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Medieval Religious Women in the Low Countries

Medieval Religious Women in the Low Countries: The `Modern Devotion', the Canonesses of Windesheim, and their Writings

Wybren Scheepsma
Translated from Dutch by David F. Johnson
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Medieval Religious Women in the Low Countries
    Book Description:

    In the last decades of the fourteenth century a new religious movement arose in the northern Low Countries, the so-called Modern Devotion, which had a major influence upon religious life in Europe, and wasparticularly popular with women. Until now there has been no study of the women who played a part in the movement, but this book seeks to fill the gap through a case study of the Chapter of Windesheim and the mystical and religious texts its sisters produced, typical of the female spiritual experience of the Modern Devotion. The author analyses texts by such important canonesses as Salome Sticken, Alijt Bake and Jacominje Costers, placing them in the context of daily life in the convent; the anonymous sisterbook of the largest convent at Diepenveen also proves a rich source of historical information. Although the women were all concerned with improving religious life in their convents, their ways of doing so are shown to have varied dramatically, leading to conflict with both other members of the convent, and the male leaders of the Chapter; significant in this regard is Bake's vision of a mystical spirituality, which ultimately led to her ejection from the convent and exile. BR> WYBREN SCHEEPSMA teaches Dutch language at the Hogeschool Leiden.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-119-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Wybren Scheepsma
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    When women apply themselves devoutly they often receive more grace and stand in greater favour with God than men do.’¹ Johannes (or Jan) ‘Brinckerinck (†1419), whose words these are, knew what he was talking about. He devoted his entire life to the pastoral care of women. Brinckerinck was one of the pioneers of the Modern Devotion (Devotion Modern), the spiritual reform movement which flourished in the late medieval Low Countries and which profoundly influenced religious life in northwestern Europe. The Modern Devotion provided an opportunity for a large number of women who wished to adopt a spiritual lifestyle. They found...

  6. 2 Aspects of Life in the Convent
    (pp. 31-50)

    On 4 september 1412 an eminent company from the county of Holland arrived at the new convent in Diepenveen. Its most important members were the Lady van Heenvliet, her niece Katharina van Naaldwijk, Joost Claesz – later Johannes Brinckerinck’s successor as prior of Diepenveen, but at that time still procurator of the Windesheim monastery of Rugge, near Brielle – and the Heenvliet family chaplain. The eighteen-year-old Katharina had had to travel incognito because of the very real threat of abduction. Her father, Lord Hendrik van Naaldwijk, was marshall to the count of Holland, Albrecht of Bavaria. Katharina was thus an exceptionally attractive...

  7. 3 Communal Devotion in Piety
    (pp. 51-82)

    The choice of life in the convent is a choice for the communal life. Many of the religious devotions required of the sisters of Windesheim were performed communally. The Diepenveen sisterbook speaks in awe of Elsebe Hasenbroecks, who continued to take an active part in the life of the convent at an advanced age.

    For when she was eighty-six years old and nearly blind and deaf she nevertheless steadfastly continued to go both day and night to choir and refectory and chapel, and she would remain there until the end.¹

    Elsebe’s dedication to the life of the convent was apparent...

  8. 4 Living with Texts
    (pp. 83-110)

    In his biography of the Windesheim librarian Jan Scutken, Johannes Busch tells an interesting story about a young monk. The uncertain youngster complained to his more experienced fellow monk that he did not know what he was supposed to do with himself all day in his cell on feast days. Brother Jan advised him to write the words ‘Lord, have mercy upon me’ on his wax tablet; in this way he tried to convince the young monk that even the smallest of virtues is pleasing to God. Thanks to this wise advice the doubting monk understood that it was enough...

  9. 5 Written Instructions
    (pp. 111-134)

    For the Windesheimers, books and writing constituted exceptional and effective instruments of reform. This is perhaps most clearly illustrated by the Chapter’s decree of 1434, in which the affiliated monasteries are instructed to burn all paper copies of theConstitutiones Capituli Windeshemensisand, where possible, to erase and correct copies on parchment. Every monastery was to procure its own copy of the newly completed revision of the constitutions, to be made from one of the three authorised exemplars circulating through the Chapter.¹ The accurate recording of the Windesheim monastic ideal functioned as a weapon in the fight against spiritual decay,...

  10. 6 Devout Biography and Historiography
    (pp. 135-170)

    Hundreds of biographies of men and women from various circles of the Modern Devotion exist, all of them written by devoted brothers and sisters. They are usually referred to by the medieval Dutch titleviten, a term that clearly reflects their relation to the classical saint’s life orvita. The corpus of biographical literature produced by the Modern Devotion is a remarkable phenomenon, not only because of its size, but also because this genre, created by the Modern Devotion itself, gives such a clear expression of the pragmatic attitude towards literature held by the movement. Moreover, thevitenprovide a...

  11. 7 Two Spiritual Friends from Facons
    (pp. 171-196)

    In 1490, pope innocent viii felt the need to acquaint himself with the situation at the Windesheim convent of Facons. He sent Lubbert Vyncke, abbot of the Benedictine dual monastery of Dikninge (near to the village of Ruinen in the province of Drenthe), to Antwerp as his delegate. Reports of what Abbot Vyncke found at Facons do not survive. The seventeenth-century chronicler of Facons, Rector Christophorus Caers (†1673), mentions the arrival of the abbot in 1490 only briefly. As to the reasons behind this visitation he notes only – perhaps advisedly – that the Pope had received word that life at Facons...

  12. 8 Alijt Bake, a Woman with a Mission
    (pp. 197-226)

    If there was any nun in the Chapter of Windesheim who made a conscious choice for this order in particular, it was Alijt Bake (†1455). She entered the convent of Galilea in Ghent at a relatively late age, and once there began to have serious doubts about the wisdom of her decision. Ultimately the religious atmosphere of the Modern Devotion and the Windesheim lifestyle must have seemed ideal in her eyes for realising a deep interior spiritual life. Bake remained at Galilea and was elected prioress by her fellow sisters in 1445. It was then that the path lay open...

  13. 9 Literature and the Choir Nuns of Windesheim
    (pp. 227-244)

    We began this study by situating the Modern Devotion in the larger context of medieval reform movements, as outlined by Grundmann. The Modern Devotion does indeed fit well into the pattern of successive reform movements, but its rise and flourishing too have their own dynamic. The reform movement of the northern Low Countries arose from circumstances similar to earlier movements, but developed its own ideal of the return to the roots of Christian spirituality. The same holds true for the women of the Modern Devotion. The second movement of female religious bears many similarities to the first, but it was...

    (pp. 245-270)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 271-280)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-281)