Women’s monasticism in late medieval Bologna, 1200-1500

Women’s monasticism in late medieval Bologna, 1200-1500

Women’s monasticism in late medieval Bologna, 1200-1500

Sherri Franks Johnson

University of Arizona: Doctor of Philosophy, Department of History (2004)


This dissertation explores the fluid relationship between monastic women and religious orders. I examine the roles of popes and their representatives, governing bodies of religious orders, and the nunneries themselves in outlining the contours of those relationships. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, many emerging religious communities belonged to small, local groups with loose ties to other nearby houses. While independent houses or regional congregations were acceptable at the time of the formation of these convents, after the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, monastic houses were required to follow one of three monastic rules and to belong to a recognized order with a well-defined administrative structure and mechanisms for enforcing uniformity of practice. This program of monastic reform had mixed success.

Though some nunneries attained official incorporation into monastic or mendicant orders due to papal intervention, the governing bodies of these orders were reluctant to take on the responsibility of providing temporal and spiritual guidance to nuns, and for most nunneries the relationship to an order remained unofficial and loosely defined. The continuing instability of order affiliation and identity becomes especially clear in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when war-related destruction forced many nunneries to move into the walled area of the city, often resulting in unions of houses that did not share a rule and order affiliation. Moreover, some individual houses changed rules and orders several times. Though a few local houses of religious women had a strong and durable identification with their order, for many nunneries, the boundaries between orders remained porous and their organizational affiliations were pragmatic and mutable.

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