Yvonne Seale

Making Women Matter, One Medieval Manuscript at a Time

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How to Embed a Zotero Bibliography in a Web Page

If you use Zotero as a citation manager, there’s a relatively quick way to embed your Zotero library (or a sub-section of it) on your own web site using a free service called BibBase. I’ve done so over here, setting up a bibliography on the history of the Premonstratensian Order in the Middle Ages. This takes a minimum of technical know-how and it updates automatically. In other words, if you add an item to your Zotero library or collection, or edit it, the embedded bibliography will reflect that.

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Here’s how you set up an embedded bibliography for a collection. Set up a collection in your Zotero account and add the relevant items to it. Make sure that you sync up your account with the Zotero server, and that your Zotero account is set to public. Without those two steps, BibBase won’t be able to “see” your collection.

Once you’ve done that, make sure that you’re signed in to Zotero.org and then go to http://bibbase.org/service/zotero. You should now have a list of URLs to choose from: your entire library or any one of your collections. Right click and copy the link to the collection you want to embed.

bibbaseexample

Now go to the HTML file (for most people who’ll be reading this, either a WordPress or Omeka page) where you want to host the embedded bibliography. Paste the URL you copied into the file surrounded by this little bit of code:

<script src=”http://bibbase.org/show?bib=[URL-YOU-COPIED]&jsonp=1″></script>

In the case of the bibliography I set up, the code looks like this:

bibbase2

And that should be it! All you need to do now is hit publish, open the page, and watch your new bibliography load. It will be ordered according to publication year by default, but you can use the drop-down menu to rearrange the bibliography according to author’s last name.

A caveat that this isn’t a perfect service for people working in the humanities—BibBase hasn’t been set up with us in mind and so the style in which the references are displayed isn’t standard for historians, and it doesn’t really know what to do with, say, a collection of essays by various authors with one or more editors (Looking at the accompanying documentation, that might change in the future if support for Chicago style is implemented.) However, if you’re looking for a quick way to set up a bibliography, BibBase has a lot to recommend it.

The Veil in the Middle Ages

The recent decision by several communities in France to ban the burkini has received a lot of attention around the world—and rightly so. It is a piece of legislation that is as poorly thought-through as it is self-defeating. As I stated in an interview with Sarah Bond, to mandate what a woman should not wear is no more feminist than to tell her what she should wear. Proponents of the ban claim that it will encourage laïcité, but limiting a devoutly religious woman’s ability to enter public space and move through mainstream secular society hardly seems like a logical way of encouraging social integration and cohesion.

Of course, France is not alone among European countries in passing or drafting legislation aimed at Islamic dress in its various forms. Legislators are often keen to stress that these laws are aimed at the emancipation of women, or are applied equally to forbid anyone, regardless of gender or religion, from covering their face in public. Yet the Catholic nun’s veil isn’t targeted in the same way, or an Orthodox Jewish woman’s head covering, and in fact most of the German states which have banned religious symbols and dress make explicit exemption in that legislation for Christian or Jewish cultural traditions. The Western debate over the burkini—or the hijab, niqab or burqa—is often less a conversation about women’s rights than it is using women’s clothing to make statements about identity and group morality.

Female saints wearing double veils. From the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, late 10th c. BL Ms ADD 49598, f.2

Female saints wearing double veils. From the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, late 10th c. BL Ms ADD 49598, f.2

There is a tendency in these debates to treat the veil as something distinctly other, as a symbol of something inherently non-European. Yet for most inhabitants of the medieval West, that view would have been a strange one indeed. No respectable woman past adolescence would have thought of leaving her home with her head bare, and the veil or headdress was the fundamental symbol of the married woman.

Medieval Christian views were shaped by scripture, such as the letter of Paul of Tarsus which stated that women should cover their hair while praying, and linked this mandate to women’s inferior status comparative to that of men. Over time, this admonition was applied more broadly. For a woman to have walked the streets of a medieval town with her hair uncovered would have invited suspicion as to her sexual morality—that was the behaviour of a prostitute. (In fact, if an “honest” woman from the French town of Arles saw a prostitute wearing a veil, she had the legal right to rip it off.)

Detail of "Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius, ca. 1460. Getty Museum Ms. 42, f. 2v

Detail of “Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius, ca. 1460. Getty Museum Ms. 42, f. 2v

Most women would have used a fairly simple piece of cloth to cover their heads, but the more elaborate and fashionable headdresses form part of the visual language that we use to popularly identify the Middle Ages. The tall headdresses—either conical with a veil attached to the top or shaped into two horns—that were in vogue in the fourteenth- and fifteenth-centuries signal “fairytale princess” to most people nowadays. These headdresses were preceded by other styles such as the head-, chin-, and neck-covering wimple (10th to mid-14th centuries), the barbette and the filet (12th to 14th centuries), and succeeded by others like the low hoods and caps (15th and 16th centuries) familiar from portraits of Tudor women.

Medieval headdresses changed with fashion but also with life stage. A new mother wore a white veil when she was churched (underwent a purificatory ritual after childbirth); a widow wore a severe linen barbe which covered her hair, neck, ears and the upper chest. This meant that a woman’s head covering was a symbol of her morality, but also indicated her role within the community.

Detail of a silk embroidery, "The Presentation in the Temple", 14th c. Getty Museum, 60.148.2

Detail of a silk embroidery, “The Presentation in the Temple”, 14th c. Getty Museum, 60.148.2

The veil was inextricably linked to the virtuous married woman in particular. We can see this by looking at the so-called Wellcome Apocalypse, a fifteenth-century miscellany originating in Germany. It contains a number of different texts in German and Latin on scientific, moral, and theological topics, and also a number of medical diagrams.

