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About this book

This timely collection of essays on British and European Catholic spiritualities explores how ideas of the sacred have influenced female relationships with piety and religious vocations over time. Each of the studies focuses on specific persons or groups within the varied contexts of England, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, together spanning the medieval period through to the nineteenth century.

Examining the interplay between women's religious roles and patriarchal norms, the volume highlights the relevance of gender and spirituality through a wide geographical and chronological spectrum. It is an essential resource for students of Gender History, Women's Studies and Religious Studies, introducing a wealth of new research and providing an approachable guide to current debates and methodologies.

Contributions by: Nancy Jiwon Cho, Frances E. Dolan, Rina Lahav, Jenna Lay, Laurence Lux-Sterritt, Carmen M. Mangion, Querciolo Mazzonis, Marit Monteiro, Elizabeth Rhodes, Kate Stogdon, Anna Welch

Table of Contents

Introduction: Gender, Catholicism and Women’s Spirituality over the Longue Durée

Derived from St Paul’s reference to ‘spiritual persons’ as those ‘influenced by the Holy Spirit of God’,1 the term spirituality became linked to seventeenthcentury French spiritual writers and clergy. In subsequent centuries, the general understanding of spirituality became increasingly non-denominational. Today, spirituality is broadly understood to give meaning and purpose to life and to provide a transcendental experience to those in search of the sacred. It can be attained through meditation, prayer or communion with the natural world. This transcendence can lead to a sense of connectedness with something greater than oneself, such as nature, the universe or a higher being. For some, spirituality is thoughtful and passive, while for others it is emotional or action-oriented. Notions of spirituality are not fixed, but rather culturally derived and constantly shifting, fashioned by myriad forces including gender, ethnicity and class. Since spirituality mirrors specific times, places and cultures, it can be used as an analytic tool to examine various facets of society.
Laurence Lux-Sterritt, Carmen M. Mangion

1. Presence and Absence: Reading Clare of Assisi in Franciscan Liturgy and Community

The historiography of the Order of Friars Minor and its founder, St Francis of Assisi (1181/82–1226), is long and complex. Scholars have written volumes about this charismatic man, searching for new understandings of his spirituality and that of his powerful yet divided Order.2 However, it is only more recently that scholars have given this same level of attention to St Clare of Assisi (1194–1253), first abbess and namesake of the Second Order of Franciscans, the Poor Ladies of San Damiano (at other times, the Poor Clares or the Order of St Clare). It was not until the early twentieth century that the early sources pertaining to Clare were first transcribed and translated from their manuscript originals.3 Clare was canonized with great speed in 1255, two years after her death, and the office for her dies natalis (the day she died and was born into eternal life) was added to the Franciscan liturgy in 1260.4 This chapter will examine whether or not the feasts of Clare – her dies natalis on 12 August and her translatio (the moving of her body from the church of San Giorgio to the newly built Basilica di Santa Chiara, which occurred in 1260) on 2 October – are present in the calendar, litany and sanctoral cycle of five thirteenth and fourteenth-century Franciscan liturgical manuscripts from Umbria (Figure 1.1). Also present within the selected manuscripts are the same feasts for Francis and Anthony of Padua (Figures 1.2 and 1.3).
Anna Welch

2. Marguerite Porete and the Predicament of her Preaching in Fourteenth-Century France

You have communicated the above mentioned book after it was condemned and burnt, to the reverend father lord John, bishop of Chalons, and to certain other persons as if it were good and lawful.1
Rina Lahav

3. The Impact of Renaissance Gender-Related Notions on the Female Experience of the Sacred: The Case of Angela Merici’s Ursulines

Students of gender history often ponder on how to reconcile the achievements of spiritual women during the Renaissance with the misogynistic culture of the time. Recent studies have shown that mainstream views of the female both limited and fostered women’s opportunities within religion.1 Focusing on the Company of St Ursula founded by Angela Merici (1474–1540), this essay will provide a further illustration of how a certain model of female spirituality was articulated in connection with contemporaneous cultural notions of the female.
Querciolo Mazzonis

