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Nuns in the Public Sphere: Aelred of Rievaulx’s De Sanctimoniali de Wattun and the Gendering of Authority

Nuns in the Public Sphere: Aelred of Rievaulx’s De Sanctimoniali de Wattun and the Gendering of Authority

By Elizabeth Freeman

Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Vol.27:1 (1996)

Introduction: For there is only one house [Watton] in the diocese of York where canons and lay brethren dwell alongside nuns within the same enclosures, which are particularly spacious; but, as is public knowledge, they live apart with propriety.

The preceding passage appears in a letter from Roger archbishop of York and Hug bishop of Durham to Pope Alexander III, composed in 1166 or 1167. The letter is part of a defense of the Gilbertine order against allegations from some of the order’s lay brethren. Roger and Hugh assert the order’s propriety and deny that the proximity of nuns, lay sisters, canons, and lay brethren within the single monastic establishment at Watton had ever refused in unbefitting behavior or sexual relations.

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