The Heloise of History

Raymond Monvoisin depiction of Heloise in the 19th century

This thesis seeks to determine the historical role of the twelfth-century abbess Heloise, apart from the frequently cited and disputed letters exchanged between her and Peter Abelard.

Skriðuklaustur monastery: Medical Centre of Medieval East Iceland?

Excavation site of Skiðuklaustur in Iceland from the fifteenth century.  Photo by Christian Bickel / Wikimedia Commons

Skriðuklaustur monastery was the youngest of nine cloisters operated in Iceland during the Catholic period of the Middle Ages.

Medieval Lisbon: Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery, Belém, Lisbon. Photo by

Of the four medieval #placestosee in Lisbon, Jerónimos Monastery, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, was my favourite. The monastery is located in Belém, a suburb of Lisbon, that is famous for the 16th century monastery, as well as for its world famous pastry shop, Pastéis de Belém…

Medieval Lisbon: Carmo Convent

View of the majestic Gothic tomb of King Ferdinand I (1345-1383), along with several other Gothic sarcophagi inside the Carmo Monastery museum. Photo by

Part III of my series on Medieval Lisbon. This visit took me to Carmo Monastery and museum.

Priests found spiritual satisfaction by serving nuns, Stanford medieval historian says

A female scribe and male artist present their book to the Virgin Mary in this medieval manuscript, called the Guta-Sintram Codex (c. 1154). The Codex supports Fiona Griffiths' finding that men and women collaborated during this period of history. Photo by Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

A study of medieval texts and imagery by Stanford history Professor Fiona Griffiths counters commonly held beliefs about misogynistic practices in medieval Europe. Griffiths’ research reveals how some male clergy acknowledged and celebrated the perceived religious superiority of nuns.

Who Were The Celts? The British Museum Offers Answers with New Exhibition

Gundestrup Cauldron Silver  Gundestrup, northern Denmark, 100 BC–AD 1 © The National Museum of Denmark. The British Museum. Photo by

The British Museum just opened its latest exhibit, Celts: Art and Identity this past Thursday, covering 2,500 years of Celtic history. The exhibit explores Celtic identity and how it eveolved from the time of the Ancient Greeks to the present through art, culture, daily life, religion and politics.

‘God Damn’: The Law and Economics of Monastic Malediction

Hildebert cursing a mouse. An image from the  12th century manuscript De Civitate Dei

Today monks are known for turning the other cheek, honoring saints, and blessing humanity with brotherly love. But for centuries they were known equally for fulminating their foes, humiliating saints, and casting calamitous curses at persons who crossed them.

The Origins of Cistercian Sign Language

monastic sign language

The present study begins with a discussion of the different forms of non-verbal communication used in early medieval monastic communities, with an emphasis on the sources for the use of sign language among Cluniac monks.

Exhibit: Magna Carta Through the Ages at the Society of Antiquaries of London

The Black Book of Peterborough. Photo by

If you’re passing through London and want something to do that is very quick, free, and historical, check out this great little Magna Carta exhibit at Burlington House hosted by the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Rebirth and Responsibility: Cistercian Stories from the Late Twelfth Century

Cistercian monks at prayer at at work - University Library Cambridge Ms. mm 5.31. fol. 113

‘His face sadder, his look harsher, his speech more bitter, his movements slower…’ He was going from bad to worse.

‘To Love and Be Loved:’ The Medieval Monastic Community as Family, 400-1300

monks - Leaf from Barbavara Book of Hours, Walters Art Museum

This thesis expands how the medieval monastic family can be understood to parallel the traditional nuclear family founded upon the heterosexual union of husband and wife for the purpose of procreation.

Papers on Medieval Prosopography: Session #47 at KZOO 2015

Pieter Brueghel - Kermesse (The Feast of Saint George)

Three fantastic papers on Prosopography from #KZOO2015.

