In The Garden of Delights, Fiona J. Griffiths offers the first major study of the Hortus deliciarum, a magnificently illuminated manuscript of theology, biblical history, and canon law written both by and explicitly for women at the end of the twelfth century. In so doing she provides a brilliantly persuasive new reading of female monastic culture. Through careful analysis of the contents, structure, and organization of the Hortus, Griffiths argues for women's profound engagement with the spiritual and intellectual vitality of the period on a level previously thought unimaginable, overturning the assumption that women were largely excluded from the "renaissance" and "reform" of this period. As a work of scholarship that drew from a wide range of sources, both monastic and scholastic, the Hortus provides a witness to the richness of women's reading practices within the cloister, demonstrating that it was possible, even late into the twelfth century, for communities of religious women to pursue an educational program that rivaled that available to men. At the same time, the manuscript's reformist agenda reveals how women engaged the pressing spiritual questions of the day, even going so far as to criticize priests and other churchmen who fell short of their reformist ideals.
Through her wide-ranging examination of the texts and images of the Hortus, their sources, composition, and function, Griffiths offers an integrated understanding of the whole manuscript, one which highlights women's Latin learning and orthodox spirituality. The Garden of Delights contributes to some of the most urgent questions concerning medieval religious women, the interplay of gender, spirituality, and intellectual engagement, to discussions concerning women scribes and writers, women readers, female authorship and authority, and the visual culture of female communities. It will be of interest to art historians, scholars of women's and gender studies, historians of medieval religion, education, and theology, and literary scholars studying questions of female authorship and models of women's reading.
"As thorough as it is revelatory. . . . Essential reading on the theological, intellectual, and artistic life of the nun in the Middle Ages."—CAA Reviews
"This is scholarship of a very high order. Griffiths's research is exhaustive, her knowledge of the twelfth century broad and deep. She has left no stone unturned in her quest to understand the Hortus, along with its 'mastermind' and the community that produced it, and to restore this work to its rightful place in the history of women's education."—Barbara Newman, Northwestern University
"A major contribution to the history of medieval women and religion. . . . Learned and fascinating."—American Historical Review
"An important book, well reasoned and clearly reasoned."—Religious Studies Review
"Writing a book about one of the most complex books ever assembled is no easy task, yet Griffiths rises to the occasion. . . . In her treatment of the manuscript, and more important, its maker, a forceful new picture of twelfth-century female monasticism emerges, one that is far less passive than that to which we have allowed ourselves to become accustomed. This work will be widely and warmly received by medievalists everywhere."—Jeffrey Hamburger, Harvard University