Spiritual Power in Medieval Nuns


In line with the Virgin Mary, new research by Stanford history Professor Fiona Griffiths claims the spiritual superiority of females in the church over the male clergy in medieval Europe. The research focuses on the 11th and 12th centuries, but I really have a problem with the assumption that just because male leaders in the church “admired” (a few asexual, pious) women, it means that the hierarchy was changed. As we see in our readings, women with any power were not womanly and were a threat to the social order. The article does claim that some women (I emphasize “some” because it is clearly not toppling patriarchal rule) were served by men who spent their whole lives doing that. I wouldn’t mind a new look at history that examines the way men and women worked together, but we still need to acknowledge that it was during a time of uncontested, deep social hierarchies with maleness on top.

Something fun to get you started

Check out this YouTube video:

It’s an adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon, done entirely in animated LEGO. Here you may see the overweening pride of Byrhtnoth, an Anglian commander who makes a tactical blunder fighting the Vikings that costs him his life. See the conflict between ancient heroic values and the gritty contemporary reality of 991 CE England, plagued by Viking armies and desperately trying to mount some kind of valiant resistance. You can almost imagine Byrhtnoth thinking to himself, “If we can beat them here, we can beat them anywhere!” — envisioning himself grandiosely as the first of his generation to successfully battle the Viking invaders, an example to spark an entire nation’s military resistance to the encroachers, and preserve their way of life. Too bad it doesn’t work out for the English during this battle (sorry, a spoiler).

If you are curious about the poem you can find a translation on page 103 of your Broadview anthology. There’s also my translation on my website: http://anglosaxonpoetry.camden.rutgers.edu/battle-of-maldon/

Either way, enjoy the tiny plastic carnage!