Teenage Rebellion in the Middle Ages: How Salimbene de Adam became a Franciscan

Fransicans - by José Benlliure y Gil (1855–1937)

It is a popular story – the teenage son defying his parents and doing something very rebellious. It could be using drugs, getting a tattoo, or falling into with the wrong type of people. Back in the thirteenth-century, the rebellious son might become a Franciscan!

Sacerdos et Predicator: Franciscan ‘Experience’ and the Cronica of Salimbene de Adam


The Chronicle of the thirteenth-century Franciscan friar Salimbene de Adam is filled with an abundance of self-referential passages.

Environmental Crusading: The Teutonic Knight’s Impact After the Baltic Crusades

Malbork Zamek Krzyzacki. Wikicommons

Environmental archaeologist and Professor of Archeology at Reading, Dr. Aleks Pluskowski, examined Malbork and several other sites across Eastern and Northern Europe in his recent paper, The Ecology of Crusading: The Environmental Impact of Holy War, Colonisation, and Religious Conversion in the Medieval Baltic. Pluskowski is keenly interested in the impact the Teutonic Knights and Christian colonisation had on the region. His ambitious 4 year project on the ecological changes in this area recently came to a close at the end of 2014.

10 Creepy Things to See at the Louvre That Are Better Than the Mona Lisa

Catherine de Medici - Louvre

If you’re an ancient historian, a medievalist, or early modernist, there are so many other amazing pieces and works of art a the Louvre other than these two tourist staples. Here is my list of cool, creepy, unusual and better than the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris.

Magic in the Cloister

Diagram of a magic circle for summoning spirits of the air

St. Augustine’s Abbey can be viewed as a centre of magical studies in the late Middle Ages because of the large and diverse collection of magic texts present in the library, the number of monks interested in unorthodox studies and the ways in which magic was integrated within the monastic context

Templar attitudes towards women


The rule of the order of the Temple took a traditional monastic attitude towards women, being strongly anti-feminine in tone, and seeing women as contaminating the brothers.

The Nun’s Crown

nuns crown

The nun’s crown, a white linen circlet with overlapping bands forming a cross worn over her veil, formed part of the dress of monastic women in northern Germany.

The Sincere Body: The Performance of Weeping and Emotion in Late Medieval Italian Sermons

The Magdalen Weeping - by Master of the Legend of the Magdalen, dated 1525.

In 1493 the well-known and controversial Franciscan preacher Bernardino of Feltre gave a series of Lenten sermons to the people of Pavia. On March 11 he dedicated an entire sermon to the necessity of contrition—or perfect sorrow over sin—in the rite of confession.

Strange Bedfellows : The Rise of the Military Religious Orders in the Twelfth Century

Military and religious life in the Middle Ages and at the period of the Renaissance (1870)

Although they were devout members of a pacifist religion, they were also its dominant military force. By the most basic tenants of Christianity, the Military Orders should never have existed.

Corbie in the Carolingian Renaissance

Carolingian Aachen Gospels (c. 820)

This study opens with a historical account of Corbie from its foundation until the reign of Charles the Simple, which clarifies the political importance of the abbey and its relations with rulers and bishops.

The last wonderful thing: the icon of the Heavenly Ladder on Mount Sinai

The Ladder of Divine Ascent 12th c.

Description and dating of the icon of the Heavenly Ladder Jacob ‘dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached toheaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

Skirts and Politics: The Cistercian Monastery of Harvestehude and the Hamburg City Council

Medieval nun with skirt lifted

In 1482, Catharina Arndes lifted up her skirts in front of the archbishop’s chaplain. She was a respectable townswoman from Hamburg, and her action was carried out in defense of the Cistercian monastery of Harvestehude which was close to the city and where several of Catharina’s nieces lived as nuns.

Women’s monasticism in late medieval Bologna, 1200-1500


This dissertation explores the fluid relationship between monastic women and religious orders. I examine the roles of popes and their representatives, governing bodies of religious orders, and the nunneries themselves in outlining the contours of those relationships.

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