Women in Religious Order - Francine
Francine A. Bryan
Medieval Christianity
Dr. Andrea Winkler
Hist220

Religious Roles of Women in Medieval Society
The women in medieval societies were undoubtedly immersed in Christianity. Women played a lot of important religious roles in their society even though they couldn�t exert much power due to their gender. They were looked upon as a godly image of piety, faith, and devotion before the English reformation (Catherine Corder 857). As Christianity evolved during the medieval era, so did the roles of women in the church.
According to Christine Peters in her book Patterns of Piety: Women, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval and Reformation England, paintings from earlier in the medieval period place Mary in a position equal to Christ because it was believed that Mary responded to prayers of intercession, and Christ then gave mercy. In the late medieval period, where Mary was once Christ�s equal, she now becomes a �mere mortal� who bears witness to the passion (Christine Peters 96). Catherine Corder wrote an article on Peters� book analyzing her ideas in greater depth. Corder believes that Peters� is relating the late medieval devotion of religious framework to men and women �by defining Christ as an emblematized suffering redeemer, and the Virgin Mary as a representative grieving Christian and admonishing parent� (Christine Peters 96). This appeals to both genders and helps the medieval society to understand their roles in Christianity. Peters continues to describe the humanization of various saints as individuals who could serve as good role models for pious behaviors. Christian followers worked to imitate the saints and improve their own relationship with God, and Peters believes that gender was not the primary shaper for that relationship. I believe that this humanization of the saints restricted women to the role the Virgin Mary upheld during her era. Women were subjected to secondary roles in the religious society and not permitted any power in most cases. They did what they could for their families and devoted their lives to the church.
During the medieval times, it was most common for men to hold the most prominent roles in the community church. It was the men who gave money and corn to the church, and since the women had neither of these two, they designated textiles, fabrics, weddings, girdles, tablecloths, and sheets to the church for religious use. One prominent religious role for a woman is an abbess, which is the female head of a convent of nuns. In medieval times, an Abbess could exercise considerable power, especially if she was also of noble or royal birth. Few women could rise to such power in any other way by their own achievements. Queens and empresses gained their power as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, or other relative of a powerful man (Jone Johnson Lewis www.womenhistory.about.com). Although the power of abbesses was limited because of their sex, there have been documented cases of abbesses wielding more power than they are entitled to. An abbess could not exercise spiritual authority over the nuns because she could not be a priest. She could only hear confessions only of the violations of the order�s rule, not those confessions normally heard by the priest, and she could bless �as a mother� and not publicly as a priest could (Jone Johnson Lewis www.womenhistory.about.com). She also could not preside at communion. All of these restrictions were due to the fact that the abbess was a female. This goes back to women being viewed as the loving parent like the Virgin Mary. I believe that women should have had the opportunity to establish their own religious prominence instead of being restricted and overshadowed by their male counterparts. Since women were deemed second from the beginning, I believe that they began to shape into this role until the English reformation allowed them to branch out a bit more an experience some religious power that was before unattainable to them. According to Peters, �the Reformation did not create a masculine religious landscape in which it was hard for women to follow the holy lives and conversation of the saints, but to find a comfortable place� (Christine Peters 245).
Women who lived during the medieval period were not , Through participation in the medieval church, there were various positions that women could achieve in education, social control and religious liberties (The Roles of Women in Medieval Churches www.ehow.com). Another important role a woman could hold in the church was that of a Beguine. Beguines were medieval Christian women who did not choose to live under a man's care but instead chose to exercise their faiths in communities of women who banded together to emotionally and financially support their permanent lifestyle choices (The Roles of Women in Medieval Churches www.ehow.com). Beguine women served the medieval church by committing to lives of charity and chastity under the teachings of Jesus Christ, but Beguines did not take lifelong vows and were free to leave Beguine houses to marry if they chose to do so. This was a more appealing alternative to women who wanted to strengthen their relationship with God opposed to the nuns who devoted the rest of their lives to their relationship with God. While most nuns remained very uneducated and few barely learned to write, they did achieve a higher status than women who chose to marry, because their chastity was considered to keep them from growing into Eve-like sinners. Societies addressing women sinners as Eve-like sinners is, in my opinion, very demeaning towards the female race, because they are generalizing all women to dramatically sin as Eve did in the garden. It seems to me that men expect for women to betray them as Eve betrayed God therefore they limit their roles in the religious society, which isn�t fair for women who devote their lives following and obeying God�s word.
In conclusion, I believe that women�s roles in the religious societies were already set for them by women like the Virgin Mary and Eve. They are looked upon as being the loving and forgiving mother that reared Jesus himself filled with faith and devotion, as well as the forsaken woman that was the first person to disobey God�s rule and condemn all of God�s people to live in the conditions we do today. Still to this day, women participate in the maternal roles in society in churches and in communities. Even though women could not do certain things that males could do or obtain certain powers in the church, they were expected to carry out some prominent roles that only a �mother� could do, such as blessing and pardoning sins. Depending on their marital statuses or family connections women couldn�t achieve high religious roles by themselves. In the late medieval period, there was a shift toward increasing more focus on the passion. Dianne Hall explains in the sixth chapter of her book, �Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland�, some of the social aspects of convent life, including the issue of enclosure and enforcement, the interactions between nuns and the lay community around them, and the services, both spiritual and social that the nuns provided (Dianne Hall 154). She carefully examines everything that is known about both pious laywomen and professed nuns, and the range of activities that made up the spiritual life of women at this time. Since women were not greatly honored during the medieval era, not much has been recorded about them unless they were prominent women who went against the traditional rules of society, or noble women. In today�s world women can achieve much higher roles by themselves, without the help of family connections or marriage. They can now overlook churches and maintain higher roles in the church than men do.