One of these diagrams, the “Disease Woman”, shows a kind of living cadaver—a pregnant woman who gazes out at the viewer, her arms and legs spread wide. She isn’t wearing clothing, and her chest and abdomen have been cut open, revealing her internal anatomy—as nude as a person can be. And yet she is still depicted wearing a headdress which covers her hair, neck, and ears. Her visual honour is therefore preserved, and viewers are assured that she is still a respectable woman.

Detail of the "Disease Woman". Wellcome Apocalypse, Germany, 15th c. Wellcome Library MS 49, f. 38r

Detail of the “Disease Woman”. Wellcome Apocalypse, Germany, 15th c. Wellcome Library MS 49, f. 38r

While such head coverings signalled differences in class, age, and social standing, they were not necessarily clear-cut markers of ethnicity or religion. The twelfth-century scholar Shlomo Ibn Parhon described Jewish women in Spain as adopting the practices of their Muslim neighbours, covering “their faces with a cloth. And when they wrap it around their faces they leave a hole opposite one eye at the edge of the cloth, with which to see, for it is forbidden to look at women.”

Shlomo’s near contemporary, the travel writer Muhammad ibn Ahmad Ibn Jubayr, visited Sicily in the 1180s. He wrote that Christian women in the capital city of Palermo followed Islamic fashions even at Christmastime: they went out “clad in gold-colored silk gowns, wrapped in elegant mantles, covered with colored veils, with gilded brodequins on their feet; they flaunt[ed] themselves in church in perfectly Muslim toilettes.” These sources don’t seem to reflect any deep anxiety about the implications, political or otherwise, about such cross-cultural borrowings. For people across medieval Europe—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—a woman’s head covering was simply a homogeneous, universal type of clothing.

Detail from an illustration in the Maciejowski or Crusader Bible, ca. 1250. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Ms M. 638 f.17r.

Detail from an illustration in the Maciejowski or Crusader Bible, ca. 1250. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Ms M. 638 f.17r.

Yet the vast majority of women in Europe no longer wear veils or headdresses. Fashions and tastes changed. As anyone who’s ever seen a film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel or an episode of the show Mad Men knows, bonnets and hats remained a part of daily life for most people in the West until the 1960s, but these head coverings were increasingly less a direct assertion of a person’s morality or social status. Headscarves lingered in some places, particularly in rural areas or in Catholic countries where women wore mantillas or other kinds of veils to attend Mass until the late 1960s; I can certainly remember my maternal grandmother knotting a headscarf under her chin before she headed out to the shops in the Ireland of the late 1980s.

Over time, the veil and other similar headdresses began to be seen in the West as a sign of greater than normal religiosity, rather than as a cultural norm. For example, during the French Revolution, veiled nuns were regarded not as virtuous, but as a symbol of a hated and outdated regime, and were the victims of both verbal and physical attacks. Few Christian denominations in the West, with the exception of small groups such as the Amish and some Mennonites, require that their female members cover their heads regularly.

Detail of the calendar image for June from the Playfair Hours. France, ca. 1480s. V&A Museum, MSL/1918/475.

Detail of the calendar image for June from the Playfair Hours. France, ca. 1480s. V&A Museum, MSL/1918/475.

Our clothing makes a statement about who we are, and about the social influences which inform the choices we make about our clothing. This is especially true when it comes to women’s clothing (as the current US presidential election has made repeatedly clear). Gendered clothing legislation also makes a statement: it turns women’s bodies into proxies for far broader debates about politics, the role of religion in public life, and group identity. Forgetting the European history of the veil makes it far easier for those debates to become divisive, rather than a means for diverse communities to figure out how to peacefully co-exist.

A Beginner’s Reading List: Medieval Nuns

For most people, medieval nuns are shadowy figures, confined against their will in cloisters by overbearing families. But in recent decades, historians have undertaken a lot of archival research which shows that life for Catholic nuns in medieval Europe was a lot more complex, and a lot more involved with the secular world, than we once thought. The books in this list are a beginners guide for those who’d like to know more about the lives of these women (who are sometimes termed “female religious”—when used as a noun, “religious” refers to someone who is bound by monastic vows).

All the titles listed here are in English, and should be accessible to the interested general reader, or academic non-specialist. I’ve also tried to only include works which aren’t too expensive (as far as medieval history books go), or which should be available cheaply secondhand. Dipping into these books shows how diverse and dynamic the lives of religious women could be in the Middle Ages.

Getting Started

sistersinarmsJo Ann McNamara. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia (1998).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

This thick volume (more than 700 pages) covers the history of Catholic nuns around the world from the earliest days of the church right through to the twentieth century. For the breadth of its coverage and for accessibility of language, it’s still unmatched for the general reader looking for an introduction to the history of female religious. That said, Sisters in Arms is now showing its age a little in terms of its analysis and conclusions. Don’t treat it as definitive, but use it as a jumping-off point in terms of over-all chronology and an introduction to some of the key figures in the history of female monasticism.

51h9uGy7nEL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Alastair Minnis and Rosalynn Voaden, eds. Medieval Holy Women in the Christian Tradition c.1100-c.1500 (2010).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

I said I would try to include books that weren’t overly expensive; sadly, this excellent (and hefty) collection of essays is published by Brepols which means that it’s almost certain to be unaffordable if you’re not a university library. However, Medieval Holy Women’s various entries provide an unmatched survey of the roles and interests of holy women (nuns and otherwise) across western Europe in the High and Late Middle Ages. Both the essays and their accompanying bibliographies will orient the reader towards the best in recent work on individual women and regional trends.

