‘Neither In the world nor out’: space and gender in Latin saints’ Vitae from the thirteenth-century Low Countries
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This thesis explores space and gender in twenty-three Latin saints’ vitae from the thirteenth-century Low Countries. In the midst of urbanisation and rejuvenating apostolic zeal, the vitae emerged from a milieu in which groups of women who were unable or unwilling to pursue a traditional religious vocation chose to live a vita mixta, a combination of the contemplative and active life, while remaining in the world. Recent scholarship has moved away from viewing the women through the lens of institutionalisation. However, continued focus on the women’s ecclesiastical status and the labels used to describe them has implicitly maintained a lay/monastic binary, in which the women are compared against the monastic paradigm. The twenty-three vitae under examination detail the lives of both women and men (whose vitae offer a comparison) from different backgrounds and vocations. This wide-ranging selection of texts allows for a broad comparative textual analysis in order to consider where and how the women and men enacted solitary piety and communal devotion. Taking geometric space as its organising principle the thesis considers the dominant cultural configurations of space and its fluidity, noting how space could be transformed to suit the spiritual needs of individuals and groups. Solitude could be achieved in a variety of different settings from the bedchamber to wilderness while spaces such as streets, windows and cells could facilitate communal devotion. This connected women and men from different religious backgrounds. There are some surprising finds: in the vitae entry points such as windows and doors were fundamental to womens’ communal piety and women sought solitude in the wilderness more frequently than their male counterparts. Uncovering women from the shadows of male-authored texts remains a pertinent issue in histories of medieval women. Ultimately, this thesis’ adoption of a spatial framework provides a different avenue to explore the vitae and primarily the women described within.