n a pilgrimage, theoretically, all were equal, women with men, beggars with kings. Such figures were outside the structures of power - and hence, paradoxically, had more power than those within it. They participated in an anti-hierarchical world.\1 Their antitheses were the temporal and spiritual structures headed by Emperor and Pope. Crusading had been one way to attain power, though not usually allowed to women. Yet the Countess Matilda of Tuscany fought at the heads of armies defending the Pope against the Emperor, made the Emperor vigil in the snow naked for three days outside her castle of Canossa in submission to the Pope, and founded the University of Bologna.\2 But pilgrimage could and did give women the right to speak to such temporal and spiritual figures as Popes and Emperors as well. Sometimes these women were silenced, like St. Catherine of Siena by the Inquisition, like Margery Kempe by the great men of Canterbury - but they kept on with their visions and their texts, refusing to give up. Though forbidden to preach sermons or to enter the university they could perform pilgrimages and have visions and they could write about these themselves or else have them written down.

The goal of the pilgrim was to come face to face with God or his saint, mirroring him, being equal to him.\3 Often these saints' images, to which they traveled and which they sought to mirror, were themselves book holding. Thus the world of the pilgrim was also the world of the book, the pilgrim guide book and the Vulgate Bible.\4 This was probably an especial attraction for women - who were insisting on their right to participate, at least iconographically and physically, in that world of the book, even if they were denied, through lack of education, the right to do so intellectually. But, denied the power of literacy, such imitations might become fractured - like an Irish servant woman's cracked looking glass, as Joyce said so bitterly of his country's political impoverishment by another country.

Women pilgrims and women hermits or anchoresses abound. We have the Spanish Egeria of the early Church, traveling, like Paula, intrepidly about Egypt and Jerusalem. We have later pilgrims, like Margery Kempe and Saint Birgitta in reality, making that same Jerusalem pilgrimage (along with their fictional counterpart - yet antithesis - Chaucer's Wife). And we have the anchoresses of the Ancrene Wisse and those for whom Nicholas Love later wrote and Dame Julian of Norwich and her Revelations, written in her own right. All of these - with the exception of the fiction created by Chaucer - were women who desired not to have to pay the marriage debt, choosing the celibate state as preferable, as giving them greater freedom and autonomy, from husband-pleasing and child rearing and the endless round of domestic chores. We have already heard Heloise speak eloquently about the disjunction and distance between desks and styli and inkwells from cradles, distaves and looms, between ink and milk. On a pilgrimage the two could be conjoined. In the records preserved at pilgrimage shrines we can find accounts of women who made pilgrimages to attain healing, which was true of Christian shrines - and also of others world wide. A study of Muslim shrines show us that the saints involved were usually male heroes who themselves condemned the phallocentric systems of exploitation and that these pilgrimages to their shrines were a way for women to legitimate a therapy that was so because it was "antiestablishment."\5 Medieval women - and women through time - found that the forms of pilgrimage and eremiticism gave them a healing access to power and a voice they would otherwise have had silenced and suppressed, resulting in hysteria and illness. Pilgrimage gave them what anthropologists speak of as the power of the weak; in contradistinction to the politically or militarily strong the subdued autocthonous group is ritually potent.\6

This chapter discusses hermits and pilgrims. Elizabeth Robertson's essay is on the literature written for anchoresses in England, a literature about their spiritual lives made comprehensible to them by being written in the vernacular, the language of women and children, like Dick and Jane primers, and which takes for its metaphors the language of domestic chores as appropriate for these audiences, patronizing and demeaning them.\7 It is a literature that sees its readers as quasi-nuns and enforces upon them a celibacy which thus is no longer freely chosen. Elizabeth Robertson's title, of course, is appropriated from Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own - with which it was hoped a woman, too, could enjoy male privileges, a sancta sanctorum for one's books and papers, a place where one could wield the weapon, not of the sword but of the pen. Next we meet an intrepid English woman pilgrim, Isolde Parewastell, who journeyed to Jerusalem from England and who requested that the Pope grant her the right to a chantry in England because of her sufferings in the Holy Places. This essay, by Anthony Luttrell, is built around a document, a text generated by a woman, though written by men, in the Vatican Archives. Much of its material discusses the concerns men had with women pilgrims and their desire to keep them at home. The third essay discusses Chaucer's women, centering on his Prioress and his Second Nun, who as cloistered women would, in reality, have been forbidden the Canterbury pilgrimage. These texts, like that of the volume's preceding essay on The Book of Margery Kempe, give women hermits and pilgrims an existence in textual literacy, though they may not themselves have been literate, these documents validating their identities, making their mark in male archives and libraries, pushing their way through locked doors. These essays, which are texts in their own right, present texts about, for and to women - but are inscribed by men.


1 Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Antistructure (Chicago: Aldine, 1969); Julia Bolton Holloway, The Pilgrim and the Book: A Study of Dante, Langland and Chaucer (New York: Peter Lang, 1987).
2 Nora Duff, Matilda of Tuscany: La Gran Donna d'Italia (London: Methuen, 1909).
3 An earlier form had been the penetration of the labyrinth by the staff-wielding initiand who sought to trace out the path to the Great Mother, vestiges of that pattern still to be observed in Dante's poem labyrinth to Beatrice.
4Regine Pernoud, Un Guide du pélerin de Terre sainte au XVe siècle (Mantes, 1940).
5 Fatima Mernissi, "Women, Saints and Sanctuaries," Signs, 3 (1977), 101-112, discussing Moroccan practices. Two women anthropologists whose field work was carried out in Afghanistan have described to me the extreme oppression of women there, high infant mortality amongst girl babies, adult women being powerless in their families, and which is only relieved by bouts of hysteria and pilgrimages to shrines and incubation there for healing. Victor Turner's observations concerning the antistructure of pilgrimage rites in Africa and Mexico concur.
6 Turner, p. 99. It was such power that Gandhi tapped for his liberation movement. See Julia Bolton Holloway, "Feminist Gandhi," in Gandhi in the "Postmodern" Age: Issues in War and Peace, ed. Sanford Krolick and Betty Cannon (Golden: Colorado School of Mines Press, 1984).
7 There was to be a nineteenth-century equivalent with The Americanization of Edward Bok: the Autobiography of a Dutchboy Fifty Years After (Scribner, 1927), in which a shy male immigrant became the editor of Ladies' Home Journal, the arbiter of taste, dictating to all American women how to be happily domestic, and from which Ann Douglas took her scathing title, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1977).


An Anchorhold of Her Own: Female Anchoritic Literature in Thirteenth-Century England

Elizabeth Robertson

For all its extremes, anchoritism among medieval English women cannot be dismissed as an eccentric and inconsequential movement.\1 In addition to its distinctive popularity, female anchoritism should be noted because it produced a significant and distinctive body of literature, written by men for these women in the thirteenth century, and written by a woman in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Julian of Norwich will not be discussed here. This essay focuses on the body of literature, written by men for women, known as the "AB" texts for the dialect they share, which includes the Ancrene Wisse, "Guide for Anchoresses"; and five texts known as the Katherine Group: Sawles Warde, "Soul's Guardian"; three saints' lives, of Katherine, Margaret and Juliana respectively; and a tract on virginity, Hali Meidenhad.\2

The texts are believed to have been written in 1215 in Herefordshire for three anchoresses living in an anchorhold in the Deerfold near Wigmore Abbey, although they quickly became popular among larger groups.\3From the perspective of literary history, it is significant that the needs and circumstance of a specialized group of women played a pivotal role in the development of vernacular literature. These texts introduce features that become increasingly important in Middle English literature as it turns to address less educated audiences and that become particularly prominent in women's literature of later periods. Like these later works, the AB texts focus on emotions rather than intellectual argument, use concrete rather than abstract imagery and emphasize the personal and contemporary rather than the general and historical.