SetWidth440-Hall-Women-ChurchDianne Hall, Women and the church in medieval Ireland, c.1140–1540 (2003).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

This book is a rare bird indeed: a comprehensive regional study of medieval women’s monasticism that’s affordable, reliable, and accessible to the general reader. Dianne Hall pulled together the scant documentary sources about female religious in medieval Ireland and complemented them with archaeological and art historical evidence to produce the first full-length study of the topic. Hall is particularly strong in demonstrating the links that existed between nuns and their surrounding lay communities, and if you’d like to start with a study that’s more focused than wide-ranging, I’d recommend this one.

Digging Deeper

strocchia_coverSharon Strocchia. Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence (2009).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

This is the first proper monograph to explore the lives of women in Florentine convents during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Strocchia makes impressive use of the city’s abundant archives to show that in the period between the Black Death and the late fifteenth century, communities of religious women went from being relatively unimportant to being deeply embedded in the social, political, and economic life of the city. Through their involvement with the luxury textile industry in particular, the women made their mark on Florence’s economy and helped shape the city’s civic development.

80140100699560LAnne E. Lester, Creating Cistercian Nuns: The Women’s Religious Movement and Its Reform in Thirteenth-Century Champagne (2011).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

Lester takes as her case study female religious in the Champagne region during the thirteenth century. Her focus on what historians call “documents of practice” (in other words, texts that tell us about what actually happened, as opposed to say a law code which tells us what should happen) allows her to challenge the standard narrative of the history of Cistercian nuns. If you want to explore the fluidity of women’s affiliation with religious orders in the Middle Ages, and how church legislation could shape their way of life, this is a book well worth checking out.

13488Nancy Bradley Warren, Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England (2005).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

Think that medieval nuns could entirely dismiss economic concerns? Nancy Bradley Warren encourages you to think again in this study of the house of Dominican women in Dartford. She draws on court records, financial accounts, and devotional treatises, among other sources, to bring to life a vibrant and wealthy community which was as much a part of the material economy as it was the spiritual one.

In Their Voices

riccoboni_coverBartolomea Riccoboni. Life and Death in a Venetian Convent: The Chronicle and Necrology of Corpus Domini, 1395-1436 (2000).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

This account of convent life was written by a Venetian nun who lived around the turn of the fifteenth century. Sister Bartolomea Riccoboni’s chronicle of the community’s foundation, coupled with short biographies about some of the other nuns, provide a wonderful insight into both daily life in a convent and how a group of female religious could become involved with ecclesiastical and secular politics. Daniel Bornstein’s translation is particularly clear.

51QsqWjs9HL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Hildegard of Bingen, Selected Writings: Hildegard of Bingen (2009).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

Hildegard of Bingen is one of the most engaging characters of the Middle Ages: a Benedictine nun, she was a prolific and original writer with a broad array of interests and a personality that comes through loud and clear in her writing. Although she’s never officially been canonised, in 2012 she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. This edition provides selections from her writings—letters, theological works, and medical treatises—accompanied by useful explanatory material about her life and times.

9780859915892_14_1_2 Birgitta of Sweden, Saint Bride and her Book: Birgitta of Sweden’s Revelations (2000).

Find it: Indiebound | Publisher | Local Library

Birgitta (or Bridget) of Sweden was a fourteenth-century mother, mystic, and founder of the Bridgettine Order of nuns and monks. This book gives a translation of Birgitta’s medieval vita, or biography, together with excerpts from her great theological work, the Revelations. An accompanying essay shows how Birgitta was politically active, involved in attempts to end the Hundred Years’ War and the Schism, and how she influenced female mystics in the later Middle Ages.

That’s nine great books to start with, but there are lots more out there. If there are other books about the history of medieval nuns that you’d particularly recommend to a beginning reader, feel free to leave a comment below!

Publication Roundup IV

[Header image: detail of Robert Campin, “Madonna and Child with Saints in the Enclosed Garden“, ca. 1440-60. National Gallery of Art, Washington]

Journal Article

“Imagining Medieval Europe in the College Classroom,” in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching, Vol. 23:1 (Spring 2016), 95-105.

In this essay, I will describe three techniques that I use to make my students more comfortable with the idea of history as an endeavor of which they are part. As Peter Seixas has pointed out, good history teaching “exposes the process of constructing warranted historical accounts so that students can arrive at their own understandings of the past through the process of critical inquiry” while “conveying ‘knowing’ as an active process.” My approach combines a close focus on primary sources and their contexts and implications, with group and paired assignments which require students to constantly reassess the perspectives and assumptions which they bring to the study of medieval history.

Book Reviews

Review of Maeve Brigid Callan, The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish: Vengeance and Heresy in Medieval Ireland. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015, in Eolas: The Journal for the American Society of Irish Medieval Studies 9:1 (2016).

Review of Judith Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013, in Past Imperfect: the History and Classics Graduate Student Journal of the University of Alberta, 19:1 (2016), 129-34. [Read online]

I was also interviewed by Sarah Bond for an article she wrote for Forbes, “What Not to Wear: A Short History of Regulating Female Dress From Ancient Sparta to the Burkini.” I talked with Professor Bond about the history of regulating dress for female monastics in the Middle Ages, and the parallels that has with current controversies about the clothing worn by some Muslim women.

On Empathy in Editing

Archived from its original publication at http://hortulus-journal.com/2015/06/06/digital-publishing-column-yvonne-seale-on-empathy-in-editing/

Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan presenting her book to Charles VI. BL Harley 4431 f. 178. [Source]

Detail of a miniature of Christine de Pizan presenting her book to Charles VI. BL Harley 4431 f. 178. [Source]

You’d perhaps expect to learn a great deal about the craft of writing when working as the editor of a journal like Hortulus. It’s true. I learned to wrangle wayward apostrophes, to figure out where an argument needed to be shored up with a contextualizing paragraph, and the tricky art of unearthing topic sentences from where they’ve been buried mid-paragraph. But what I didn’t expect to learn was something more profound: that you are not what you write.

