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Women in a Medieval Heretical Sect

Women in a Medieval Heretical Sect: Agnes and Huguette the Waldensians

Shulamith Shahar
Translated by Yael Lotan
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    Women in a Medieval Heretical Sect
    Book Description:

    Agnes and Huguette were two Waldensian women who were interrogated by the inquisitional court of Pamiers, in southern France, in 1319 and subsequently burnt at the stake for their heretical beliefs. Shahar uses the records of their inquisition as a basis for an examination of the Waldensian sect's attitude towards its women members, and their role within the sect, comparing their lives with women in the Catholic church and in other sects. She finds that in a persecuted voluntary group such as the Waldensians, gender was largely immaterial, subordinate to the fervent religious commitment of the members; nor did the court of inquisition distinguish between male and female, subjecting heretics of either sex to the same horrible punishment. This is the first book-length treatment of women Waldensians, who have been almost written out of studies of the sect, but are here shown to have played a full role within it. It throws light on women and gender in medieval society as well as on one of the main heretical movements in France in the early fourteenth century. SHULAMITH SHAHAR is Professor Emeritus of Medieval History, Tel Aviv University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-012-8
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xx)

    In August 1319, during Bishop Jacques Fournier’s first year as Inquisitor in Pamiers, in the County of Foix,¹ four of The Poor of Lyons (also known as Waldensians)² were arrested and jailed – two men and two women. Southern France had been since the last decades of the twelfth century one of the central locations of the expansion of The Poor of Lyons, but since their persecution by the Inquisition during the latter half of the thirteenth century their numbers in the region had been dwindling. Those who were not executed or imprisoned had migrated to other parts. In 1319 they...

  4. 1 The Poor of Lyons
    (pp. 1-25)

    The beginnings of The Poor of Lyons (or Waldensians)¹ lie in the late 1170s, when a man by name of Waldes (to whom in the fourteenth century would be added the Christian name Peter), a wealthy burgher of Lyons, who had made his fortune in commerce and finance, experienced a religious conversion, distributed his property to the poor as commanded by the Gospels, and began to preach voluntary poverty, a life in the spirit of the Gospels and penitence. Neither Waldes nor his first disciples launched a new theology or sought to leave the Catholic Church. All they wanted was...

  5. 2 Women in the Early Days of The Poor of Lyons
    (pp. 26-45)

    Everything that is known about the presence of a female element in the deity of any religion, or the introduction at some stage in its history of a female element into its divine system, or the playing of a positive role by such an element in the history of salvation or in its future, tells us that these have not necessarily been accompanied by gender equality in the religious life. In most polytheistic religions whose pantheons included both male and female deities, though women played some part in the religious rituals, the religious establishment was still headed by men and...

  6. 3 The Sisters
    (pp. 46-65)

    The previous chapter dealt with the accusations that Catholic polemicists levelled against The Poor of Lyons. Some writers accused them only of allowing women to preach, while others charged that some of their women also heard confessions and consecrated the eucharist. Until the end of the second decade of the thirteenth century the reference was simply to ‘women’ (mulieres), but later, with the rise of the distinction between Brothers and Sisters from Believers, even when the Catholic writers used the term ‘women’ rather than ‘Sisters’ (sorores), or ‘Waldensian women’ (mulieres Valdenses) by which they also denoted the Sisters, the reference...

  7. 4 Agnes and Huguette: Two Believers
    (pp. 66-93)

    There were three ways of bringing a person in for questioning by the Inquisition. The first of these was the least frightening. The Inquisitor regularly sermonized the parish about the true faith and against heresy, on which occasions he would also threaten with excommunication anyone who attempted to disrupt the work of the Inquisition by means of bribery, by contradicting honest testimony or withdrawing one’s own honest testimony, or even by refusing to aid the Inquisition with the ‘help and advice’. At the same time, he would announce a period of grace of a ‘general summons’ (citatio universalis), during which...

  8. 5 The Female Believers: A Deviation from the Gender Culture of the Age
    (pp. 94-111)

    Let me open this chapter with what the women members of The Poor of Lyons were deprived of – they were deprived of the worship of the Holy Virgin and of the other saints, male and female, as well as of the opportunities for social-religious activity in the community. We have seen that The Poor of Lyons regarded St Mary as the mother of God, but did not believe in her power to mediate between the faithful and her Son; they reduced her worship, and rejected her artistic depiction in paintings and statues, and even the prayer ‘Hail Mary’. This meant...

  9. 6 Martyrdom
    (pp. 112-130)

    During the High and Late Middle Ages, in some parts of western Europe, men and women who were convicted of the same crimes were executed in different ways. In Brabant, Germany and France men were usually hanged, or if they were nobles, decapitated with an axe, but women were either burnt at the stake or buried alive. This custom was established by law and various statutes, and became embodied in the operating legal system.¹ Only in the late fifteenth century were these methods of executing women, gradually and at a varying pace in different places, changed to hanging. The cruelest...

  10. Appendix: Translation of the Interrogations of Agnes and Huguette
    (pp. 131-156)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 157-168)
  12. Index
    (pp. 169-184)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 185-185)