Given the quality of medieval married life, it does not seem un-reasonable to think that women might find the religious life, either in a convent or an anchorhold, an attractive alternative to marriage. Nuns at first had had educational opportunities unavailable to women elsewhere.\4 They could even write religious works themselves. They carried out such tasks as manuscript illumination, gardening, sewing and weaving. There had been a golden period, in the early Anglo-Saxon church, when the standards for women in convents were high indeed, as can be seen in the correspondence of St. Boniface's circle. However, the status of convents rapidly diminished following the Conquest, Eileen Power noting that 63 of 138 nunneries housed less then ten nuns and that most of these convents had less than ten pounds a year. Abbesses, who had previously enjoyed independence and authority, as in the case of Hilda of Whitby, were now subject to the control of Norman bishops who severely restricted their powers and who dissolved the Anglo-Saxon double monasteries, which had housed both genders.

An anchorhold was a more attractive alternative for the thirteenth-century ascetic. An anchorhold offered a woman a medieval version of Virginia Woolf's room of one's own because in that place a woman could find privacy, autonomy and a chance for intellectual development unavailable in any other sphere. Because an anchoress was supported by grants from the nobility and alms from local inhabitants, she also had minimal financial concerns. There are, of course, limitations to a view of the anchorhold as a positive option for women. The anchorhold was a place defined and strictly controlled by men. Anchoresses were subject to frequent visits from priests and bishops - visits riddled with danger as the Ancrene Wisse tells us.\5 The intellectual freedom an English woman had within the confines of an anchorhold was also limited by her lack of Latin training. Finally, the anchoress' intellectual explorations were in general conditioned by her Christianity, a religion that is both liberating and oppressive to women.\6

While in some ways to be an anchoress was the antithesis of being a pilgrim, both modes offered to women an autonomy, an independence from the marriage debt (provided the husband, if the woman were married, consented). Both were marginal, liminal modes, where women - and men - made vows, setting themselves apart from everyday society. The pilgrim went through the ceremonies related to the expulsion, then reconciliation of penitents, lying on the church floor in the shape of a cross, being garbed in pilgrim dress of staff, scrip and sclavin of animal skin - like Adam and Eve clothed with the skins of animals by God at their Expulsion from Eden. The anchoress went through a similar ceremony, the mass of the dead being said, then her being bricked up in her anchorhold - which was frequently built against the wall of a church, with one window looking in on the altar, one window out to the world, with a curtain, and perhaps a small garden, and room for a servant.

Paradoxically, those who had chosen to become dead to the world were often those who became most alive to its temptations. Ailred of Rievaulx, in his letter to his sister on the reclusive life, objects to the anchoress' involvement in activities other than contemplation.\7 He tells us indirectly that the anchoress often was busy with a variety of chores not directly related to contemplation. He forbids the anchoress to weave, embroider, make her own clothes, grow her own food or to make money by selling her handiwork. That women pursuing the anchoritic life frequently failed to maintain the strict and isolating rigor it demanded is suggested by Ailred's letter. He warns his sister not to behave like the contemptible anchoresses he describes who became local gossips and business dealers, or were absorbed by their interests in spinning, food, drink or even the company of men.\8 Quite clearly their problem was boredom. Even women following the less ascetic routine of convent life were sorely tempted to abandon chastity. The nun of Watton whose scandalous pregnancy was the result of her affair with a monk who shared her double monastery is an outstanding example of what what have been a not uncommon occurrence.\9 Anchoresses therefore were in need of religious guides to mitigate against the dangers of distraction.

The one occupation that was encouraged as an alternative to daily prayers was reading, and books must therefore have played an important part in the life of the anchoress. The daily reading of the anchoress likely consisted of the rule she followed, the Psalter, saints' lives (legenda), sermons and other such religious tracts. Her choice of reading was limited by her language knowledge for, as most evidence suggests, English women of the thirteenth century could rarely read more than a smattering of Latin. In 1277, for example, Bishop Cantilupe wrote to the nuns at Limebrook in Hereforshire in Latin, but expected the nuns to find a translator: "you are to cause this our letter to be expounded to you several times in the year by your penancers in the French or the English tongue, which ever you know best."\10 Among the limited number of vernacular texts available to women were the popular French romances, the medieval Harlequin romances. That anchoresses were at least familiar with these earlier-day popular romance is suggested by the Wisse author's reference to them.\11 However, the anchoress needed to read vernacular texts other than romances. Because of her lack of Latin literacy, the anchoress had created a demand for vernacular religious literature. Because it was written by men in the image of what they thought women should be it was a literature that focusses on domesticity, on the petty daily pressures of the anchorhold, and on the deadly sins writ small.

From Hali Meidenhad, for example, we learn of the anchoress' regret for not marrying and having children. From the homily, Sawles Warde, we learn of the difficulty the anchoress faces balancing fear and hope in her daily life. From the saints' lives we learn of the female contemplative's isolation and sense of abandonment as well as her desire for the comfort and support provided from women by mother, father, husband, child or friend. From the Ancrene Wisse we learn of the anchoress' temptation to grumble or to snap at servants, to complain about food, or to long for fine clothes and luxury. Such pressures, the texts tell us, are ultimately the pressures of the seven deadly sins: lust, avarice, gluttony, wrath, sloth, envy and pride.

This literature, the first written in English to be specifically adapted to women in the religious life derives from the writings of Anselm and Ailred. These two writers, living in England, though writing in Latin, contributed two approaches. Anselm examined the emotions evoked in women by contemplation and Ailred on the problem of transforming the anchorhold into an arena for devotion. Anselm was one of the major twelfth-century writers to contribute significantly to the shift in literature away from the social to the personal and introspective.\12 One fact about Anselm that is insufficiently stressed is that much of his writing was for women. R.W. Southern correctly states: "He also wrote to meet the increasingly articulate needs of lay people, especially of women in great positions who had the time, inclination and wealth to adopt the monastic life. Such women were among the earliest recipients of his prayers, and one of them, Countess Mathilda, was one of the main agents of their dissemination."\13 A distinctive feature of Anselm's letters and prayers for women is their focus on the heart. Anselm recognized that women untrained in the intellectual tradition might find it difficult and uninteresting to concentrate attention on long passages of complex theological discussion. He therefore argued that the most important book for the female contemplative was herself, and that what she needed was a method for disciplining the heart rather than the mind. She must look inward and find expression through a "language of self-revelation."\14 At least he writes in Latin. But he goes on to say that she should read only if it helps inspire in her the appropriate emotions. As he writes in his introduction,

Orationes sive meditationes quae subscriptae sunt, quoniam ad exitandam legentis mentem ad dei amorem vel timorem, seu ad suimet discussionem editae sunt, non sunt legendae in tumulta, sed in quiete, nec cursim et velociter, ad paulatim cum intenta et morosa meditatione. Nec debet intendere lector ut quam libet earum totam perlegat sed quantum sentit sibi deo adivante valere ad accendendum affectum orandi vel quantum illum delectat. Non necesse habet aliquam semper a principio incipere sed ubi magis illi placuerit.

[The purpose of the prayers and meditations that follow is to stir up the mind of the reader to the love or fear of God or to self-examination, They are not to be read in a turmoil, but quietly, not skimmed or hurried through, but taken a little at a time, with deep and thoughtful meditation. The reader should not trouble about reading the whole of any one theme, but only as much as by God's help she finds useful in stirring up her spirit to pray, or as much as she likes. Nor it it necessary for her to begin always at the beginning, but wherever she pleases.]\15

The reader must enter, as Anselm says elsewhere, "the secret inner chamber of the heart."\16

The prayers themselves examine a wide range of emotions - pity, fear, love, hope, horror. In each prayer, the experience of the emotion is as important as the praise which is its theme, and each prayer recreates emotional processes to be experienced by the contemplative. Central to the process is a celebration of the virgin's intensely personal and passionate relationship to Christ. The sponsa christi motif found in the prayers is of course a feature of many contemplative pieces - the moving commentaries on the Song of Songs being perhaps the most notable - but as John Bugge points out, this motif is one that is considered particularly appropriate for women.\17 This literalization of Christ as a bridegroom - a feature that is central to the AB texts - is in part the result of Anselm's other work, in particular Cur Deus Homo. As Bugge writes "the portrayal of Jesus as the rival with other men for the affections of holy women was a unique by-product of the Anselmian atonement."\18 While Anselm's prayers have meaning for both men and women, they are clearly especially poignant for women.