Getting to grips with the mechanical aspects of editing is an important thing for any aspiring academic to learn, one which benefits both the article on which you’re working and, ultimately, your own writing. I know from my experiences as an editor and as a peer reviewer that figuring out how to phrase the suggestions you want to make to an author, thinking through how to articulate a hunch you have about why that paragraph needs to be moved there, can help you to truly internalize writing rules you’ve been hearing for a long time. It may be an old adage, but it’s a true one—you only really understand something if you can explain it to someone else.

Yet this is not the most valuable aspect of the editorial experience. That lies in the way that working with someone else’s prose can change your own relationship with your writing. One of the most difficult things for a budding medievalist to learn in graduate school—or at least so it was for me—isn’t getting to grips with paleography, or the myriad uses of the Latin ablative, or even how to get through a lengthy comps exam reading list with relative speed. (Though each of these things carry their own special brand of frustration.) The most important thing is learning that you are not your work.

I know that may sound a little corny, and as the product of a stolid Irish farming family, I resisted fully understanding the maxim for quite some time. I was raised to believe that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and that you should take pride in a job well done. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those ideas, but I think that how I internalized them led me to confuse the end-product with the process. Looking back at my undergraduate career, and even my time as a Master’s student, I can now see how that confusion led to a lot of stress, frustration, and anxiety. It’s possible to make a sincere effort with a paper or an article, to do the best you can with the information that you have, and still end up with a piece of work that doesn’t entirely do what you want it to do. And yet the most difficult thing turns out to be not looking at that draft that’s not what it should be, and figuring out how it needs to be fixed; it’s realizing that producing an imperfect draft isn’t a measure of your ability as a scholar.

 Detail of a miniature of Vincent of Beauvais, a Dominican friar, writing at his desk. BL Royal 14 E I f. 3. [Source]

Detail of a miniature of Vincent of Beauvais, a Dominican friar, writing at his desk. BL Royal 14 E I f. 3. [Source]

What gives you a far better sense of your measure as a scholar is your ability to adapt your writing, to see the potential in your work, and to make something better of it. Working as an editor provides you with a good object lesson in the truth of this. Once an article has been accepted by a journal, an editor doesn’t work with just one version of it. At least during my stint at Hortulus, I got to see multiple versions of the same work: the original version (which was of course often itself the final iteration of many months of work), which I read through with an eye to identifying appropriate peer reviewers; the annotated versions which the reviewers return, marked up with what excited them or what they felt lacking; and then the revised version which the author returns, incorporating the reviewers’ suggestions. This version then goes through another round of line and structural edits before it’s ready for publication. The process allows you to see people making critiques, and then others taking those critiques and doing something with them—to see not just the polished final version, but also the various revisions of it along the way.

Getting to observe this process at a remove helps to break down some of the fear that there are other scholars out there—the nebulous “good ones”—who are able to produce perfect work without so much as a bead of sweat dampening their brow. When you get a seminar paper or a dissertation chapter back from an advisor and it’s liberally annotated with suggestions for further readings, queries about the framing of your argument, or even the occasional inscrutable ‘???’, it is in no way proof that you are less good than other graduate students, or that you are not working as hard as your peers. Critique is just one step in the process, one that will hopefully let you see the potential in your work.

Working as an editor also makes you see that you have something to offer as a scholar, that you have amassed a body of knowledge on your area of study on which you can draw. The work that you put into structuring the historiographical section of your master’s thesis—you can draw on that to provide advice to someone who’s struggling to make the framework of their article cohere. All that reading you did for your comps exams—that lets you come up with a reference to a journal article that will help to bolster the point that the author has made. As graduate students, there’s still so much for us to learn about the craft of being a historian or a literary scholar, but it’s not self-important for us to recognize that our own work is built upon a steadily expanding knowledge base.

BL, MS Harley 2850, fol. 47v. St Brigit of Sweden is shown writing.

BL, MS Harley 2850, fol. 47v. St Bridget of Sweden is shown writing.

Yet equally, to be a diligent editor also requires a recognition of the fallibility of critique, of the fact that those who review work are not omniscient. Their assessment may be wrong; they may want the author to have written a completely different manuscript. I know that when I edit something, I do so out of a sincere desire to help someone improve their work and the belief that my suggestions will help the author to do so. However, I don’t presume to think that my advice is always right just because it’s well-intentioned, nor am I so naïve as to think that all peer reviewers are working from the same good motivations. Having to critique others’ work has helped make it much clearer for me, that the critique which I receive on my work is something to be taken seriously and thoughtfully, but also as counsel rather than a final judgment.

Part of being a good editor is treating another’s work with empathy, mindful of the labor that has been put into it so far and looking always for its potential—and when you learn to do that with a colleague’s work, you learn to do the same with your own.

Mapping Hugo’s “Annales”

For historians, one of the most useful things about new digital mapping technologies are the new ways in which they let us approach our body of sources. As someone who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the Premonstratensian Order in medieval France, I’ve spent much of the last few years immersed in the works of one man: Charles-Louis Hugo. His books—particularly the magisterial but uncompleted Sacri et Canonici Ordinis Praemonstratensis annales—preserved the text of many medieval documents which are otherwise lost to us. Without the Annales, my doctoral work—and the work of other people interested in the Premonstratensian Order over the years—would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.

However, when I mapped out the Annales—visualising the places from where Hugo got his information—it was very clear to me that it’s a work shaped by the particular moment in history when it was produced. The Annales has been shaped by the fact that it was produced in post-Reformation Europe, and we need to keep that in mind when using it as a source for the history of the order in the Middle Ages.

