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The Beguines of Medieval Paris

The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority

Tanya Stabler Miller
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Beguines of Medieval Paris
    Book Description:

    In the thirteenth century, Paris was the largest city in Western Europe, the royal capital of France, and the seat of one of Europe's most important universities. In this vibrant and cosmopolitan city, the beguines, women who wished to devote their lives to Christian ideals without taking formal vows, enjoyed a level of patronage and esteem that was uncommon among like communities elsewhere. Some Parisian beguines owned shops and played a vital role in the city's textile industry and economy. French royals and nobles financially supported the beguinages, and university clerics looked to the beguines for inspiration in their pedagogical endeavors.The Beguines of Medieval Parisexamines these religious communities and their direct participation in the city's commercial, intellectual, and religious life.Drawing on an array of sources, including sermons, religious literature, tax rolls, and royal account books, Tanya Stabler Miller contextualizes the history of Parisian beguines within a spectrum of lay religious activity and theological controversy. She examines the impact of women on the construction of medieval clerical identity, the valuation of women's voices and activities, and the surprising ways in which local networks and legal structures permitted women to continue to identify as beguines long after a church council prohibited the beguine status. Based on intensive archival research,The Beguines of Medieval Parismakes an original contribution to the history of female religiosity and labor, university politics and intellectual debates, royal piety, and the central place of Paris in the commerce and culture of medieval Europe.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0968-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[vii])
  3. [Map]
    (pp. [viii]-[viii])
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    Not long after returning from his first crusade in 1254, Louis IX (r. 1226–1270) founded a house on the eastern end of Paris for “honest women who are called beguines.”¹ Prior to gaining this royal recognition and patronage, beguines—lay religious women who took personal, informal vows of chastity and pursued a life of contemplative prayer and active service in the world—were a significant and widely recognized phenomenon in the bustling streets and marketplaces of medieval Paris. Never canonically recognized as religious in the strict sense of the word, beguines did not follow an approved rule, did not...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Prud’homme and the Beguines: Louis IX and the Foundation of the Beguinage of Paris
    (pp. 14-34)

    By the mid-thirteenth century Paris was home to an increasingly visible population of religious women who lived in a manner that earned them the labelbeguinae.In the early 1250s, the secular cleric William of Saint-Amour (d. 1272) complained of “young women who are called beguines,” lamenting that they were becoming “widespread throughout the kingdom.”¹ In the late 1250s and early 1260s, William’s contemporary Robert of Sorbon (d. 1274) found the beguine life worthy of extensive commentary and praise in his sermons and treatises addressed to students in Paris. Although details about informal beguine communities are lacking, such women had...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The World of the Beguinage
    (pp. 35-58)

    When Louis IX commissioned the building of a court beguinage on the eastern end of the city, Paris was already home to a recognizable community of lay religious women. Although little is known about the first few years of the beguinage’s existence, Louis’s foundation clearly resonated with the social needs and religious sensibilities of a broad cross-section of medieval Parisians. Attracting noble, patrician, and artisan women well into the late fifteenth century, the Paris beguinage succeeded not only due to strong royal support but also because medieval Parisians—both clerical and lay—found it worthwhile to support the foundation and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Beguines, Silk, and the City
    (pp. 59-80)

    Sometime before 1292, Jeanne du Faut left her home in the Paris beguinage to take up residence on the rue Troussevache, a street dominated by wealthy mercers and located at the center of Paris’s silk-producing sector. Although her reasons for leaving the beguinage are not known, she left in good standing.¹ Moreover, Jeanne continued to live as a lay religious woman, supporting herself through her own labor and income from various properties she owned throughout the city.² Leaving behind the security and prestige of the royal foundation for lay religious women, she seems to have found companionship and spiritual fulfillment...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Masters and Pastors: Sorbonne Scholars, Beguines, and Religious Instruction
    (pp. 81-102)

    At his death in 1306 the secular theologian Pierre of Limoges bequeathed his personal library—about 120 manuscripts—to the college of the Sorbonne. Pierre had been a student at the Sorbonne, a college for secular clerics studying theology, and an admirer of its founder, Robert of Sorbon. Pierre’s donation represented a significant contribution to the library, which was quickly becoming the best in medieval Paris.¹ Among the numerous preaching aids Pierre bequeathed to the college was a pastoral miscellany composed of sermons and exempla attributed to James of Vitry, a treatise on preaching, and several sermon extracts.² Toward the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Religious Education and Spiritual Collaboration at the Beguinage of Paris
    (pp. 103-125)

    Robert of Sorbon’s exemplum about the beguine who travels to Paris from Cambrai to acquire a copy of theSumma of Vices and Virtueslauds the informal means by which beguines engaged in religious instruction, taking for granted that a beguine might travel from one region to another circulating texts and preaching aids. This association between beguines and religious instruction is echoed—although in a much less positive context—in a report addressed to Pope Gregory IX in preparation for the Second Council of Lyons (1274) written by the Franciscan friar and theologian Gilbert of Tournai. In his report, Gilbert...

  10. CHAPTER 6 “There Are Among Us Women Called Beguines”
    (pp. 126-144)

    Robert of Sorbon deployed the image of the beguine in support of his pastoral agenda, presenting beguines as worthy models for university clerics by emphasizing their zeal for souls, active lay ministry, and humility. According to Robert, it was the beguine’s actions (namely, exhortation of her fellow Christians) and humility (specifically acceptance of the skepticism and ridicule with which her actions were met) that defined her. Yet, while setting up the beguine as a model for university clerics, Robert referred to the actions possible of real, flesh-and-blood women with whom he, his colleagues, and students at the University of Paris...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The King’s Beguines
    (pp. 145-172)

    Even as church authorities condemned the beguine status at the Council of Vienne in 1311–1312, the French kings took charge of rehabilitating the reputation of the beguinage, calling attention to the community’s sainted founder and tying their own support of the beguines to their place in this saintly line. After almost a decade of confused, selective, or opportunistic implementation of Vienne’s contradictory legislation against beguines, which left lay religious women all over northern europe vulnerable to harassment, loss of property, or worse, King Charles IV (r. 1322– 1328) issued a new set of statutes for the Paris beguinage. The...

  12. APPENDIX. Beguines Whose Occupations Are Known
    (pp. 173-174)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 175-256)
    (pp. 257-276)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 277-290)
    (pp. 291-293)