Ailred of Rievaulx considers the needs of the female contemplative in greater detail than Anselm by addressing the anchoress' problem of maintaining her passionate relationship to Christ specifically within the confines of the anchorhold. Ailred recognizes the dangers of enclosure, "membra tantum intra parietes cohibere satis esse putant, cum mens non solum pervagationem dissolvatur," ["they think it enough to confine the body behind walls while the mind roams at random"].\19 Following Anselm's suggestion of the need for inner discipline, Ailred abandons the idea of an exterior rule and stresses instead the importance of an inner rule of the heart. He claims, however, that "certam tibi regulam tradere curabo, pro loco et tempore quaedam adiciens, et spiritualia corporalibus, ubi utile visum fuerit interserens," ["I shall add some details suited to your particular circumstances of time and place and whenever it seems helpful, blend the spiritual with the corporeal"] (p. 637, 1.13-16). Ailred here goes beyond Anselm in turning his attention to the particulars of the female recluse's experience, but Ailred never in fact succeeds in fulfilling this claim because he keeps the spiritual and corporeal separate in both structure and theme: the work considers first the corporeal in a rule for daily life and then turns to the spiritual in a guide to meditation that transcends daily experience.

Ailred's consideration of the relationship of daily experience to spiritual goals is finally then a negative one. Many of his precepts, for example, like Jerome's, are simply prohibitions against inappropriate behavior. For example, he warns the anchoress against the gossips, "quae ante inclusae fenestram discumbentes, praemissis valde paucis de religione sermonibus, ad saecularia devolvunter. Inde subtextere amatoria, et fere totem noctem in insomnem ducere," ["those who install themselves at her window, and after a pious word or two by way of introduction, will settle down to talk of worldly affairs, interspersed with romance, and so spend a sleepless night"] (p. 640, 4.93-5). Yet he does suggest that daily experience can help the anchoress in her meditative goals. For example, he urges the anchoress to consider food in this way: "sedens igitur ad mensam decorem pudicitiae mente revolvat et ad eius perfectionem suspirans cibos fastidiat, potum exhorreat," ["as she sits at her table, let her then meditate on the beauty of purity; in her longing for its perfection let her have no appetite for food"] (p. 651, 15.504-6).

However, Ailred restricts meditative attention by and large to sacred objects alone. Not surprisingly as a Cistercian, Ailred urges the recluse to remove physical objects and decorations from the anchorhold. White linen altarcloths, a simple representation of Christ on the cross and a picture of the Virgin Mary and John the disciple are suitable adornments for the cell. These sacramental objects are the physical objects upon which the anchoress should focus her attention. Sometimes these sacred objects are linked with secular objects that can help the anchoress understand their meaning. For example, Ailred urges the anchoress to contemplate the altarcloth in this way: "Cogita quo labor equibus tunsionibus terrenum in quo crevit linum colorem exuerit. Cum terreno colore omnes nascimur," ["Consider what toil, what poundings it took to rid the linen of the earthy color in which it grew up. We are all born with the color of earth"] (p. 657-8, 26.718-21). Aptly for an audience that should be experienced in fulling, spinning, weaving and laundering, Ailred compares the process of preparing linen to the purification of the soul: the steeping of linen to fasting, the pounding of linen to temptation and the refining of linen to confession. In this example, the secular world is referred to only to illuminate the contemplative's understanding of a sacred object. In the AB texts, we will see, secular objects themselves can lead directly to Christ.

Ailred's final concern is that the anchoress leave this world behind and focus instead upon inner meditation. Ailred offers his readers three meditations drawn from the past, present and future of the life of Christ. The goal of these meditations is union with Christ achieved through emotion:

Ut meditatio affectum excitet, affectus desiderium pariat, lacrymas desiderium excitet, ut sint tibi lacrymae tuae panes die ac nocte, donec appareas in conspectu eius, et suscipiaris ab amplexibus eius, dictasque illud quod in Canticis scriptum est: Dilectus meus mihi et ego illi.
[Meditations will arouse the affections, the affections will give birth to desire, desire will stir up tears, so that your tears may be bread for you day and night until you appear in his sight and say to Him what is written in the Song of Songs, "My beloved is mine and I am his."]\20
As in Anselm, such emotions are especially apt for women who can meditate upon their literal bethrothal to Christ.

The AB texts' concern for psychologically complex aspects of female contemplative experience thus are indebted more to Anselm and Ailred than to the Patrologia. However, the AB texts go even further than Anselm and Ailred by exploring not only the feelings raised specifically by contemplation, but by exploring the emotional aspects of practically all of the anchoress' daily experience as it relates to contemplation. While Ailred only discussed daily experience in order to exclude it from the contemplative experience, the AB texts focus on that experience in order to draw it into the contemplative arena. In contrast to all previous contemplative guides for women, the AB texts teach the anchoress to make every waking moment filled with religious meaning. The texts achieve this effect in different ways. This will be discussed with each text in turn.

The Ancrene Wisse, which has been discussed in some detail by Janet Grayson and Linda Georgianna,\21 and which is the best known of these texts, clearly follows Ailred's suggestion that the spiritual should be blended with the corporeal in the contemplatives' lives. Just as modern writers like Tillie Olson or Sylvia Plath utilized household objects such as an iron or an onion, so did the Wisse author consider the restricted environment of the anchorhold as full of potential meditative objects and events: the common sparrow outside her window as an image of herself; spiralling to heaven she always returns to earth (p. 70); the anchorhold's small and curtained window as a symbol for the entrance for sin through the eye (pp. 29-35). These objects are mentioned not as merely to be avoided as in Ailred - who warns the anchoress of the dangers that can enter the anchoress' life through the window, and so urges her to avoid it - but as to be incorporated into her life. The fact that the anchoress will inevitably look out the window is used positively as a way to lead her back into her heart. Every experience she has, as well as object she encounters, is so used. While eating she is to think not generally on the concept of purity, but concretely of the gall Christ drank on the cross (p. 55). If she is tempted to grumble at Slurry, the cook's boy, she is urged to consider the broader dangers of anger.

The Ancrene Wisse not only transforms the environment of the anchorhold and the daily events of anchoritic life into a meditative focus, but also transforms thoughts considered likely to occur to women - especially their desire for a husband or lover - into thoughts that can reinforce a female ascetic's bethrothal to Christ. The most outstanding example of this is the famous Christ Knight allegory in which images common to popular romance are used to inspire the anchoress's commitment to Christ (pp. 202-3), The virgin is rescued from her besieged castle by the Christ Knight, who is celebrated not as an alternative to earthly lovers, but as the most appealing suitor heaven and earth can offer. The idea that Christ can fulfill desire is not uncommon in Anselm's work. In a passage named in fact as the source of the language of the Christ Knight allegory, he writes that in heaven "There is whatever you desire. If beauty or swiftness, or strength, or long and lasting life, or intoxication, or melody or pure delight, or wisdom, or friendnship or concord, or honor or riches, or true security, the love of God can supply all of these."\22 What the Wisse author does that Anselm does not is to associate these qualities with those a woman might expect from a courtly lover and then to define the best courtly lover as Christ. In the Wisse, the Christ Knight asks, "Nam ich thinge feherest. nam ich kinge richest. nam ich hest icunnet. nam ich weolie wisest. nam ich monne hendest. . . . wult tu castles. kinedomes, wult tu wealden al the world? Ich chulle do the betere. makie the with al this. cwen of heoveriche." ["Am I not fairer than any other? Am I not the richest of kings? Am I not of the noblest kindred? . . . Would you have castles, kingdoms? Would you have the whole world in your power? I will provide more for you, make you queen of the kingdom of heaven?"] (202-3).

