's History at Baylor University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-666-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “Be it husband, be it wife”
    (pp. 1-20)

    IN HIS Festial, the most popular vernacular sermon compilation in late medieval England, clerical author John Mirk included an exemplum about a Devonshire vicar.

    In Devonshire beside Axe Bridge there dwelled a holy vicar who had one in his parish, a woman, that lay sick at the point of death half-a-mile from him in town. This woman at midnight sent after him [the priest] to do her her rites. Then this man with all the haste that he could muster, rose up, and went to the church, and took God’s body in a box of ivory, and put it in...

    (pp. 21-35)

    WITH THESE opening words, John Mirk made the intent of his Instructions for Parish Priests clear: to better educate priests – in their pastoral duties as well as their daily conduct – so that they could better educate parishioners. The author of Speculum Sacerdotal similarly stated that he had composed his work at the request of priests to help them preach and teach to their parishioners:

    Therefore, you certain priests who are dear and familiar unto me before all others … that for the instance and prayers which that you have made unto me for this present work I have...

    (pp. 36-61)

    JOHN MIRK concluded his Festial sermon on the Lord’s Prayer with an exemplum about a woman who had lived in sexual immorality for many years. One day when she was in church, she listened to a sermon about the “horrible pains of hell ordained” for those who lived in lechery and “would not leave it.” The words of this sermon so convicted her that “she was contrite and stirred by the Holy Ghost, that she went, and shrove her, and took her penance, and was in full purpose forto have left her sin for always after.” Yet on her way...

    (pp. 62-93)

    FROM THE generous acknowledgment of women within some manuscripts to the regular inclusion of women within pastoral discussions of most manuscripts, clerical writers of vernacular sermon compilations recognized female parishioners as an ordinary part of pastoral care – both informing priests how to care for women and informing women how to fulfill their spiritual obligations. But who were the female parishioners to whom clerical writers acknowledged pastoral debt? Omnis utrusque sexus, the decree of Fourth Lateran Council, did not imply discrimination against any within the Church’s care, male or female. It demanded blanket observance. In practice, however, when clerics penned...

  9. Chapter 4 PASTORAL CARE
    (pp. 94-120)

    CLEARLY authors of pastoral vernacular literature recognized their responsibility to women. They understood that “Christ’s people” included both men and women; they perceived the women they served in a somewhat realistic light; and, as this final chapter demonstrates, they attempted to offer women proper pastoral care. At the same time, female parishioners presented priests with unique challenges that complicated the pastoral care process.

    John Mirk’s Instructions for Parish Priests illustrates these points well. First, it recognizes women as ordinary parishioners who required ordinary pastoral care. Twice Mirk stressed that priests should impress upon both men and women the need for...

    (pp. 121-124)

    This book opened with an exemplum about a Devonshire priest who diligently set out to deliver extreme unction to a dying woman. He faced many challenges in this task, but succeeded in vanquishing a demon, witnessing a miracle of the consecrated host, and fulfilling his pastoral duties to a female parishioner. The tale ends with the priest going home, praising God for the marvelous events that had occurred.¹

    I would like to end this book by relaying the conclusion of a similar, but more somber story that I introduced in the fourth chapter, Pastoral Care. Shrewsbury School MS 3 contains...

    (pp. 125-134)
    (pp. 135-150)
    (pp. 151-162)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 163-172)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 173-173)