Bibliography

Corder, Catherine (2003). Patterns of Piety: Women, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval and Reformation England. Women's Studies, 33(6) 857-860.

Barr, Beth Allison (2009). Feminine Sanctity and Spirituality in Medieval Wales. Church History, 78(4) 892-894.

Bray, Dorothy Ann (2005). Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland c. 1140-1540. Church History, 74(1) 153-155.

Johnson Lewis, Jone. �Abbesses in Women�s Religious History�. About. The New York Times Company. n.d. Web. 2 May. 2011
�The Role of Women in Medieval Churches�. Ehow. Demand Media, Inc. n.d. Web. 2 May. 2011








Bibliography

Corder, Catherine (2003). Patterns of Piety: Women, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval and Reformation England. Women's Studies, 33(6) 857-860.

Barr, Beth Allison (2009). Femenine Sanctity and Spirituality in Medieval Wales. Church History, 78(4) 892-894.

Bray, Doroth Ann (2005). Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland c. 1140-1540. Church History, 74(1) 153-155.

Francine A. Bryan
April 20, 2011
Medieval Christianity
Article Analysis

Patterns of Piety:
Women, Gender, and Religious in Late Medieval and Reformation England
Article by: Catherine Corder

Focus: Women’s role during the reformation period in England had significant effects in the churches and communities. Men brought contribution to the church in the form of money or corn; however, women contributed with their domestic talents. Women faith was as equal as men.


Author Cause of Reformation Results of Reformation



Christine Peters What effects did the loss of the The development of a
Virgin Mary, the female saints, Christocentric Piety in the
and medieval women’s role late medieval period focused
models have on women’s on images of the passion.
behavior and social status This was a bridge to the
reformation in England.



Roles of women during the Although women were
Reformation Period had recognized as spiritual equals
significant effect in England they were placed in religious
roles in private domestic
domains of the community.



Findings of the English The reformation did not
Reformation encode gendered societal
roles as much as it
acknowledged that all
humans were weak, and all
individuals must see their
own relationship with God.


Implication: The reformation in England was not about the differences in men and women. It was about the passion of Mary (the mother of Jesus), the saints, and role models. Parishioners were looking for intercessors in their relationship with God.


Philomina critique

Francine pointed out something very significant about the lives of women in Medieval times, that even though women immersed themselves in Christianity, played lot of important religious roles in their society, they could not exert much power due to their gender. They were looked upon as a godly images of piety, faith, and devotion before English reformation hence, they were not granted the means to excel independently unless they were born into a royal family, married into royalty or chose a life of service and solitude through the medieval church. Due to this lack of honor and recognision in medieval era, not much was recorded about them unless they were prominent women who went against the traditional rules of society, or noble women. This was exactly what was pointed out in one of the articles that I found where Therese McGuire in the article "Monastic Artists and Educators of Middle Ages." said that the main obstacle encountered in researching the history of women in the Middle Ages is that the bulk of information regarding this era was written by men for men. From my understanding, the role of women or what they did was not important to be recorded. For women to achieve any significance, they have to be educated. As Francine noted in the paper, one prominent religious role for a woman is an abbess, which is the female head of a convent of nuns. In medieval times, an Abbess could exercise considerable power, especially if she was also of noble or royal birth. Few women could rise to such power in any other way by their own achievements. For my research paper, I found that to be true especially in the lives of Medieva women like Hildegard of Bengin, Herrad of Landsberg, and Elisabeth of Schonau. Franscine did a great job in her research paper concerning the religious role of women in Medieval society. There were informations in her paper that collaborated with most important issues that I found in my research paper regarding the educations of nuns.
I found that Francine had some websites in her research paper that I do not understand if these websites are from trusted sources, and if she is supposed to use them. Again, what does the little squares in between her sentences means?
Most annoying was to read the papers in wiki because I had to scroll from one end to the other. This has nothing to do with Francine's paper.


Critique by Laurie Gates, for Francine Bryan-Religious Women’s Orders

I learned some new information from reading this paper. The idea of women’s religious roles complemented my own topic on the education of women in religious orders. I am interested in reading Diane Hall’s book Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland, although I need to note the author is different in the references. Perhaps Hall is the author of the piece in the book by another author, Dorothy Ann Bray. It was also interesting to learn from the article analysis, the change in focus during the Reformation along with the idea of women being recognized as spiritual equals before the reformation. This stirs up some interests I would like to read more about in the future such as the differences in spirituality by gender.
Philomina, I think the boxes throughout the paper are where the quotation marks should be and perhaps this is a formatting issue with wiki. I noticed there was a format problem with the analysis which made it a little difficult to follow but I enjoyed the topic. I also like the way Francine put her paper on wiki, making it the first thing to read.

**The role women play in the church has always been a problem. Even in the medieval the women had to play an important part in help carrying the church. The women did not get the credit for the jobs that they did. In today times, just like you mention in your paper women now get recognize for the jobs that they perform in the church. Your paper explained it well about women in the medieval time. I learned a lot about women in the church during medieval time by reading your paper. I feel like you organized your paper well. (a.w.)