Rewriting the rules: gender, bodies, and monastic legislation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries

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The early twelfth century has long been recognized as a period of monastic expansion and adaptation, in which old rules (such as the rules of Benedict and Augustine) were reshaped to fit new forms of life. This process of adaptation continued into the later twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, as the founders of new religious communities continued to grapple with perennial problems and questions. A particularly intractable set of questions related to the care of nuns (the cura monialium), and to the practicalities of reconciling spiritual equality with bodily difference. This article explores two interlinked responses to these questions, namely the Institutes of the Order of Sempringham, and the legislation of the Dominican convent of San Sisto, Rome. The rule of Augustine, with its emphasis on preaching and pastoral care, could be adapted to provide a self-regulating, homeostatic solution to some of the problems of the cura monialium. A particularly innovative feature of the Institutes of the Order of Sempringham was the use of a complex series of windows and doors, which could be adopted by other groups seeking to balance the tension between institutional integrity and physical segregation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-131
JournalThe Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020


  • Cura monialium
  • Heloise
  • Abelard
  • Rule of Benedict
  • Rule of Augustine
  • Gilbertine
  • Sempringham
  • Dominican


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