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Much can be revealed about monastic daily life by observing innovations in and through our sources. While discussing some of them in this article for the period between the late eighth century and the eleventh—through a discussion of customaries, the claustral area (claustrum), the chapter house, the recruitment of children, and the outer court—I will argue that we should be more critical about what have long been considered fundamental tenets of medieval monastic life, especially the literal application of the Rule of St. Benedict (RB), total obedience toward the abbot, and strict separation from the secular world. While this last idea has already been challenged, much remains to be said about the complexity of the interaction between the community within the monastery and the exterior. Much also remains to be told about the sway of the community itself.
Monasticism, in all of its variations, was a feature of almost every landscape in the medieval West. So ubiquitous were religious women and men throughout the Middle Ages that all medievalists encounter monasticism in their intellectual worlds. While there is enormous interest in medieval monasticism among Anglophone scholars, language is often a barrier to accessing some of the most important and groundbreaking research emerging from Europe. The Cambridge History of Medieval Monasticism in the Latin West offers a comprehensive treatment of medieval monasticism, from Late Antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages. The essays, specially commissioned for this volume and written by an international team of scholars, with contributors from Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States, cover a range of topics and themes and represent the most up-to-date discoveries on this topic.
Between January of 1417 and the last session of the great Council of Constance (1414–18) in April of 1418, Sigismund of Luxemburg (d. 1437), King of Germany, Hungary, and Croatia, was quartered intermittently at the House of Augustinian Hermits (f. 1268) in the southern part of the old city. The honor of hosting the king—the defensor ecclesiae—along with much of his vast retinue, must have come at great cost both to the community and to the townsfolk of Constance. Perhaps in recognition of this effort and expense, and surely aware that the Augustinians’ church had not yet been fully restored in the wake of a devastating fire in 1398, Sigismund arranged for the impressive sum of 1,400 Guilders to be paid to three local artists—Heinrich Grübel, Kaspar Sünder, and Johann Lederhoser—to paint the nave of the monastery church. Work on the frescoes began in July of 1417, and by September the job was complete.
Regional history (Landesgeschichte) has long been considered to be a quintessentially German approach to medieval history, particularly among scholars outside German academic circles. On the one hand, some of the expectations associated with this kind of research are positive, marked by respect and appreciation for work that is deeply rooted in abundant archival materials and records—sources that are evaluated with great care and in fine detail to the highest academic standards. Such work, which might focus on a single monastery or a small, precisely defined region, is known for its painstaking analysis of all of the preserved sources. These positive expectations, however, are often countered with criticism or even contempt. German historians of this sort are seen to be obsessed with the petty minutiae of a narrowly defined place or region, or to be deeply entangled in an academic discourse that is hardly comprehensible to outsiders, overly focused, for example, on issues of narrow national interest such as characteristic developments in constitutional history. The approach is limited, in this critical view, to positivist narratives that seek to produce the most detailed possible reproduction of a small world. In short, Landesgeschichte is seen to be precise in detail, but completely out of sync with contemporary research on an international level.
Even at first glance, liturgy is a gender-relevant topic, as much within the context of monasticism as within the broader Church. For there was and is a visible difference between the participation of men and women in liturgical celebrations. Despite the prominence of gender in this context, however, research on gender and liturgy in the central and late Middle Ages is still in its infancy. In this article, I will first identify some of the basic gender-related structures that underlie liturgical celebrations, and then turn to the gender-specific contexts of the monastic liturgy. I will focus on the period from the long twelfth century to the end of the Middle Ages, taking the perspective of the Roman Church and its associated territories. It should be kept in mind, however, that, throughout the Middle Ages, individual dioceses and regional churches maintained characteristic forms of liturgy, distinct from those of Rome, even after the Carolingian reforms. Only the Council of Trent would lead the Western Church toward greater standardization.