As a religious rule, the Ancrene Wisse is decidedly unconventional. The remaining AB texts are apparently conventional in the ways the Ancrene Wisse is not. They follow the standard forms for homilies, saints' legends and religious tracts, and their alliterative patterns are so similar to Anglo-Saxon prose that some have viewed them as simple throwbacks to that era.\23 But the remaining texts share not only the dialect but also the distinctive theme of the Wisse. The five works can be seen as accompanying the guidebook, the Wisse, each one exploring in detail different aspects of the rule provided more generally by the Wisse.

The first of these texts, Sawles Warde, is a homily on the protection of the soul through contemplation of hell and heaven. It is based on a homily attributed to St. Anselm, "De Custodia Interioris Hominis."\24 The homily is based, in both cases, on Matthew 24.43. But, in contrast to the Latin version, the English one is specifically addressed to women. Among other things, the work introduces numerous feminine pronouns, adds several descriptions of the rewards awaiting women in heaven, and adds to the allegory of the household an unruly wife. It concludes differently by returning to a discussion of the household of the soul. It draws allegorical figures from everyday reality, such as the anxious, hysterical Fearlac, or the unruly, irresponsible wife of the household, Will.

For the anchoress, as the Wisse had warned, the greatest dangers are the fear of her own inadequacy that leads to the deadly sin of despair, or her potential complacency at her asceticism, an attitude that could easily lead to pride. This English homily provides a guide to overcoming the very problems to which an anchoress - like a monastic - is especially susceptible - acedia, sloth. The English work also suggests that women are trained in their relationship to religion in a different way than are men. The Latin work emphasizes heaven in a way that is suitable for an audience of monks, giving an abstract and hypothetical consideration of judgement day. Women readers - especially anchoresses - were evidently not expected to envision their position in the Christian hierarchy abstractly. Hence the concrete depictions of such figures as Will, the fully drawn woman character who mirrors - presumably - the women readers of this text in being seen as inherently willful and narrow minded, unable to rise above daily experience to perceive abstract truths.

The three saints' lives of the Katherine Group focus more specifically on problems encountered by women anchoresses. The Ancrene Wisse had recommended that anchoresses read female saints' lives and had specifically recommended "ower englische bok of seinte Margarete," ["our English book of St. Margaret"] (p. 125). Hali Meidenhad advises its readers to think of St. Katherine, St. Margaret, St. Agnes and St. Cecilia (p. 676). The lives themselves tell us that women are supposed to pay special attention: "Hercneth alle the earen and herunge habbeth widewen with ãe iweddede & te maidnes nomelich," ["Hearken all who have hearing and ears, widows and married, and especially maidens"] (4.7-9), says the opening of Margaret's life. A woman should read saints lives because it would strengthen her faith. Margaret asks, "thet ich him overcume mahe swa thet alle meidnes eaver mare thurh me the mare trusten on the," ["May I overcome him [the devil] so that all maidens evermore because of me will trust in you the more"] (16.19-21). But the paradox is that it is a male author twice over who grants that strength. Teochimus, the supposed author of Margaret's life, prays to Christ to save anyone who reads the life or even holds the book in his or her hand. The male translator in turn repeats that prayer. The power of simply handling a book may be an indirect reference to the anchoress' illiteracy in Latin. She may have had access to Latin saints' lives that she could look through but not be able to read.

Women are shown in these legends that despite their physical weaknesss and even their limited education, they have the physical and intellectual strength to overcome the devil and his representatives. One is a woman who encourages the anchoress in romantic pursuits, another, a priest who leads her into pride through excessive praise, yet another a fellow contemplative who claims to wish to be near her because of her holiness and yet another who claims to have more expert knowledge than the anchoress. The Life of St. Katherine emphasizes that a female contemplative through knowledge of the Bible can overcome her tormentors. Katherine overcomes fifty philosophers with her skill, and they who had scorned to "motin with a meiden," ["argue with a maiden"], comment on her success: "schawde seodden suteliche the deopschipe & te derne run of his deathe on rode al wat awei ure wordliche wit," ["she showed manifestly the depths and hidden mysteries of his death on the rood so that all our worldly wit has fled,"] (1331-5). This intellectual model reminds the anchoress that, despite the limits of her education, she can withstand the arguments of more learned counselors who may visit her. But it also looks back to the earlier and more robust paradigm - when women could be scholars which, by the thirteenth century, was no longer so.

Perhaps the most contemporary of the texts of the Katherine Group is the Hali Meidenhad. This work, known for its harshness and "deliberately unpleasant descriptions of married life" celebrates the female contemplative's choice of the celibate life by showing the extreme discomfort and disadvantages of the alternative, secular marriages.\25 Though it is odd to focus attention on a choice of life the anchoress has now denied, it is important to remember that many anchoresses either had been married before they chose the anchoritic life, or were continually urged to marry by their families. Christina of Markyate, for example, was not only encouraged but forced to consider marriage for years after she had decided to pursue the virgin life. Margery Kempe had been married, and responsibility to her marriage when her husband fell ill forced her to leave her anchorhold.

Hali Meidenhad, by examining the nature of secular marriage in detail and by substituting for it a more satisfying marriage to Christ, is based on a number of conventional treatises on the virgin life.\26 The work opens with a discussion of the celibate life as that of an exile on earth (the vita angelica) based on Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome. It turns then to a scathing condemnation of the life the virgin has left behind, using the woes of marriage theme (molestiae nuptiarum) common from Jerome to the more contemporary Hildebert. And it then celebrates the ascetics' more fulfilling relationship to Christ, clearly drawing on the sponsa christi literature of Anselm, Bernard, Alanus de Insulis and the like. The text concludes with an analysis of the virtues and vices as spiritual offspring, drawing on a metaphor developed by Origen.

What is new about this work is that it draws all these motifs together into an arrangment that mimics an emotional process that the anchoress herself would frequently re-experience. The text works through negatives, showing the anchoress what she must not have, but in fact offers a confirmation of a spiritual marriage by showing how that marriage fulfills as well as transcends the alternatives available in secular life. The reader moves from a generalized spiritual model through the harrowing details of earthly experience to a much more resonant sense of spiritual reality. The work's concentrated focus on the feminine experience contributes to the development of a new kind of spirituality, utilizing temptation to the advantage of the contemplative and utilizing the misogyny of much of the patristic tradition. The realism of the images in this work is so distinctive that this is worth consideration in some detail. The author recreates the thoughts of the anchoress. He posits her comments about secular life:

 Ah monnes elne is much wurth ant me bihoved his help to fluttunge ant te fode. Of wif ant were gederunge worldes weole awakeneth ant streone of feire children the gleadied muchel the aldren."

 [But a man's vigor is worth much, and I need his help for maintenance and food; of a woman's and a man's copulation, worldly weal arises, and a progeny of fair children, that gives much joy to their parents.] (Pp. 375-8)

These assumptions are then shown to be poorly founded. What appears to an anchoress as enviable security, the text argues, is often a fragile alliance. Love is rarely found, and when it is the loved one is often lost. Even possessions bring more care and worry than pleasure - especially for the woman who is responsible for caring for them. Her husband will often beat her. If the woman finds a man she loves, she then faces the fear that he not love her as much as she loves him. Better to avoid secular marriage altogether than face the stress of a relationship without love. The author's negative, almost Dickensian, portrait of the medieval housewife is this:
 Thet wif stone, hire bearn schreamen, the cat et te fliche & ed te hude the hund; hire cake bearnen o the stan & hire kilk suken; the crohe eornen i the fur & te churl chideth"

 [The wife stands, her child screams, the cat is at the flitch and the hound at the hide. Her cake is burning on the stove and her calf is sucking all the milk up; the pot is running into the fire and the churl is scolding.] (Pp. 557-60).

The author has a harsh view of marriage, but certainly not an implausible one.