Who was Hugo?

The abbey church of Pont à Mousson. [Source]

The abbey church of Pont à Mousson. [Source]

Born in 1667 into a middle-class family into a small town in eastern France that had been profoundly affected by conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, Hugo took his religious vows while still a teenager. He did so in the Premonstratensian abbey of Pont à Mousson, the mother house of the reform branch of the order. Hugo spent time at the abbeys of Jovilliers, Jandeures, and Étival, before becoming prior of Saint-Joseph de Nancy in 1700. There he helped to reconstruct the priory and establish its library.

In 1713, Hugo moved to the abbey of Étival, one of the largest religious institutions in Lorraine. There he undertook his greatest works, the two-volume Sacræ Antiquitatis (1725) and the Annales (1734). His involvement in ecclesiastical in-fighting saw him sent away from Étival for a while, but papal and ducal favour allowed him to eventually return to the abbey. He died there in 1739 at the age of 71, having been a Premonstratensian for 54 years.

The Annales

Hugo acquired the material for the Annales by corresponding with people across Europe—much more material than was ever published, in fact, owing to Hugo’s death. (His notebooks containing a wealth of still-to-be-mined transcriptions and observations are now held at the municipal library in the French town of Nancy.)

Title page of the first volume of Charles-Louis Hugo's Annales.

Title page of the first volume of Charles-Louis Hugo’s Annales.

The first two volumes of the Annales are a kind of gazetteer of the order’s houses, with each entry consisting of a historical notice, together with a list of abbots or abbesses where known. Entries vary in length from a paragraph or two to several pages. The second two volumes are the probationes, the evidence—in other words, they contain the text of the charters, papal bulls, privileges, letters, and other documents on which Hugo drew. Publishing transcriptions of these documents was a substantial undertaking. As you can see from the index which I compiled of the two probationes volumes, there are 767 documents transcribed in the first volume, and 792 in the second. Some of these sources survive in the original, or in other medieval or early modern copies. Others are known to us only from Hugo’s transcriptions.

Mapping the Sources

Each circle on the map below represents a Premonstratensian community which was the subject of a document contained in the probationes volumes. The circles are sized proportionately: the larger they are, the more documents about that house. (In instances where a document is an agreement between, say, Abbey A and B, I counted that towards the total of both abbeys since Hugo could have potentially obtained a copy from either institution and he rarely states how he specifically came across a document. In instances where the document concerns the order as a whole, as with some papal bulls, I omitted it from the count.)

You can see straight away that there are regions which are home to clusters: where many Premonstratensian houses produced documents transcribed by Hugo and in large numbers. Unsurprisingly, these are in places like northern France and the Rhineland—where the order got its start—and in Magdeburg, where the order’s founding figure ended his days. Yet there are also some anomalies which appear when you compare this map with the distribution of the order’s houses as a whole. There were Premonstratensian houses in Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Cyprus, the Holy Land, but you would never know that from looking at this distribution.

This hints right away at there being regions which couldn’t answer Hugo’s requests for information. The eastern Mediterranean was largely under Muslim rule; Scotland and Scandinavia were decidedly Protestant in inclination; and while most people in Ireland were still Catholic, the English crown had ordered the dissolution of the island’s monasteries. The likely destruction of the medieval records from these regions means that there were histories which Hugo could neither write nor transmit—and so we have to be careful not to presume that the Premonstratensian Order in the Middle Ages was everywhere similar to those regions which remained politically and culturally Catholic.

Of course, this realisation raises yet another question: if the dissolution of houses in Ireland and Scotland meant that Hugo couldn’t gain access to documents from those houses, then why are English Premonstratensian monasteries represented on the map? Returning to the text of the Annales provides a possible answer. While Hugo generally copies out a medieval document in full, including preamble, date, and witness list, he doesn’t do so for the documents from English houses. They are all transcribed in a truncated format, and so my sense is that Hugo was copying from a register of charters that had been sent from England to a house on the continent at some point prior to the Reformation—most likely to the mother house at Prémontré.

If this register did exist, it has long since vanished—but mapping out the sources of Charles-Louis Hugo’s Annales lets us see the echo of it and other lost sources in the historical record.

Hugo’s Works:

  • Critique de l’histoire des Chanoines. 1700. [Read online]
  • La vie de Saint Norbert. 1704. [Read online]
  • Traité historique et critique sur l’origine et la généalogie de la maison de Lorraine. 1711. [Read online]
  • Sacræ Antiquitatis Monumenta Historica, Dogmatica, Diplomatica, Notis Illustrata, 2 vols. 1725. [Vol. 1] [Vol. 2]
  • Sacri et Canonici Ordinis Praemonstratensis annales, 4 vols. 1734. [Vol. 1] [Vol. 2] [Vol. 3] [Vol. 4]

Saint Anne: The Mother of the Mother of God in Medieval France

[Header Image: BL Harley 2846, f. 40v]

From the early thirteenth century onwards, the pilgrims who flocked to Notre-Dame de Chartres in north-central France were keen to venerate one of the cathedral’s most famous relics: the head of Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary.

Sculpture of Anne holding the infant Mary; north porch of Chartres Cathedral. []Source

Sculpture of Anne holding the infant Mary; north porch of Chartres Cathedral. []Source

The relic arrived in France in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. Louis, count of Blois and a grandson of Louis VII, was alleged to have discovered the head in Constantinople and sent it back to his homeland shortly before his death in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205. His widow, Catherine, countess of Clermont, presented the skull and an associated cloak to the cathedral at Chartres on Louis’ behalf. According to the cathedral’s necrology, which contains an account of the donation, “the mother’s head was received with great joy in the daughter’s church.”

