Cistercian Nuns in Medieval England: the Gendering of Geographic Marginalization
Medieval Feminist Forum, 43, no. 2 (2007)
Medieval monasticism was inherently, unavoidably, and inextricably bound up with practicalities and concepts of space. A monastery needed a grant of land in order to exist in the first place. The very word “locus” often sufficed to describe a monastery.’ Biblical images such as the “place of horror and vast solitude” (in loco horroris et vastae solitudinis) from Deuteronomy 32:10 were regularly invoked as ways of explaining the meaning behind monastic retreat from the world, and particularly in order to emphasize the link between medieval monastic culture and its apostolic origins.
The medieval Cistercians participated enthusiastically in this mode of thinking. Their soft spot for the verse from Deuteronomy 32:10 is well known. From the earliest decades of their monastic experiment in the early twelfth century, the Cistercians had started to tell themselves that their monasteries were located in this biblical place of horror and vast solitude. The most influential use of the Deuteronomic image occurred in one of the order’s official constitutional documents, the Exordium Cistercii from the 1130s, where it was applied to Citeaux.