Monastic Women and Religious Orders in Late Medieval Bologna

Margaret Aziza Pappano
2019 Medieval Feminist Forum (MFF)  
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. 262. isbn: 9781107060852 (hardcover) . This original and informative study of monastic women in twelfth-and thirteenth-century Bologna is distinguished by a focus on how questions of affiliation to order, be it Benedictine, Augustinian, Camaldolese, Cistercian, Dominican, or other, influenced ways that nuns experienced their religious life. However, the study eschews examination of spiritual and liturgical practices, concentrating instead on the
more » ... ing instead on the practicalities of institutional life-hence, the emphasis is more on the experience of communities than on individual nuns. As Johnson informs the reader, Bologna is a rich city for such an analysis, expanding from five to thirty-five convents during this period. In addition, Bologna's proximity to Rome meant that it was influenced by papal reform programs. As Johnson further demonstrates in her chapters on civic influences on institutional life, fluctuations between clerical and civic control in Bologna during this period provide insight into how nunneries were connected to their urban environment. Johnson' s book takes explicit aim at the thesis that medieval women struggled to receive adequate pastoral care from fellow monastics and that the male reluctance to embrace the cura monialium represents a sign of the declining status of nuns. By situating her study in this time period, Johnson considers how the rise of centralizing orders, such as the Dominicans and Cistercians, influenced ways that women monastics negotiated and received pastoral care. She suggests that expectations of pastoral care were a product of such centralization and that in fact many nuns preferred the experience of "the diverse and localized monasticism of the earlier Middle Ages," which included different provisions for pastoral services (18). Through case studies of individual institutions in Bologna, showing how some sought affiliation with centralized orders while others resisted such affiliation, Johnson argues that "these convents demonstrate that communities of religious women could have ambiguous relationships with orders not only because of the difficulty of gaining acceptance from monastic men, but also because of their own alternative ways of understanding their place in the church" (96). She suggests that, although some convents embraced new reforms or rules, other convents might cultivate an "institutional limbo," not being clearly affiliated with one order or another. She offers the insight that sisters might be more strongly aligned with their community than with an order per se. A study of liturgical books might add interesting information
doi:10.17077/1536-8742.2161 fatcat:eoq42orqt5hkle4r2jjka5ypje