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.


2 thoughts on “Spiritual Power in Medieval Nuns

  1. This is a great article to point our attention to, Mason. What this suggests to me at least is that medieval misogyny was much more complicated than we think today, and that there existed discourse groups for whom women were valorized. Instead of overturning the entire picture of male-female power dynamics, Prof. Griffiths’ research shows that these dynamics were worked out empirically by some people, on a case-by-case basis. We’ll look at the Ancrene Wisse next week, which will visit some of these issues, and which also suggests a sort of female religious dignity, dependent on male clerics to be sure, but reaching towards some kind of a positive female self-image through Christianity.

    Thanks again, for starting this conversation


  2. I was under the belief that women were below men in the Catholic church from exposure to that idea by my elders. This also lead me to believe that this is how it has gone on for ages. After reading this I was intrigued and delighted to here an opposing viewpoint that did not mach my grandfathers. The quote by Peter Abelard “women’s prayers are more powerful because women are married to Christ.” That made way more sense to me than I expected. The lack of aggression by women in the present, and in the past should place them closer to Christ in my opinion. If woman held that much valor and had men work underneath her, then she must have been a deserving disciple of God.


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