The images in the AB texts express a distinctive spirituality, one very much rooted in domestic quotidian experience. Because this spirituality is one that confronts squarely the particulars of female anchoritic experience, it can be called distinctively feminine. However, that spirituality is one that is created by men, and we must therefore recognize the underlying assumptions about women that inform the spirituality envisioned by the male authors of the AB texts. The concept of spirituality expressed by these texts is double-edged. On the one hand it transforms those experiences and circumstances that are particular to female experience into a rich and far-ranging meditative arena. Yet that arena is very much circumscribed by the assumption that women can only experience spiritual transcendence through the mundane and bodily. This physicalization of spirituality, its carnalization, so evident in the concretized sponsa christi motif that dominates so many of these texts, allows women to experience what is unavailable to men. At the same time, it limits women's spiritual experience to the physical, and denies her a mental and abstract realization of the nature of God. Like Virginia Woolf's room, the anchorhold offers women literally and metaphorically both liberation and imprisonment. The ways in which women can manipulate to their own advantage the assumptions that underlie this circumscribed spirituality is another matter. If we turn to the works of Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe, for example, we would find that they adopt, expand and ultimately transform male assumptions about female spirituality into their own powerful tools. But female concepts of female spirituality as opposed to male concepts of female spirituality are the subject of another essay.

Department of English
University of Colorado, Boulder


1 Rotha M. Clay, The Hermits and Anchorites of England (1914; rprt. Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1968), p. 28, first points out the popularity of anchoritism among English women. Edward L. Cutts, Scenes and Characters of the Middle Ages (London: Virtue, 1902), pp. 120-156, gives account of the ceremony of the recluse's being walled in, the anchorhold of an anchoress usually being built against the side of a church. For a detailed discussion of English anchoritic experience, see Ann Warren, Anchorites and their Patrons in Medieval England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).
2 J.R.R. Tolkien," Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meidenhad," E & S, 14 (1929), 104-126. My discussion of the AB texts will be based on the following editions: Sawles Warde, ed. R.M. Wilson (Leeds, 1938) Leeds School of English Language Texts and Monographs, III & IV; The Life of St. Katherine, ed. Eugene Einenkel (Oxford, 1884; Millwood, New York: Kraus, 1978), EETS OS 70, with reference to Seinte Katerine, ed. S.T.R.O. D'Ardenne and E.J. Dobson, EETS, SS 7 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981); Seinte Marharete, the meidan ant martyr, EETS OS 193 (1934; rprt, London: Oxford University Press, 1958); Hali Meidenhad, ed. F.J. Furnivall, EETS OS 18 (Oxford, 1922; rprt, New York: Greenwood Press, 1969), with reference to Hali Meidhad, ed. Bella Millett, EETS OS 284 (London: Oxford University Press, 1982); The liflade ant te passiun of seinte iuliene, ed. S.T.R.O. Ardenne, EETS 248 (Liege, 1936; rprt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961); The Ancrene Wisse, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 402, EETS 249 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962). Translations of this text are taken from The Ancrene Riwle, trans. M.D. Salu (London, 1955; rprt. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1956). All subsequent references will be taken from these edition and line or page numbers cited in parentheses within the body of the essay. Quotations from the Katherine group are generally taken from editions of MS Bodley 34 unless otherwise indicated. Abbreviations are spelled out, editorial emendations in italics in editions are included silently, and punctuation regularized when necessary to establish the sense.
3 E.J. Dobson, The Origins of Ancrene Wisse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), pp. 174-311.
4 Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 237-284.
5Ancrene Wisse, p. 34.
6 For a discussion of Abelard's twelfth century defense of Christianity as a positive force for women see Mary M. McLaughlin, "Peter Abelard and the Dignity of Women: Twelfth Century 'Feminism' in Theory and Practice," in Pierre Abélard, Pierre le vénèrable: les courants philosophiques, littéraires et artistiques en Occident au milieu du XIIe siècle (Paris: CNRS, 1975), pp. 310 ff.
7 Ailred of Rievaulx, De Institutione Inclusarum in Opera Omnia, ed. A.D. Hoste and C.H. Talbot (Turnholt: Brepols, 1971), 638, 2, 17-18; Aelred of Rievaulx's De Institutione Inclusarum: Two English Versions, ed. John Ayto and Alexandra Barratt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), EETS 287.
8 P. 640, 4, 93-5.
9 Giles Constable, "Ailred of Reivaulx and the Nun of Watton: An Episode in the Early History of the Gilbertine Order," in Medieval Women, ed. Derek Baker (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978), pp. 205-226.
10 Power, p. 248.
11Ancrene Wisse, pp. 202-3.
12 For a discussion of Anselm's influence see R.W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages (1953; rprt, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970) and St. Anselm and his Biographer (Cambridge: University Press, 1963).
13 Forward to The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm, trans. Sister Benedicta Ward (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963), pp. 9-10.
14 Southern, St. Anselm and his Biographer, p. 44.
15 St. Anselm, Opera Omnia, ed. F.S. Schmitt (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1946), p. 3, 1.1-4. Translations are taken from Sister Benedicta Ward.
16 St. Anselm, Proslogion, ed. and trans. M.J. Charlesworth (1965; rprt, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), pp. 110-111.
17 John Bugge, Virginitas: An Essay in the History of a Medieval Ideal (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1975), Archives internationales d'histoire des idées, series minor 17, p. 78.
18 P. 83.
19 Ailred, p. 638, II, 17-18. Further citations will be given in body of text.
20 P. 681, 33.1523-7.
21Structure and Imagery in the Ancrene Wisse (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1974); The Solitary Self: Individuality in the Ancrene Wisse (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981).
22Ancrene Wisse: Parts Six and Seven, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd (1959), rprt, ed., New York: Barnes and Noble, 1972), fn. 23.
23 See, for example, Dorothy Bethurum, "The Connection of the Katherine Group with Old English Prose," JEGP, 34 (1935), 553-64.
24 For the Latin source of Sawles Warde see Memorials of St. Anselm, ed. R.W. Southern and F.S. Schmitt (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), Until this edition, the source was believed to have been a homily by Hugh of St. Victor.
25 E.J. Dobson, Origins of Ancrene Wisse, p. 156.
26 Millet discusses the patristic tradition that lies behind Hali Meidenhad in her edition, pp. xlv-lii.


Englishwomen as Pilgrims to Jerusalem: Isolda Parewastell, 1365

Anthony Luttrell

Many English pilgrims left no record of their journey but Isolda Parewastell from Somerset, who escaped from Jerusalem in dramatic circumstances during 1365, was an exception for she gave a brief account of her tribulations in a petition to the pope which was copied into a papal register. The information her document contained was slight but Isolda's adventure must have found some place in a continuous story of English pilgrims, some of them women, whose experiences accumulated in an expanding tradition known to many of those who stayed at home as well as those who set off on the long journey eastwards.

The urge towards pilgrimage was a powerful one and was always shared by women, even when it involved journeys from England to distant lands or took armed form in the crusade. During the fourteenth century there was a marked increase in the numbers of female pilgrims visiting Jerusalem and other shrines. Women seldom left written accounts of their pilgrimages or wrote them in person, but their growing participation attracted hostile male comment.\1 Late in the fourteenth century Geoffrey Chaucer depicted the jolly wife from "biside Bathe" who made many pilgrim journeys, three of them to Jerusalem.\2 That indefatigable Swedish Saint Bridget went there in 1372 and so, in the same year, did Marguerite de Lusignan, sister of the King of Armenia and wife of the Despot of the Morea;\3 later, in 1414, the English Margery Kempe, a mother of fourteen children, irritated her pilgrim companions with a stream of biblical quotations, sobbings, trances and ecstasies, though in Jerusalem the Franciscans and the Muslims appreciated her evident sincerity and treated her well.\4 English male travelers did occasionally leave written descriptions, such as that of the anonymous pilgrim of 1344/5,\5 while Thomas Brigg, who went to Jerusalem with Sir Thomas Swinburne in 1392, kept an account of their expenses,\6 and so, also in 1392, did Henry Earl of Derby, the future Henry IV.\7