Mother and Daughter at Chartres

Chartres had been a focus of Marian pilgrimage since the Carolingian period, when the Emperor Charlemagne was supposed to have presented the church with the Sancta Camisia, a tunic or veil believed to have once belonged to Mary. This relic drew the faithful for generations. In the late twelfth century, the poet Guillaume the Breton wrote of the cathedral:

Countless the signs and favours of grace by which the Blessed Virgin
Shows that the Mother of Christ has a special love for this one church,
Granting a minor place, as it were, to all other churches,
Deeming it right to be frequently called the Lady of Chartres.
This is also the place where everyone worships the tunic
Worn on the day of the birth of the Lamb, by the Virgin as garment.

The cathedral therefore seemed an appropriate resting place for the relics of Mary’s mother, and in honour of Anne, the cathedral was decorated with sculpture and stained glass showing her holding the infant Mary.

The Origins of Saint Anne

In the later Middle Ages, Saint Anne was regarded as the matriarch of an extended Holy Kindred and her feast day was celebrated with great solemnity on July 26. Stories about Anne and her children were told, retold, and popularised in works like Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea and Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiale. This was all despite the fact that neither Anne nor any of her family (with the exception of Mary and Jesus) appear in the canonical Gospels, nor is there any historical evidence for her existence.

Anne teaches Mary how to read. Detail from Hours of Charles VIII. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Vitr. 24-1, f. 108v.

Anne teaches Mary how to read. Detail from Hours of Charles VIII. Biblioteca Nacional de España, Vitr. 24-1, f. 108v.

In fact, Anne first appears in texts like the mid-second-century Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel that described Mary’s birth and childhood. The life story crafted for Anne by the Protoevangelium‘s author echoes that of the Old Testament figure Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel. Both women were devout and childless; the faith of both was rewarded with the birth of remarkable children.

Anne’s rise in popularity over several centuries—she appeared first in theological writings, then increasingly in popular accounts; first in the Greek East and then in the Latin West—depended on a number of factors. Anne’s presence helped to resolve some of the theological questions that surrounded just how a human woman could give birth to God—if Mary was conceived without original sin, what must her parents have been like? As a pious woman and doting mother and grandmother, Anne helped to humanise some of the more mysterious aspects of the Incarnation.

As the number of stories about Anne expanded, so too did the size of her family. By the later Middle Ages, people believed that Anne had married three times and had a daughter called Mary by each marriage. The three Marys then had children of their own: Jesus Christ and several of his disciples. This tangled family tree helped to resolve contradictory or confusing genealogical references in scripture. But likely much more immediately appealing to medieval people was that Anne—a mother and grandmother, a widow who remarried—provided lay women with a model of piety which was compatible with sexual activity within marriage. Unlike most people previously heralded as saints, Anne hadn’t abjured sex and parenthood in favour of saintly celibacy.

Of course, this didn’t mean that medieval theologians were keen on the idea of a saint enjoying sexual pleasure, however licit. They were firm in their belief that Anne married and had sex only to produce virtuous, legitimate children. Anxieties over Jesus’ grandmother being implicated in carnality gave rise to a legend popular in thirteenth-century France, one which extended Mary’s maternal line back further still. This story claimed that Anne’s own paternal grandmother inhaled the perfume of a flower that had been seeded by the Tree of Life—the tree believed to stand at the centre of the Garden of Eden—and immaculately conceived a child called Fanuel. Fanuel in turn immaculately conceived Anne when he wiped the juice of an apple with healing powers onto his thigh. The limb swelled and Anne emerged from it—a fittingly mythological origin story.

Relic of St Anne's finger held at Saint-Thomas-de-Corceriers. [Source]

Relic of St Anne’s finger held at Saint-Thomas-de-Corceriers. [Source]

Saint Anne in France

A noble family with royal connections brought Anne’s relics to Chartres in the early thirteenth century, and royal and aristocratic endorsement helped to further root the saint’s cult in French soil. However, over time Anne attracted the veneration of a much broader swath of the population, particularly seafarers, seamstresses, and the increasingly wealthy burgesses of the later Middle Ages.

Anne was also the patron saint of woodworkers—particularly those in Paris, who referred to the mixture of glue and sawdust used to plug holes in planks of wood by the vivid term, “St Anne’s brains.”

Anne was highly popular in Burgundy and in Provence, where the cathedral in the town of Apt was dedicated to her. Both at Apt and at Saint-Thomas-de-Courceriers, the faithful venerated relics linked to Anne. She became the patron saint of Brittany, where she is still regarded as the “grandmother of the Bretons.” A medieval Breton poem, Les Brez, makes clear the devotion that many felt to “mother Saint Anne.” If she helped him, the poet said:

If I come home again, mother Saint Anne, I will make you a present:
I will make you a present of a cord of wax that will go three times around your walls,
Three times around your church, three times around your cemetery,
And three times around your lands, should I arrive at home.
And I will give you a banner of velvet and white satin with a pole of polished ivory.
And I will give you seven bells of silver to sing gaily night and day above your head.

Of course, some people did have lingering doubts about venerating a lay woman who’d been married not just once, but three times. Even as late as the fifteenth century, the reforming abbess Colette of Corbie balked at praying to Saint Anne because of it. However, Colette then had a vision in which Anne appeared, defending her sanctity on the basis of the undeniable virtue of her descendants. Colette then made a special point of instituting altars and devotions to the saint in all of the convents in her order.

Anne sits with her arm around Mary, distracting the infant Jesus with a toy. British Library Egerton 1070, f. 97.

Anne sits with her arm around Mary, distracting the infant Jesus with a toy. British Library Egerton 1070, f. 97.

