Womens communities

These were initiatives to promote the religious lives ofmen, and the history of women's communities has been more difficult to document and assess. Bruce Venarde signals an increase from 100 to over 400 nunneries in England and France from around 1080 to 1170. These nunneries included houses affiliated with male orders, but more than half were either autonomous or associated with female-centred orders, namely Fontevrists, named from Fontevraud founded by Robert of Arbrissel, and Gilbertines, called after their founder Gilbert of Sempringham (c. 1089-1189). Among the male orders, the Premonstratensians first founded communities for men and women; however, after Norbert's death in 1134, they began to direct the separation of men and women, and in 1198 the Order decided no longer to accept women.23

The Cistercians have been portrayed as reluctant to accept women's communities that desired to affiliate with them, but the situation was more complex. Behind the restrictive Cistercian legislation of the thirteenth century, scholars have uncovered evidence which reveals that Cistercian abbots were assisting nuns to follow the Order's usages as early as the 1120s.24 Nonetheless, one may conclude that the religious orders overall, including the Franciscans and Dominicans in the thirteenth century, whether at first accepting or hesitant to grant affiliation to women's houses, eventually reacted negatively to the problems of managing men and women together and supporting communities of women vowed to apostolic poverty. Brenda Bolton asserts that the church could and should have approved the creation of a new religious order for women, but instead, at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), it prohibited the approval of any new religious rules and thereby of new religious orders.25 Continuing research on the history of religious women will indicate to what degree legislation reflected reality and to what extent

22 See works by J. Longere in the bibliography.

23 See B. L. Venarde, Women's Monasticism and Medieval Society: Nunneries in France and England, 890-1215 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997), 7-15, 70-9.

24 See Brigitte Degler-Spengler, 'The Incorporation of Cistercian Nuns into the Order in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century', in Nichols and Shanks, eds., Hidden Springs, vol. 3.1, 85-134, and other articles in the volume.

25 B. Bolton, 'Mulieres sanctae', in S. M. Stuard, ed., Women in Medieval Society (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), 141-58.

spiritual, intellectual and institutional collaboration continued between male and female communities.26

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