Isolda Parewastell from Somerset, who was in Jerusalem in 1365, fitted into this fourteenth-century pattern. Despite the risks involved, women pilgrims were inspired by an instinct for travel and change, as well as by a sense of religious obligation and the hope of spiritual reward. Many visited local shrines or made their way to Canterbury, Compostela or Rome, but the scene of the Bible story held special attractions. Pilgrimage was deeply rooted in art, literature and custom, and by the fourteenth century a great body of experience and example had accumulated in the popular conscious-ness. Englishwomen were slow to record their aspiration and adventures, yet pilgrim tales certainly reached them through writings, sermons or gossip. Margery Kempe, reasonably prosperous if probably illiterate, showed herself aware of pilgrimage lore and tradition. On her return from Jerusalem she spoke in Rome with a female servant of Saint Bridget, herself a mother of eight children who had been canonized in 1391 and who had also experienced sobbings and visions in Jerusalem.\8

Women pilgrims faced perennial pitfalls. As early as 747 the English Saint Boniface urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to prevent "matrons" and "veiled women" journeying to Rome, since "a great part of them perish and few keep their virtue; there are very few towns in Lombardy, or Francia or Gaul where there is not a courtesan or harlot of English stock."\9 Eleanor of Aquitaine's alleged misconduct while on crusade at Antioch in 1149 and her indiscreet efforts to stay behind with her uncle when her husband, Louis VII of France, had to leave Syria culminated in her divorce; Englishwomen undoubtedly gossiped about Eleanor, because she then became Queen of England and her story was recorded in John of Salisbury's memoirs.\10 Chaucer's pilgrim stories reinforced such points in English, as did the popular cautionary tales which mothers setting out on pilgrimage told their daughters.\11

For two centuries before Margery Kempe there is no surviving written account of an Englishwoman's pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but the twelfth-century experiences of Margaret from Beverley in Yorkshire were extolled in Latin verse, evidently with some elaboration, by her brother Thomas of Froidmont. Around 1155, Margaret, who had been conceived in England, was born in Jerusalem while her parents were on pilgrimage there. This involuntary pre-natal journey presumably brought no spiritual reward, and so in 1187 Margaret was back in Jerusalem where she fought in the final siege with a cook pot on her head; she was wounded, captured and ransomed; was imprisoned again for many months, tortured and set to hard labour; was ransomed a second time and traveled alone to Antioch, only to be arrested by the Muslims besieging that city; she was released, made a further visit to Jerusalem, and finally, after pilgrimages to Compostela and Rome, retired into a French nunnery, thus completing a curriculum vitae which, had it been known in England, would have set a remarkable precedent for future English women pilgrims.\12

In 1191 an Englishwoman in Syria was offered, in somewhat bizarre circumstances, the prospect of achieving a number of crusading objectives. This was Eleanor of Aquitaine's daughter Joan, the widowed Queen of Sicily, whose crusading brother King Richard I of England proposed a deal by which Saladin's brother al-Adil Saif-ad-Din would become ruler of Palestine and marry Joan after which the couple would live in Jerusalem, Christians would have access to the city, and the True Cross would be returned. This project received at least some serious attention, and when Joan, reluctant to become a hostage in hostile hands, refused to accept a Muslim husband, Richard considered securing a papal dispensation for the marriage and actually invited al-Adil to become Christian.\13

Even for women, the violent side of the Jerusalem experience was not always passive. Pilgrim vows and indulgences were closely allied to those for the crusade. Latin women went on crusades, fought in armour, entertained the troops, and frequently met a variety of sad fates. Wives and camp followers were technically unarmed pilgrims, but as crusading institutions came to be codified in canon law, a few women at least were, from the mid-thirteenth century, formally taking the cross and setting out as crucesignate, or crusaders, to recover Jerusalem. The Church accepted that married women could accompany their husbands as crusaders, could make crusading vows and could, in some circumstances, fulfill them without their husbands or even without their husbands' consent. The canonists did not discuss the status of crusading spinsters, widows or nuns. The canon lawyer Hostiensis was doubtful about women crusaders, especially on account of the dangers to their morals. He permitted crusading by elderly or reputable women, particularly if they took a company of fighting men with them, but he rejected the theoretical case of crusading by a public prostitute, even though she might be accompanied by numerous men, on the grounds that the intent would not be pure. A number of Englishwomen proposed to participate as crusaders in Henry III's projected crusade, and in 1271 Henry's daughter-in-law, Eleanor of Castile, went to Acre with her husband, the future Edward I. In the next century there was a story that while there she saved Edward's life by sucking the venom from a wound caused by a poisoned knife and, even if unfounded, the story was important as an element of received crusading tradition.\14 Edward I's daughter Joan and her husband Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester, took the cross in July 1290 and then, according at least to the chronicler, actually set out for Syria.\15 Their daughter Elizabeth de Burgh took a vow to visit Jerusalem and Compostela, but in 1343 the pope permitted her to transmute it, on the grounds that she was over forty years of age and could not hope to fulfill her vow.\16

A ship which sailed from southern France for Damietta in 1250 carried, in addition to knights, clerics and their retainers, a further 342 passengers. Forty-two, or 12.3 percent, of these were women, of whom 15 were with their husbands, one with her father, two with a brother, and 22 without a male chaperon; the daughter of "Rogerius Anglicus" was presumably English. Some were wives of crusaders, some may have been fulfilling a crusade vow, and others were possibly pilgrims.\17 In 1301, a decade after the final loss of Latin Syria, a group of Genoese noblewomen proposed to sponsor a crusade to be led by the famous Benedetto Zaccaria, some of them planning to participate themselves with their female companions and followers but apparently without their husbands, and to provide the fighting men with unspecified "obsequia" or services. The pope endorsed this unlikely project with enthusiasm, noting that the women were venturing where the men had refused to go.\18 In the same way as with many masculine projects, this Genoese women's crusade came to nothing. The general presumption that women crusaders would cause trouble and lapse into immorality persisted,\19 though it was certainly recognized that they were also capable of violence; in fact, some time before about 1350, an English woman pilgrim was reputed, presumably with considerable exaggeration, single-handedly to have killed more than a thousand Turkish captives at Rhodes.\20

* *
Isolda Parewastell stayed three years in Jerusalem before being forced to leave, and she may well have been associated with certain Italian women who had espoused the Latin cause at Jerusalem in pacific ways. A "religious matron" named Margherita of Sicily was in charge of a pilgrim hospice in Jerusalem and was purchasing lands near the church of Mount Sion in about 1336.\21 A grandiose hospice was founded in 1353 close to that of the Franciscans on Mount Sion by Sofia daughter of Filipo de Arcangelis of Florence. In 1370 she was planning to construct four more hospices along the pilgrim routes at Padua and Venice, in Crete and at Famagusta on Cyprus, but she was disgraced in 1373 under the accusation that she had misused funds which she had raised for her foundation through papal indulgences.\22 The Franciscans' statutes of 1377 referred to women's houses, establishing that the feminine hospice on Mount Sion was not to hold more than ten women at a time and limiting that at Bethlehem to four.\23

At the same time controversy was aroused by the views of Caterina da Siena who, with some ambiguity, intermingled her mystical enthusiasm for peace in Italy, for the return of the papacy from Avignon to Rome and for the crusade against the infidels which she saw in particular as a means to martyrdom and salvation.\24 Apparently in 1372, the Tuscan hermit Giovanni dalle Celle of Vallombrosa wrote to a certain Domitilla, who had taken religious vows of some sort and to whom he was spiritual adviser: "I have heard that you, with many virgins and honest women and other youths, wish to go beyond the sea." Caterina da Siena had encouraged them to leave on crusade, but Giovanni dalle Celle said that Christ was to be found in prayer, not by pilgrimage; that indulgence could be secured by a journey to Rome; that to travel to Jerusalem was to risk the dangers of the voyage, of seasickness, and of being captured and sold as a slave, never to return; that the presence of young women on the crusade would demoralize the fighting men; and above all that it would be dangerous for her virtue in a land full of soldiers, prostitutes, mercenaries and crooks. Only those should go, ruled Giovanni, who were strong enough to recover the Holy Sepulchre, but he made it clear that he was not in principle opposed to women crusading, and that later when Domitilla had perfected herself spiritually he would grant her permission to depart.\25

This attitude provoked a protest, apparently made in 1376, from one of Caterina's supporters, the English Augustinian William Flete who was a hermit at Lecetto near Siena. Giovanni dalle Celle accused William of not understanding Italian properly, but he also replied, somewhat apologetically, that he had been addressing a certain young woman or "puella" and had not intended to oppose Caterina's views.\26 Caterina's letters maintained their emphasis on martyrdom in Jerusalem for both men and women. Some time before March 1374 she sought permission from the pope to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with her female followers, and she repeatedly spoke of them meeting death there in terms which suggested that she thought of becoming a crusader herself; in 1375 Caterina wrote of a crusade against the Turks rather than to Jerusalem.\27 Her disciple William Flete was English and she repeatedly exhorted the English mercenary captain John Hawkwood to lead his company out of Tuscany on a crusade overseas,\28 but her propaganda came too late to influence the English woman pilgrim, Isolda Parewastell, who had been close to a violent death at Jerusalem some years earlier.

