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This chapter imagines an ordinary day in the life of a female monastic community in twelfth-century Germany. The chapter, like the monastic day, is organized around the celebration of the monastic liturgy of the hours. Between the liturgical hours in the oratory, the nuns attend to their daily business in the cloister, chapter house, lavatory, refectory, and workshops. The flow and activities of this monastic day are based primarily on the Rule of St. Benedict, the customary of Hirsau, and Hildegard of Bingen’s own commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, as well as on archaeological and bioarchaeological evidence that reflects medieval monastic lifeways.
In fourth-century Cappadocia, monks and nuns at the monastery of Annisa lived in separate quarters, with the “tagma of monks” and the “choir of virgins” set far apart on the former family estate of Macrina the Younger. Even when the whole community gathered in the common church for regular prayers and when it had guests on special occasions such as Macrina’s funeral in 379, men and women remained segregated by sex, singing the psalms of the evening service. In seventh-century England, nuns and monks at the monastery of Whitby lived in an open ribbon of dwellings arranged in parallel rows that were divided from one another by a simple system of flagstone paths, with no surviving archaeological evidence of any kind of architectural structure to keep them separate. In twelfth- and thirteenth-century France, direct contact between the women of Coyroux and the men of Obazine, some 600 to 700 meters away, was strictly limited. Built in a steep and inhospitable valley, the women’s house was accessible only through a kind of airlock—a room that served as a neutral zone between their enclosure and the outside world that was accessed by two carefully locked doors, opened one at a time.
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.
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.