Sarah Louise Greer
Master of Arts, History, The University of Auckland (2012)
Female monasticism occupied an incredibly important position in the world of early medieval Francia. Convents, and the women living within them, were key figures in the political, social, cultural and religious history of the Frankish kingdoms. Contemporary sources, from secular histories to saints’ lives to monastic rules are filled with the names of convents and nuns, and recognize their powerful roles in the Frankish world Yet, in modern historiography, early medieval nuns have been marginalized. Viewed by historians as less important than male monasticism, or as an example of the misogyny of the Carolingian world, female monasticism has not received the scholarly attention it deserves. Indeed, there is a lack of information on some of the most fundamental questions on this subject. Why did monasticism become increasingly attractive in the sixth to ninth centuries? What was the experience of women inside monasteries? How did communities of nuns interact with the world outside their walls? What can we learn from the monastic regulae about the perceptions of women and the religious life?
This thesis addresses these questions, among others, in order to reveal the complexity and variety that existed in Frankish female monasticism. The flexibility of early medieval women to adapt the monastic life to their own needs and requirements set up the foundation for female monasticism in the centuries to come. The story of monastic women in the Frankish kingdoms is not one of misogynistic repression of female religious freedom, but rather illustrates the ability of women to shape their own lives with the support of various kings, noblemen, bishops and male clergy. My research is an attempt to restore medieval monastic women to the position of importance and respect accorded to them by their contemporaries.