* * *
On 10 October 1365 Pierre de Lusignan, King of Cyprus, landed at Alexandria in Egypt with a large-scale crusading expedition which ruined and then abandoned that great port, sailing away six days later with great plunder but without improving the Latins' chances of recovering Jerusalem.\29 The Muslim chronicler al-Maqrizi reported that in revenge Sha'ban, the young Mamluk Sultan of Egypt and Syria, launched a wave of imprisonments, persecutions and confiscations against the many Copts, Maronites and other Christians within his realms.\30 Guillaume de Machaut's rhymed history stated that the sultan commanded that all Christians be imprisoned and ill-treated, and that this was done.\31 These acts of violence temporarily interrupted the trickle of Christian pilgrims who had long been visiting Jerusalem without serious molestations, though there had been, for example at Cairo in 1358 and at Gaza in 1364, occasional martyrdoms of Franciscans who provoked their own deaths by their aggressively anti-Muslim protestations. After the attack on Alexandria the Muslims included the pilgrim movement in their retaliations. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem was closed and at one point the sultan insisted that it would be demolished;\32 the Mamluks did destroy the Franciscan church at Mount Sion, seizing many Christians there and cruelly imprisoning and torturing the Franciscans, twelve or more of whom died in consequence.\33

The crusaders at Alexandria included at least two English Hospitallers from Rhodes, William Middleton and Robert Hales; the latter was later executed in London while acting as royal Treasurer during the great uprising of 1381.\34 There was a contingent of English nobles and knights, and there too was Chaucer's Knight. The group included two Englishmen, Richard Baron Grey and Sir Miles de Stapleton, who carried back to England a copy of Juan Carmesson's life of Pierre Thomas, the saintly papal legate to the crusade.\35 English knights also visited Jerusalem. Earlier, some time before 1364, when the pope granted him various dispensations, Sir John de la Rivere of the diocese of Worcester, who had fought in Edward III's campaigns, had visited Jerusalem and other holy places following the death of his wife "Muta" or Margaret and had subsequently become a Dominican in London.\36 Early in 1365 itself Sir Henry Stromin was in Venice on his way to Jerusalem.\37

Also at Jerusalem in 1365, when she was overtaken by the reprisals for the sack of Alexandria, was Isolda Parewastell of Bridgwater. On 15 January 1366 at Avignon Pope Urban V accepted a petition in which she claimed that after more than three years in the holy land, where she had daily visited sacred places, she had been hung upside down in a rack and beaten half-dead, escaping miraculously. In granting Isolda's petition Urban V implicitly accepted the truth of this story. Isolda must have been in Jerusalem in October 1365 and found herself among those who suffered in the retaliations there. Though a stay of three years - if Isolda's claim were true - was probably unusual, it was not impossible,\38 and Isolda may have stayed in the hospice founded by Sofia de Arcangelis. The news from Alexandria must have reached Jerusalem quite rapidly. Reprisals would have been prompt, and Isolda could possibly have escaped to the coast and been fortunate enough to find a ship, even in so difficult a moment, towards the end of October. A report of the capture of Alexandria had arrived at the papal court at Avignon by 7 December at the latest,\39 and Isolda could just have made the winter voyage in some ten or eleven weeks to reach the Avignonese curia before 15 January 1366, the day on which her petitions were granted there.

Once at Avignon, Isolda must have presented the document which related her Jerusalem experience and in which she sought permission to build a chapel dedicated to the Virgin at Bridgwater in the diocese of Wells for the salvation of her soul and of those of her progenitors; she was also to endow it with an annual income of 36 florins, or about 5 pounds and 8 shillings, to pay for the priest, and her family was to hold it in jus patronatus in perpetuity. However, the pope varied the petition to permit Isolda only to found and endow an altar in Bridgwater parish church rather than to build a new church. To this amended license the pope gave his fiat and his sign "B." He also agreed to a separate petition that whoever came to pray at the altar on appointed feast days would, always provided that first they had repented, confessed and been forgiven their sins, receive a partial indulgence pardoning them the standard period of one year and forty days punishment or penance enjoined for their sins; this, it was held, would reduce the time to be spent in purgatory after death. Such an arrangement would have attracted visitors, prayers and payments. This second petition also received the papal fiat and sign, together with the concession sine alia lectione which meant that letters could be issued to Isolda, probably on parchment, and be copied into the papal register "without a further reading" before the pope. Such petitions for papal indulgences were quite common, but petitions to the pope for license to found a chantry in jus patronatus were almost or completely unknown, permission normally being granted, if requested at all, by the local rector and bishop.\40

Two years later, at Bridgwater on 10 August 1368, Isolda Parewastell granted away a property in Horloke Street which had been given in 1321 to John Parewastell and his sister "Isota" or Isolda;\41 this was probably the same Isolda and if so in 1368 she was apparently unmarried and, at the very least, forty-seven years of age. Isolda presumably realized that Bridgwater parish church already possessed a chantry and chapel dedicated to the Virgin which had been in existence at least since 1260.\42 The prestige of founding a chapel would presumably not have been as considerable as that of controlling a church, but the cost would have been almost as great. She might have hoped to be buried in her own chapel but may have failed to secure the necessary royal license for alienating property in mortmain or have met some opposition from her bishop over the institution of a chaplain. Apparently, Isolda made no use of her papal licenses; there is no sign that she founded a chapel or chantry at Bridgwater\43 or otherwise profitted in England from her experience in Jerusalem.

Isolda Parewastell was probably a quite ordinary pilgrim, though apparently unmarried and rich enough to stay several years in Jerusalem and to consider founding a church. Like other Englishwomen she may have been attracted to the holy lands by a variety of reasonable and devout considerations. Some English men had occasion to take their women towards Jerusalem but on the whole they resented, or even resisted, the female urge to make the journey. Gossips, hysterical old ladies, spinsters and nuns were discouraged; wives and widows were reluctantly accepted, especially if they were rich and powerful. Danger and even violence were evident risks, but Isolda was unlucky enough to be caught in a wave of Muslim reprisals. Whether she sought the papal licenses she was able to secure in a spirit of pious patronage or whether she hoped that the indulgence granted her would partly repay her investment in a chantry cannot be known; neither intention really excluded the other.