4. Teresa de Jesús’s Book and the Reform of the Religious Man in Sixteenth-Century Spain

Without Abstract
Elizabeth Rhodes

5. Mary Ward’s English Institute and Prescribed Female Roles in the Early Modern Church

Protestantism gained much ground in late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century Europe, prompting the Catholic Church to embark upon a worldwide catechizing endeavour. The reforming Council of Trent (1545–63) sought to respond to the challenges of the rapidly changing religious picture, giving increased importance to missionary vocations amongst the clergy. However, it made no provision for women religious to become part of this common effort; on the contrary, in 1563, it reasserted that the only acceptable form of religious life for women was cloistered contemplation. Yet before and after Trent, many unenclosed female movements emerged which sought to complement male apostolic movements. Earlier in this volume, Querciolo Mazzonis evoked the vocation of the Italian Angela Merici (1474–1540), whose Company of Saint Ursula combined contemplation and care of one’s neighbour. Marit Monteiro’s essay also shows that, in the Netherlands, spiritual virgins, or ‘beguines’, found it difficult to match the usefulness of their active endeavours with the authorities’ reticence towards females who escaped traditional status definitions. In France, the Congrégation de Notre-Dame (1597), François de Sales’s Visitation (1610–16) or the Filles de la Charité (1634) all shared the same apostolic essence.2 Their main vocation was not the observance of a monastic way of life but rather an evangelical brief which implied constant interaction with others.
Laurence Lux-Sterritt

6. An English Nun’s Authority: Early Modern Spiritual Controversy and the Manuscripts of Barbara Constable

In the early seventeenth century, Catholic women who left their homes in England to enter convents in France and the Low Countries were often forced to confront a difficult question: to whom does an English nun owe her obedience? As exiles from their country and often from their families, these women entered an ecclesiastical hierarchy that was at once foreign and familiar. The English Reformation had unsettled the relationship between spiritual and temporal authority, casting obedience to the monarch — expressed through oaths and signified by regular attendance at church services — as the primary duty of an English subject.2 At the same time, the spread of Protestantism led to the disruption of traditional religious hierarchies; in this new religion, priests, popes and saints were no longer necessary intermediaries between an individual and God. The historiography covering early modern English Catholicism has grappled with these issues in the recusant context and revealed the internal divisions of the Catholic community regarding religious and political loyalty.3 But Catholic Englishwomen enclosed in monasteries on the Continent have only recently begun to receive the attention of historians and literary critics interested in how authority, loyalty and obedience functioned both within religious Orders and in the world outside the convent’s walls.4
Jenna Lay

7. Power in Piety: Inspiration, Ambitions and Strategies of Spiritual Virgins in the Northern Netherlands during the Seventeenth Century

On 2 February 1682, the feast of the Purification of Our Lady, 19—year-old Clara Adolf celebrated her spiritual wedding (geestelijke bruiloft) with Jesus Christ in a ceremony that marked her initiation into the state in life of a spiritual virgin. During this ceremony, she received the objects which symbolized her virginity as well as her union with Christ: a scapular, a veil, a belt, a crown and a ring. She now had become a bride of Christ.2 She was assisted by Maria Hartman and Maria Boede.3 They all belonged to a group of so-called filiae spirituales (spiritual daughters) or filiae devotae of the Augustinian missionary Joannes Uutten Eeckhout (1614–1682) and his successors. Uutten Eeckhout served as a priest in a house chapel in Amsterdam, called De Star (The Star).4 In 1664 he began recording the spiritual virgins affiliated with this chapel and by 1695 the list numbered over 60 women.5
Marit Monteiro

8. ‘Martyrs of England! Standing on High!’: Roman Catholic Women’s Hymn-writing for the Re-invigoration of the Faith in England, 1850–1903

