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Clemence of Barking and Valdes of Lyon: Two Contemporaneous Examples of Innovation in the Twelfth Century

Clemence of Barking and Valdes of Lyon: Two Contemporaneous Examples of Innovation in the Twelfth Century

By Lisa Murray

MA Thesis, City University of New York, 2017

Detail of a historiated initial of a teacher and students, British Library, Harley 3140, f. 137.

Abstract: The Twelfth Century in Western Europe was a remarkable time in history. Scholars have noted that Roman law was being revived, Aristotelian theory was being studied, Romanesque and Gothic art was being produced, scholasticism was being cultivated, and economic growth was being fostered by the rise of towns. These are just some of the developments that help give this era the well-known term “twelfth-century renaissance.”

Despite the flourishing of creativity that this label suggests, there are few surviving, specific examples of innovation from this time that have been passed down to us. In AD 1175 the Benedictine nun Clemence of Barking translated a
life of St. Catherine of Alexandria from Latin to Anglo-Norman using an eleventh-century source. A rare example of a woman author, she took drastic liberties with some parts of the story and added her own thoughts to the text.

At the same time in Lyons, France, a businessman now referred to as Valdes of Lyons was founding a movement that would later be called the Waldensians. Ashamed of his former greed, he renounced his way of life and became a preacher who advocated living purely from scripture. He also paid for a vernacular translation of biblical passages and allowed women to join his group. His preaching was unauthorized and he was ultimately excommunicated by the Church in 1184.


Clemence and Valdes were strong supporters of Catholic ideals and were seeking to endorse Christian virtues. Nevertheless, their actions provide examples of innovation and a deviation from the mainstream. Two ways in which they expressed their innovation is in their utilization of the vernacular and in their reconsideration of gender. While a nun and a schismatic appear unlikely subjects for a comparative analysis, we can find in their respective stories elements of novel thinking. This thesis will study them side by side to explore their distinct forms of spirituality, and also, how these spiritualities seem to serve as precursors to arguably more noticeable changes in the High and Late Middle Ages.

Click here to read this thesis from the City University of New York

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