Monday, July 14, 2008

Yes, nuns lived in monasteries

Today I need to shift gears. I'm teaching an undergrad seminar (not about nuns, alas) in the fall, and I need to select the readings and get them to the copiers so they have plenty of time to get permissions. This will more or less require me to work out the entire schedule of readings for the fall in the next few days--always something I find difficult, since there are dozens of little decisions to be made.

Meanwhile, I want to clarify a point of vocabulary regarding nuns, especially of the medieval variety.

It's customary in English to refer to houses of nuns as "convents" and houses of monks as "monasteries." This means that when I refer to "women's monasteries" I usually get some raised eyebrows. People have said to me, "Oh...they lived in monasteries?" sounding very impressed. Really, convents and monasteries are basically the same thing, it's simply a convention of English vocabulary, and I don't know when it developed. (Readers? any insights?)

I use the word monasteries to refer to women's communities because that's what my sources say. The Latin charters I'm dealing with refer quite consistently to a house for nuns as a monasterium.   So they are clearly people who live in a monastery. The charters also use the word conventum. This word, in context, seems to refer to the religious community as a legal entity: the abbess and the conventum of the house together make decisions about buying and selling property, according to the charters, for example.  Monasterium seems also to be used to refer to the physical building and its surroundings, but can also refer generally to the community.  So these nuns (continental, not English) clearly lived in both a monastery and a convent, and I use both terms whenever they seem appropriate.

10 comments:

tenthmedieval said...

Plenty of double houses on the Continent too if you know where to look. Of course most nunneries may have had some on-hand male clerics, one or two priests at least, and almost certainly owned land which those priests lived from; but my pet one has pretty much every grade of cleric from mere clericus to priest, and you see them climbing the grades over time in the charter subscriptions, so that one's both a nunnery and a canonry... Really, monastery makes most sense.

clio's disciple said...

My nuns are actually also in Catalonia. Yes, that's another matter; every house of nuns needed at least some clerical care, and large ones often had large staffs of priests. One I've studied only had about 25 nuns at most, and had a good 6 priests attached to varying degrees.

tenthmedieval said...

My nuns are actually also in Catalonia.

Reeeeeaally! Where and when, if I may ask?

clio's disciple said...

The other end of the period from you--13th-14th century. I've worked on St. Daniel de Girona and St. Pere de les Puelles primarily. I enjoyed your article on Emma and Sant Joan!

tenthmedieval said...

Always nice to gather someone actually read it! I don't know very much about those houses at all that late, but at my end there's certainly scope to do something similar with Sant Pere de les Puelles. Heavily mythologised history all tied up with the sack of Barcelona. Somehow in there it manages to obscure that the first abbess we securely know about of this comital foundation is not a comital daughter but child of the major frontier nobles. I've always wondered if that was a quid pro quo or if they just comitized their foundation history in 986 when a comital daughter did take over...

clio's disciple said...

Hm, I seem to be more familiar with the mythologized version of Sant Pere's history, interesting. Sant Daniel was a comital foundation also, but one with increasingly tenuous ties to the counts after its foundation--apparently no comital daughters at all.

tenthmedieval said...

Abbess Filmera is the daughter of Sal·la of Bages, founder of Sant Benet de Bages; and she isn't abbess of Sant Joan, so there isn't really anywhere else for it to be. Then after 985, it's Adelaide, Borrell II's daughter. Supposedly Adelaide Borrell's sister precedes Filmera but actually there isn't any evidence of that, it's just that Adelaide the Elder has the same name as Adelaide the Younger and she also briefly functions as Abbess of Sant Joan in 947. So really we don't know who was in charge in 945, and I don't know how solid the foundation act is. I know where to look it up though (Ordeig's Dotalies, FWIW). Perhaps I should. Can find you references for all the above if it will assist, of course.

clio's disciple said...

Interesting details, thanks much. I don't think I need specific references right now, but I'll get back to you if I do.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I ran into the same problem when doing photos of Catalan communities for Outside Project. I went after things listed as "convent", and ended up, puzzled, standing in front of a lot of male communities.

Doesn't the distinction have something to do with whether the community is a mendicant order or not? Like, Benedictines are always monasteries, and Franciscans & Dominicans are convents?

clio's disciple said...

Yes, mendicant houses do tend to be called "convents." I'm not sure why that is, but that term does regularly get used in Spain, perhaps elsewhere on the continent as well.