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Fashions in Monastic Patronage: The Popularity of Supporting Cistercian Abbeys for Women in Thirteenth-Century Northern France

Fashions in Monastic Patronage: The Popularity of Supporting Cistercian Abbeys for Women in Thirteenth-Century Northern France

By Constance H. Berman

Proceedings of the Western Society for French History, Vol. 17 (1990)

Introduction:  The rapid expansion of the Cistercian order from the entrance of Bernard of Clairvaux and his companions up to 1152 has frequently been considered one of the minor wonders of the twelfth century. Such descriptions of the orders expansion, however, usually ignore the equally remarkable expansion of its women’s houses which occurred approximately a century later. That expansion of communities for women which began at the turn of the thirteenth century, slowed only after a 1251 agreement between the order’s General Chapter and the Papacy that the order need no longer accept women’s houses admitted by papal brief.

I have found that the ecclesiastical province of Sens affords an excellent example of such parallel, although delayed expansion by women’s Cistercian houses. In that province, eighteen houses of monks were founded or incorporated into the order in the years between 1114 and 1181. Two houses of nuns date to the twelfth century, another twelve were founded between 1204 and 1229, and a additional eight by 1252. That is twenty-two women’s houses in comparison to eighteen for men.

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