After the Middle Ages

In the aftermath of the Reformation, Anne’s cult faded in Protestant areas but remained vibrant in mostly-Catholic France—this despite its condemnation at the Council of Trent. This was helped by the fact that in about 1625, a Breton peasant called Yves Nicolazic claimed to have seen apparitions of Anne. Ever since, pilgrims—including Pope John Paul II—have flocked to the basilica dedicated to the saint in the town of Sainte-Anne-d’Auray in Brittany. Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV, also credited her namesake saint with helping her to finally give birth to an heir after 23 years of marriage. In 1660, the grateful queen made a pilgrimage to the cathedral of Saint Anne in Apt.

At about the same time, French colonists were bringing the veneration of Saint Anne west with them across the Atlantic, where it flourished particularly in Quebec. She became that province’s patron saint. The shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in eastern Quebec, home to a statue and relic brought from France, is still an important site of pilgrimage in modern North America. The ceiling of the basilica there is decorated with an elaborate mural showing Anne, Mary, and Jesus—if the saint arrived in France by herself, she travelled to Canada with her family.

Public Talk: St Brigit Abroad

Next Wednesday, July 27, at 4pm I will be giving a talk at the Solas Bhríde Centre in Kildare, entitled “Brigit Abroad: The Reception of an Irish Saint in Great Britain and Continental Europe During the Middle Ages.” If you’re curious to know why and how a female saint from the Irish Midlands was known from Iceland to Italy during the Middle Ages, now is your chance to find out! Brigit’s cow—pictured above—will make a frequent appearance. The talk is free and open to the public.

[Header image: Detail of Getty Museum Ms Ludwig IX 3, f. 106]

Seventy-Seven Cents on the Thaler? Women’s Wages in the Middle Ages

[Header Image: Illustration showing women in a counting house, ca. 1400. BL Additional MS 27695]

How much is a woman’s work worth? Gender pay equity is an issue that’s come up frequently during the current U.S. presidential campaign. Some candidates have been in favour of legislation to close the gender pay gap; others oppose it; some think the problem doesn’t exist, and others think it exists but that it isn’t a problem. But while the nature, significance and causes of the gender pay gap are often debated, that it exists is well-attested.

Woman carries water using shoulder yoke. 15th c., Italy. BnF NAL 1673.

Woman carries water using shoulder yoke. 15th c., Italy. BnF NAL 1673.

The figures for the U.S. alone are stark: the National Committee on Pay Equality states that since since the signing of the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the gender wage gap has narrowed by less than half a cent per year; the American Association of University Women points out that more education has helped, but hasn’t closed the gap; and statistics show that the gap is even more egregious when it comes to women of colour.

A Medieval Woman’s Work

The gender wage gap isn’t a quirk of recent history—historians have identified a very similar state of affairs in medieval Europe. Of course, most of the labour in the Middle Ages, whether carried out by men or women, wasn’t waged work. The household was the basic economic unit, and women’s work was fundamental to the smooth functioning of that unit and of daily life as a whole in the Middle Ages. The average woman (whether free or enslaved, rural peasant or town dweller) cooked for her family, brewed and baked, spun thread and wove cloth, managed poultry and milked cows, brought goods to market and carried water home from the well. She also raised children, oversaw servants, and tended to the sick, in a schedule that was no doubt full from sun-up to sun-down.

Rural women also laboured out in the fields alongside their male relatives, often undertaking back-breaking work from an early age. As a twelve-year-old, Alpais of Cudot worked the land with oxen and plough, and hauled loads of manure so heavy that her father had to tie her shoulder yoke to her forearms to stop her from falling over.1 Women’s work within the household was all economic in nature, helping to provide food, clothing, and shelter and even—in the case of the occasional surplus—a monetary profit.

A silver Bohemian thaler (1525); an example of the coinage from which this post's title derives its terrible pun [Source]

A silver Bohemian thaler (1525); an example of the early modern coinage from which this post’s title derives its terrible pun [Source]

Earning a Living

Some women, however, engaged in work on a larger economic scale. Though there were legal and social constraints on their activities, as single women, wives, and widows, women could and did conduct business on their own terms. In the later Middle Ages, for instance, women were particularly predominant in the production of luxury textile items. In Paris, female silk workers had their own guild, ran workshops, and employed apprentices; their counterparts in London didn’t have a guild, but between 1368 and 1504, they petitioned the mayor or parliament for protection from unfair competition at least six times—and they almost always won.2

Women also struck out on their own to work as merchants, traders, and landlords, and could acquire a sufficient business reputation to be considered credit-worthy. From a notarial record drawn up in early fourteenth century Crete, we learn that Viola Ovetaro of Candia bought a pound of silk on credit from her townswoman Maria Natale. Viola owed Maria the sum of three perpera four grossi, to be repaid within six months. Presumably Viola hoped to make a profit on the transaction.3 Likewise in 1248, the widow Gostiana of Marseilles rented out a shop and a house of hers to one Peter Regi, “from the next feast of St Michael for ten years at a price of fifty solidi-worth of current money at the time of payment, and this will be twenty-five pounds for the next ten years.”4 This is all clear evidence of the presence of enterprising women in medieval Europe.

Of course, knowing that a woman engaged in business doesn’t necessarily tell us much about her overall financial worth or business savvy. Was Viola able to sell on her silk at a profit and repay Maria? Did Gostiana get fair market value for her rental property and a responsible tenant who was prompt about payment? We can’t know—nor can we know if they were able to buy and sell on the same terms as their male contemporaries.

