In Dark Age Nunneries, Steven Vanderputten dismantles the common view of women religious between 800 and 1050 as disempowered or even disinterested witnesses to their own lives. It is based on a study of primary sources from forty female monastic communities in Lotharingia—a politically and culturally diverse region that boasted an extraordinarily high number of such institutions. Vanderputten highlights the attempts by women religious and their leaders, as well as the clerics and the laymen and -women sympathetic to their cause, to construct localized narratives of self, preserve or expand their agency as religious communities, and remain involved in shaping the attitudes and behaviors of the laity amid changing contexts and expectations on the part of the Church and secular authorities.
Rather than a "dark age" in which female monasticism withered under such factors as the assertion of male religious authority, the secularization of its institutions, and the precipitous decline of their intellectual and spiritual life, Vanderputten finds that the post-Carolingian period witnessed a remarkable adaptability among these women. Through texts, objects, archaeological remains, and iconography, Dark Age Nunneries offers scholars of religion, medieval history, and gender studies new ways to understand the experience of women of faith within the Church and across society during this era.
1. Setting the Boundaries for Legitimate Experimentation
2. Holy Vessels, Brides of Christ: Ambiguous Ninth-Century Realities
3. Transitions, Continuities, and the Struggle for Monastic Lordship
4. Reforms, Semi-reforms, and the Silencing of Women Religious in the Tenth Century
5. New Beginnings
6. Monastic Ambiguities in the New Millennium
Steven Vanderputten is Professor of Medieval History at Ghent University. He is the author of Monastic Reform as Process: Realities and Representations in Medieval Flanders, 900–1100, also from Cornell, editor of Understanding Monastic Practices of Oral Communication (Western Europe, Tenth–Thirteenth Centuries), and coeditor of Ecclesia in medio nationis: Reflections on the Study of Monasticism in the Central Middle Ages.
The book illuminates the little-explored landscape of female monasticism. Vanderputten demonstrates that the current narratives remain oversimplified, and opens up possibilities for its revision.
Previous generations of modern historians describe Lotharingian female monasticism as inadequate, lax, and unobservant. In Dark Age Nunneries, Steven Vanderputten puts us right by offering a compelling alternative analysis.
~Elisabeth Van Houts, Emmanuel College, SPECULUM
An impressive volume [that] will be useful to all scholars of monasticism, particularly in its nuanced analysis of communities' interaction with normative texts.
~EARLY MEDIEVAL EUROPE