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Creating Cistercian Nuns

The Women's Religious Movement and Its Reform in Thirteenth-Century Champagne

by Anne E. lester

Publication Year: 2011

In Creating Cistercian Nuns, Anne E. Lester addresses a central issue in the history of the medieval church: the role of women in the rise of the religious reform movement of the thirteenth century. Focusing on the county of Champagne in France, Lester reconstructs the history of the women's religious movement and its institutionalization within the Cistercian order.

The common picture of the early Cistercian order is that it was unreceptive to religious women. Male Cistercian leaders often avoided institutional oversight of communities of nuns, preferring instead to cultivate informal relationships of spiritual advice and guidance with religious women. As a result, scholars believed that women who wished to live a life of service and poverty were more likely to join one of the other reforming orders rather than the Cistercians. As Lester shows, however, this picture is deeply flawed. Between 1220 and 1240 the Cistercian order incorporated small independent communities of religious women in unprecedented numbers. Moreover, the order not only accommodated women but also responded to their interpretations of apostolic piety, even as it defined and determined what constituted Cistercian nuns in terms of dress, privileges, and liturgical practice. Lester reconstructs the lived experiences of these women, integrating their ideals and practices into the broader religious and social developments of the thirteenth century-including the crusade movement, penitential piety, the care of lepers, and the reform agenda of the Fourth Lateran Council. The book closes by addressing the reasons for the subsequent decline of Cistercian convents in the fourteenth century. Based on extensive analysis of unpublished archives, Creating Cistercian Nuns will force scholars to revise their understanding of the women's religious movement as it unfolded during the thirteenth century.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xiii

In the episcopal archives of Troyes, among layers of crumbling paper and yellowing parchments, every now and again there is a flash of color. A small hand-painted playing card appears, folded in half with a hole in the center held by a piece of cotton string (fig. 1). The card—probably painted and played in the late seventeenth century...

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pp. xv-xvii

Like the women at the end of this book, I have come to the close of this endeavor deeply in debt, benefiting from the intellectual generosity of many people and places. It is a joy to render account now. This book took shape under the patient teaching and advice of William Chester Jordan. His most challenging questions,...

On Currencies, Names, and Transcriptions

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pp. xix-21

List of Abbreviations and Short Titles

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pp. xxi-xxii

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Introduction: Written Fragments and Living Parts

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pp. 1-14

In October of 1224 Beatrix, the widow of Thomas of St.-Rémy, came before an official of the bishop’s court in Reims and drew up a donation charter for the nuns of Clairmarais, the new Cistercian nunnery taking shape just beyond the city’s walls (fig. 2). She gave the women, among whom was her daughter...

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1. Concerning Certain Women: The Women’s Religious Movement in Champagne

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pp. 15-44

On a spring day in 1230, a group of religious women gathered to sing the psalms. Their voices resonated across the parish of St.-André, which lay just beyond the town walls of Troyes in a suburb known as Chichéry. The singing carried over the patchwork of farm plots and back gardens and was audible to the nearby...

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2. Cities of Refuge: The Social World of Religious Women

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pp. 45-77

Toward the end of his universal chronicle, the Cistercian monk Aubry of Trois-Fontaines commented dryly that in the year 1231 “the count of Champagne created communes of townsmen and peasants, whom he trusted more than his knights.”1 Aubry’s text, the only local history of Champagne composed...

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3. Under the Religious Life: Reform and the Cistercian Order

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pp. 78-116

Early in the winter of 1234 officials in the county of Champagne seized a widowed townswoman of Provins named Gila. Suspected of heresy, she was imprisoned in the count’s jail and her house and possessions confiscated.1 Gila was one of many people who the Dominican friar Robert le Bougre accused of heresy...

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4. The Bonds of Charity: The Special Cares of Cistercian Nuns

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pp. 117-146

Around 1225, Yvette of Huy, a recluse living in the southern Low Countries, took on a final penitential act of conversion to the religious life: she began to wear the rough Cistercian habit under her clothes, a commitment she kept until her death several years later. Yvette’s adult life encompassed a series of personal...

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5. One and the Same Passion: Convents and Crusaders

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pp. 147-170

Late in the summer of 1192, ships began to return to the southern ports of France and Italy bearing crusaders and pilgrims who had defended the Holy Land after the city of Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin. Among the knights, lords, squires, and retainers was an Englishwoman of middle age, Margaret of Beverley...

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6. A Space Apart: Gender and Administration in a New Social Landscape

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pp. 171-200

Late in the spring of 1290 Alice, abbess of the Cistercian convent of St.-Jacques de Vitry, traveled to Paris and appeared before the Parlement of Paris, the high court of the realm, during its Pentecost session. Representing her convent and its interests—financial and spiritual—she pleaded her case for their rightful possession of...

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Epilogue: A Deplorable and Dangerous State: Crisis, Consolidation, and Collapse

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pp. 201-209

The crisis began almost imperceptibly. Inflation had persisted steadily through the second half of the thirteenth century. Taxes for crusade expeditions became a regular burden. Sometime in the mid-1280s the price of grain began to rise. A few nunneries borrowed money or put more lands to lease to cope with these...

Appendix: Cistercian Convents and Domus-Dei of Champagne

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pp. 211-215


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pp. 217-250


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pp. 251-261

E-ISBN-13: 9780801462955
E-ISBN-10: 0801462959
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801449895
Print-ISBN-10: 0801449898

Page Count: 261
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 763161316
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Creating Cistercian Nuns

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Subject Headings

  • Cistercian nuns -- France -- Champagne-Ardenne -- History -- To 1500.
  • Monastic and religious life of women -- France -- Champagne-Ardenne -- History -- To 1500.
  • Champagne-Ardenne (France) -- Religious life and customs.
  • Geschichte 1200-1300. -- swd.
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