Mary weaves while Joseph planes wood and the infant Jesus uses a walker. The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library MS M.917. [Source]

Mary weaves while Joseph planes wood and the infant Jesus uses a walker. The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Morgan Library MS M.917. [Source]

The Evidence Problem

Waged work made up a far smaller proportion of the medieval economy than agricultural or domestic labour, but it is by comparison well documented (emphasis, of course, on the “by comparison.”) Where the records concerning, say, the agricultural labourers hired of a monastic institution survive, they can provide a picture of trends in waged labour in an area over a number of years and of the differences in men’s and women’s pay. We know that medieval women did many different kinds of jobs, working as brewers and rosary makers, artists and building labourers, carpenters and apothecaries and barbers.

However, even when relatively complete these records are often not so straightforward as they seem at first glance. For example, spouses often worked together so a single payment made to a man might include the “hidden” wages of his wife. Women also seem to have been more likely to undertake waged work on a part-time or irregular basis—fitting it in around the demands of child-rearing and housewifery—but this is rarely made explicit in the documents.

These documentary difficulties have contributed to a long-running debate between scholars about gendered wage differences in the Middle Ages, and how they may have changed over time. Some historians believe the documents provide a pessimistic view of medieval women’s earning power; others are more optimistic. Both sides, however, have to be careful not to fall into the trap of viewing a task as inherently less skilled, valuable, or physically demanding just because it’s carried out by a woman. As recent studies have shown, when women in the modern Western world move into a previously male-dominated field, pay declines because the job is perceived as less important.

Did the Black Death Have an Impact?

Eve spinning. Hunterian Psalter, Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 229 f.8r.

Eve spinning. Hunterian Psalter, Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 229 f.8r.

Of course, conditions weren’t static across the entire millennium or so of the Middle Ages. Historians, by training and inclination, like to look for change, and this has led many scholars of women’s work to concentrate on the fourteenth century, a time when war, famine, and epidemic disease caused widespread social change. In England alone, between a third to a half of the population died in the ten years or so following the first appearance of the Black Death on its shores in 1348; we know from the 1377 poll tax records that England’s population was about half that of the pre-plague levels. Such a catastrophic death toll undoubtedly exacted a deep emotional toll on an entire generation, but it had the unexpected side effect of spurring social mobility. The land and wealth of the dead were passed on to the survivors, food prices fell and wages rose.

Because of these changes, some scholars have argued that the years after the Black Death were a kind of “Golden Age” for women, particularly for women in England—the plague simply killed so many people that necessity required that women take up jobs formerly reserved for men, while the lack of ready hands meant that women’s wages rose to levels that almost or actually matched men’s. This is far from a consensus, though. Judith Bennett has calculated that in fourteenth-century England, the wages paid to a woman were on average about 71% of those paid to men.5 Even in the aftermath of the Black Death, while their rates pay increased, women were still paid less than men, at about the same rate as boys. Social precedent was powerful. Moreover, the fledgling labour laws which were passed—such as the Ordinance of Labourers (1349) and the Statute of Labourers (1351)—seem to have contributed to women’s geographical and occupational immobility in late medieval England.

Why Medieval Women’s Work Matters

Do the experiences of medieval women point to us being stuck forever in a kind of gendered holding pattern—will there always be a gender pay gap? At first glance, it might seem so. The gender wage gap in Europe and North America has fluctuated within a fairly stable range from the Middle Ages through to the Industrial Revolution and on to the present day, so that women have on average always earned somewhere between a half to three-quarters of the average male wage. Judith Bennett has termed this the “patriarchal equilibrium.”

Weaving, spinning, carding wool, and combing flax. BL MS Royal 16 Gv, f. 56.

But the devaluing of women and their work is not an immutable law of physics. The gender pay gap has persisted even when economics would suggest it shouldn’t (as after the Black Death) or when laws have been passed against it (as is the case with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009). What a study of medieval women reveals is that the subordination of women’s work is a function of ideology rather than economics, law, or biology; that women have long found creative and flexible ways to supplement their families’ incomes or to support themselves; and that long-term change doesn’t necessarily result in a true transformation. It shows us that a failure to transmit awareness of women’s achievements and disappointments across the generations impoverishes current conversations, particularly those around the gender pay gap.

A thousand years after they brewed ale, traded in cloth, and laboured on building sites, medieval women’s work still matters.

References:
1 Elizabeth van Houts and Patricia Skinner (eds.), Medieval Writings on Secular Women (Harmondsworth, 2011), 54-55.
2 David Herlihy, Opera Muliebria: Women and Work in Medieval Europe (Philadelphia, 1990), 480.
3 van Houts and Skinner, Medieval Writings, 107.
4 van Houts and Skinner, Medieval Writings, 237.
5 Judith Bennett, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (Philadelphia, 2007), 9.

Cistercians, Chronologies and Communities Symposium

[Header Image: Livre des merveilles du monde. BNF MS français 2810, f. 80r]

This past weekend, the University of Iowa played host to a conference in honour of my doctoral advisor, Constance Berman, on the occasion of her retirement. I was one of the organisers, and we were thrilled to have so many people from across the US come to Iowa City and join us in sending Connie off to the next stage of her life and work.

The scope of the papers presented reflected the extraordinary scope of Connie’s academic interests over the course of her career: the power of women as lords and as queens; grappling with established historiographies which have dismissed women as historically irrelevant or which have tried to confine women to particular categories; the role of women and gender in the Cistercian Order; and women’s command of property and patronage. Many of the speakers prefaced their papers with tributes to how Connie had helped to inspire their work throughout the years. Given Connie’s commitment to supporting women’s history and female graduate students, it was only fitting that the symposium was held in the Senate Chambers of the Old Capitol—the place where in 1847 the state’s general assembly voted to establish the University of Iowa, the first public university in the United States to admit men and women on an equal basis.

You can find a round-up of social media posts about the event over here on Storify, as well as photos on Flickr.

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