Interesting facts and information about life and the lives and roles of women in the
Medieval period of the Middle Ages
The first Medieval Nuns adhered to the Benedictine Rule which was established by St. Benedict in 529AD. There were many different orders of Medieval Nuns established during the Middle Ages. These included:
- The Benedictine Nuns
- The Dominican Nuns
- The Franciscan Nuns - this Second Franciscan Order were called Poor Ladies or Poor Clares
- Ursuline Nuns
- Augustine Nuns, including the Gilbertines
- Carmelite Sisters
- Daughters/Sisters of Charity
- Daughters of St. Paul
- Sisters of Mercy
- Sisters of St. Joseph
All Medieval Nuns led lives which were strictly disciplined. Their lives were dedicated to their God and their faith and was a renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem.
Medieval Convent or Nunnery
Becoming Medieval Nuns
Many women were placed into convents by their families. The Church received a dowry from the parents of the nuns, and any jewelry which belonged to the girl which added wealth to the convent or nunnery. Older women also became nuns, many widows chose this way of life after the death of their husband. Many convents and nunneries only accepted postulents who were from wealthy backgrounds. Every candidate for admission to a nun's order took the vow of obedience. The postulancy usually lasted one month, the novitiate one year, at the end which simple vows were taken. The solemn vows of the Medieval Nuns were taken four years later. Having once joined she remained a nun for the rest of her life. The medieval ceremony for the consecration of nuns was similar to a wedding - a nun would be seen as married to God. A ring was placed on the nun's finger and she wore a wedding crown or headdress. Medieval ecclesiastic terms which related to becoming a nun in the Middle Ages:
- Oblate - an oblate was a girl given in childhood to a convent or nunnery by his parents, to be brought up as a nun
- Postulant - a postulant was a person seeking admission to a religious order
- Novice - a novice was a member of a monastic community under training, who has not yet taken final vows
Daily Life of a Nun in the Middle Ages
Why did people choose to become Medieval Nuns
The life of a nun was hard so why did people choose to become Medieval Nuns? It was a commitment for life. The life of a Medieval nun appealed to many different kinds of women in the Middle Ages. Women were not usually well educated during the Middle Ages although some nuns were taught to read and write. The reasons for becoming a Medieval nun were as follows:
- To devote their lives to serving God and to live a life in a secure retreat
- To obey the wishes of their families
Not all nuns were given hard, manual work. Women who came from wealthy backgrounds were invariably given lighter work and spent time on such tasks as spinning and embroidery. Many nuns also worked on religious manuscripts and many became illuminators. There were also lay sisters who were female members of the convent or nunnery who were not bound to the recitation of the divine office and spent their time occupied in manual work.
Why did people choose to become Medieval Nuns - the Cult of the Virgin
Another reason why women chose to become nuns was the Cult of the Virgin. During the Medieval era of the Middle Ages the belief, fostered by to St. Augustine was that every person was born guilty of the original sin. This original sin was committed when Eve tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden. Eve was therefore responsible for the sinfulness of mankind, their sufferings and ultimately the death of Christ on the cross. Medieval Women of the Middle Ages were therefore viewed as the instrument of evil. This attitude towards women, initially encouraged by the church, led to their total subservience to men and the degradation of their lives. This attitude towards women started to change in the 12th and 13th centuries. The cult of the Virgin emerged inspired by the writings of theologians such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (10901153), who identified her as the bride of the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. 'Our Lady' was seen as the Intercessor for the salvation of humankind because she gave birth to the Son of God. This movement, the cult of the Virgin Mary, led to women being raised in the esteem of men. A woman who remained chaste such as a nun was in a position which therefore demanded some considerable respect.
The Three Vows of the Medieval Nuns
The three main vows of the Medieval nuns of the Middle Ages were:
- The Vow of Poverty
- The Vow of Chastity
- The Vow of Obedience
The three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience were the basis of the rule of St. Benedict and the life of the Medieval Nuns.
Nuns Clothes in the Middle Ages
Medieval Nuns and the Convent or Nunnery
Medieval Nuns lived in a convent or nunnery. Each convent or nunnery formed an independent, self-supporting community which meant that the Medieval Nuns had no need of going beyond the limits of the convent or nunnery for anything. Convents gradually increased in wealth and numbers and some came to form enormous establishments, covering many acres and, within its massive walls, had the appearance of a fortified town.
Medieval Convent Nunnery
Sexual Practises of Medieval Nuns - Breaking the Vows
The vow of chastity led to problems with the Medieval nuns of the Middle Ages. The strict rules applying to complete sexual abstinence led to some degenerate behaviour. Medieval nuns were known to flout the rules of chastity and practise sexual perversions including sadism and masochism. Nuns became pregnant and bore children. Other nuns experienced phantom pregnancies. Inflicting self-harm was practised starting with wearing hair shirts, failing to wash and even involving self-flagellation. The vow of poverty was also disregarded by abbesses and the nuns of rich monasteries. Moral standards declined and Nuns became more careless about keeping the services. They also enjoyed such forbidden luxuries such as dancing, fine foods, and lapdogs.
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