In the past three decades, several studies have demonstrated that hymn-writing in the nineteenth century was an accessible literary genre by which English women could inscribe their spiritual experience, publish their theology, raise awareness about their social concerns, and minister to their fellow Christians.2 However, research on the development of English women’s hymn-writing to date has focused on the works of Protestants and overlooked the contributions of Roman Catholics. This is perhaps not surprising in the context of the relatively late development in English Catholic hymnody (see below), which made it less visible than the longer traditions of the Protestants. Furthermore, for much of the nineteenth century — the golden age of hymn-singing in England3 — Catholic hymnody did not fit into the Protestant model of congregational hymn-singing in church services. As Muir elucidates:
Nineteenth-century vernacular Catholic hymnody did not evolve in the same way. In the first place it was driven out of Mass and the Office and largely confined to outdoor processions and extra-liturgical services. The latter had a strong devotional streak, which militated against active congregational participation. As a result, for a long time hymns were often the preserve of the choir and treated like anthems and motets. It was only from the late nineteenth century that stronger efforts were made to develop a tradition of congregational hymn singing.4
Nancy Jiwon Cho

9. Expressions of Self-Surrender in Nineteenth-Century France: The Case of Thérèse Couderc (1805–1885)

Thérèse Couderc, co-founder of the Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle, was instrumental in initiating new forms of spiritual ministry for Roman Catholic women in nineteenth-century France. This was made possible by the resurgence of female congregations in the context of a fragmented political, social and religious landscape. While most of these religious sisters ministered in educational and social fields, the Sisters of the Cenacle specialized in the giving of spiritual retreats according to the Ignatian method. However, despite her contribution to this pioneering work, Couderc seemed to withdraw into a life of increasing invisibility and was noted in particular for her great humility (cited as one of the central reasons for her canonization in 1970). This representation of her as une grande humble has been undergirded by her own writings as well as the assessments made about her by contemporaries and subsequent interpreters.
Kate Stogdon

10. The ‘Mixed Life’: Challenging Understandings of Religious Life in Victorian England

Communities of women religious2 became a vital component of Catholic parish life in Victorian England.3 The ‘works of mercy’ of active, simple-vowed religious sisters whose evangelical efforts took them outside the cloister were numerous and visible in public spaces. This so-called ‘mixed life’, a religious life of prayer commingled with active evangelization (as teachers, nurses and parish visitors), appealed to women desiring a role within religious life but outside the cloister. The mixed life also appealed to a Catholic hierarchy which was struggling to build a devout Catholic body and in great need of an army of Church workers. While women religious, as visible symbols of Catholicism and celibate women, were contentious in Victorian Britain,4 their charitable work for the poor was highly regarded by some, including even Protestants typically quick to deride their efforts as ‘papist’.5 As religious sisters taking simple vows, they were classified differently from the cloistered, solemn-vowed contemplative nuns who had dominated women’s religious life since medieval times.6 Their mixed life of prayer and ‘works of mercy’ required a spirituality which accommodated evangelization in public spaces but allowed for a prayerful retreat within the sacred spaces behind convent walls. Religious sisters prized their spiritual lives as well as their evangelical efforts, but reconciling the dual aspects of their vocation had its challenges.
Carmen M. Mangion


‘I’m not religious,’ people sometimes say today, ‘but I am spiritual.’ These essays demonstrate that such a division would have been unimaginable to the women considered here. While in common parlance ‘spirituality’ is often distinguished from participation in institutional religion, the essays collected here explore the spirituality that was made possible by and in turn animated life in holy Orders. These are not stories of freelance, eclectic spiritual beliefs and practices. Rather, as the introduction advises us, this volume offers a contribution to the history of women religious which includes the spiritual virgins that Marit Monteiro considers, ‘women who nominally were not religious, but who nevertheless considered themselves as such’ (p. 119) and the Ursulines, ‘lay women who lived a life of prayer and penance in their own homes, without vows or common habit’, (p. 5) as Quericiolo Mazzonis explains. For the most part, these women conformed to the restrictions and Rules imposed by the Church and their Orders. Their spirituality was made possible by and defined through institutional structures, even when they resisted, appropriated and reformed them. Marguerete Porete, as Rina Lahav shows, transgressed by conforming: that is, by structuring a sermon exactly like the ones men gave. In founding her Institute, Mary Ward similarly provoked controversy by presuming to adapt the Jesuits’ model of institutional organization for women.
Frances E. Dolan
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