Elisabeth of Schönau: Visions and Female Intellectual Culture of the High Middle Ages

Elisabeth of Schönau - altarElisabeth of Schönau: Visions and Female Intellectual Culture of the High Middle Ages

Sarah M. Spalding

The Catholic University of America: Department of History School of Arts and Sciences Of  Doctor of Philosophy (2013)


Elisabeth of Schönau (1128/29-1164/65) was a Rhineland Benedictine who wrote numerous visionary texts. These works addressed local problems in the cloister and community, reform within the Church, and theological questions. Elisabeth’s writings were extremely popular among her contemporaries, circulating throughout Western Europe in the twelfth century. While scholars have studied Elisabeth, it has usually been within the context of her spirituality and how it reflected distinct feminine interests. This thesis, however, provides an analysis of Elisabeth’s works in the context of the proliferation of school culture and reform movements in the twelfth century.

Through a close analysis of her entire corpus of works, I demonstrate how Elisabeth’s texts promote a clear reform program, engaging with literary formats popular among the intellectual elite. Elisabeth’s works pursued a reform agenda through their emphasis on formation within the cloister and pastoral leadership, promoting these concerns as part of her answers to theological and spiritual questions that she received from members of religious communities. In this way, Elisabeth’s texts also provided a response to those critical of her engagement with theological and spiritual issues in the public sphere.

Click here to read this thesis from The Catholic University of America

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