Bath, England


Archivio Vaticano, Reg. Supp. 45, fol. 55-55v (15 January 1366)\44
Datum Auinione decimooctavo kalendis Februarii Anno Quarto.
Supplicat S[anctitati] V[estre] humilis et deuota uestra oratrix et ancilla Isolda Parewastell de Bruggewater quod ipsa feruore deuocionis accensa sepulcrum dominicum et alia loca sacra terre sancte per tres Annos et amplius cotidie visitauit ibidem etiam nuda pro christi nomine\45 in eculeo capite subuerso suspensa durissima verbera sustinuit, et semiuiua relicta manus sarracenorum miraculose euasit ad honorem et laudem gloriose beate marie uirginis, et pro sue ac progenitorum suorum animarum salute vnam Capellam in villa de Bruggewater Wellensis diocesis construere, ipsamque pro vno presbitero de .xxxvj. flor' perpetui et annui redditus dotare proponit, Quare e[idem] s[anctitati] humiliter supplicat, quatenus sibi fundandi et dotandi dictam Capellam sicut promittitur licenciam concedere dignemini specialem Ius patronatus sibi et suis heredibus ac successoribus reseruando cum clausulis oportunis. fac Altare in ecclesia parochiali infra cuius parochia volebas construere et dotare Capellam .B.
Item supplicat, quatenus omnibus vere penitentibus et confessis qui dictum Altare in festiuitatibus ordinatis per cancellariam\\ Probably the bishop's chancery.\ devote visitauerint annuatim vnum Annum et xl. dies de iniunctis eis penitentijs dignemini relaxare cum clausulis oportunis. fiat .B. Sine alia lectione. fiat .B.\46

Given at Avignon on the eighteenth of the kalends of February in the fourth year.
Your humble and devoted petitioner and maidservant Isolda Parewastell of Bridgwater supplicates Your Holiness that she, inflamed with the fervor of devotion, visited the tomb of the lord and other sacred places of the holy land every day for three years and more, and further that there, stripped in the name of Christ, she was hung on the rack head to the ground and sustained very hard beatings, and then, being left half alive, she miraculously escaped from the hands of the Saracens; she now proposes, for the honour and renown of the glorious holy virgin Mary and for the salvation of her own soul and of those of her ancestors, to construct a chapel in the town of Bridgwater in the diocese of Wells, and to endow it with a perpetual and annual income for one priest of 36 florins, wherefore she humbly supplicates the same holiness to deign to grant her a special license for the founding and endowing of the said chapel as promised, reserving the right of patronage to her and her heirs and successors, with the requisite clauses. Make an altar in the parish church within the parish in which you wish to build and endow the chapel. B.
Further, she supplicates that you deign to release from one year and 40 days of penance enjoined to them all those who once a year, having truly repented and confessed, may devoutly visit the said altar on festivals ordained by chancery, with the requisite clauses. Fiat. B. Without a further reading. Fiat. B.


1 General observations in Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), pp. 197-198, 261-263. There is no census of English pilgrims, but some English accounts and manuscripts in English libraries are listed in Reinhold Röhricht, Bibliotheca Geographica Palaestinae (Berlin: H. Reuter, 1890), pp. 90, 97-101, and Aziz Suryal Atiya, The Crusade in the Late Middle Ages (London: Methuen, 1938), pp. 490-509. Susan Mosher Stuard most kindly provided suggestions and advice.
2The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), General Prologue, I.445, p. 30.
3 Girolamo Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-Bibliografica della Terra Santa e dell' Oriente francescano, 5 vols. (Quaracchi: Collegio di S. Bonaventura, 1906-1927), V, 167-178.
4The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Sanford Brown Meech and Hope Emily Allen (London: Oxford University Press, 1940, 1961), EETS OS 248, pp. 60-75.
5"Itinerarium cuiusdam Anglici: 1344-45," in Golubovich, IV, 435-460.
6 [Paul] R[iant], "Voyage en Terre-Sainte d'un Maire de Bordeaux au XIVe Siècle," Archives de l'Orient Latin, 2 (1884).
7 Lucy Toulmin Smith, Expeditions to Prussia and the Holy Land made by Henry Earl of Derby (Afterwards King Henry IV) in the Years 1390-1 and 1392-3 Being the Accounts Kept by his Treasurer during Two Years (London: Camden Society, 1940).
8 Margery Kempe, p. 95; Robert Brentano, "Catherine of Siena, Margery Kempe and a caterva virginum" in Atti del Simposio internazionale Cateriniano-Bernardiano, ed. D. Maffei and P. Nardi (Siena: Accademia senese degli Intronati, 1982), pp. 46-47.
9The Letters of Saint Boniface, trans. E. Emerton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940), pp. 136-141; cf. Giles Constable, "Opposition to Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages," Studia Gratiana, 19 (1976), 125-146.
10John of Salisbury's Memoirs of the Papal Court, ed. and trans. M. Chibnall (London: Thomas Nelson, 1956), pp. 52-53, 61-62.
11The Good Wife Taught her Daughter: The Good Wyfe Wold a Pilgrimage: The Thewis of Gud Women, ed. Tauno Mustanoja (Helsinki, 1948), p. 181. Franco Cardini, Le Crociate tra il Mito e la Storia (Roma: Istituto di Cultura Nova Civitas, 1971), pp. 277-278, provides some non-English fourteenth-century examples of pilgrimage as a convenient opportunity for amorous adventure and escapade.
12 Text in Joseph F. Michaud, Bibliothèque des Croisades (Paris: A.J. Ducollet, 1829), III, 369-375; discussed in M. de Florival, "Un Pèlerinage au XIIe Siÿècle: Marguerite de Jérusalem et Thomas de Froidmont," Bulletin de la Société académique de Laon, 26 (1887); the text requires further study.
13 References in Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954), III, 59-60.
14 James Brundage, "The Crusader's Wife: A Canonistic Quandry," Studia Gratiana, 12 (1967), 434, 437-438; idem, "The Votive Obligations of Crusaders: The Development of a Canonist Doctrine," Traditio, 24 (1968), 113-114; idem, "Prostitution, Miscegenation and Sexual Purity in the First Crusade," in Crusade and Settlement, ed. Peter W. Edbury (Cardiff: University College Cardiff Press, 1985); Maureen Purcell, Papal Crusading Policy: The Chief Instruments of Papal Crusading Policy and the Crusade to the Holy Land from the Final Loss of Jerusalem to the Fall of Acre, 1244-1291 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1975), pp. 53, 57-59, 121, 147; idem, "Women Crusaders: A Temporary Canonical Aberration?" in Principalities, Powers and Estates: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Government and Society, ed. L.O. Frappel (Adelaide: University Press, 1979); Ronald Finucane, Soldiers of Faith: Crusaders and Muslims at War (London: J.M. Dent, 1983), pp. 174-184; Elizabeth Siberry, Criticism of Crusading: 1095-1274 (Oxford: University Press, 1985), pp. 44-46, 90-91, 102-103.
15 Bartholomaeus de Cotton, Historia Anglicana, ed. H. Luard (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1859), pp. 177-178.
16Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions, Vol. I, A.D. 1342-1419, ed. William Henry Bliss (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1896), 22-23.
17 Benjamin Kedar, "The Passenger List of a Crusader Ship, 1250: Towards the History of the Popular Element on the Seventh Crusade," Studi medievali, 3rd ser., 13 (1972), 272.
18 Texts in Les Registres de Boniface VIII, ed. Georges Alfred Laurent Digard and others (Paris: E. de Boccard, 1906/21), III, 290-294; see Roberto S. Lopez, Genova marinara nel Ducento: Benedetto Zaccaria Ammiraglio e Mercante (Messina-Milano: G. Principato, 1933), pp. 217-221, 235-236.
19 Finucane, pp. 179-183; Kedar, pp. 272-274, 279, n. 69.
20 "Dicebatur ibi quod una mulier de Anglia peregrina plures quam mille cum feru transfodit:" Ludolphus de Sudheim, De Itinere Terre Sancte, ed. G. Neumann, in Archives de l'Orient Latin, 2 (1884), 334.
21 Texts in Golubovich, IV, 13-14, 59-64.
22 Texts ibid., V, 60-68, 105-109, 156-159, 196-199.
23 Text ibid., V, 218.
24 Caterina's views, often expressed in ambiguous language, have been interpreted in different ways: Robert Fawtier and Louis Canet, La double expérience de Catherine de Benincasa (Sainte Catherine de Sienne) (Paris: Gallimard, 1948), pp. 347-353 and passim; P. Rousset, "Sainte Catherine de Sienne et le Problème de la Croisade," Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte, 25 (1975); Franco Cardini, "L'Idea di Crociata in Santa Caterina di Siena," in Atti del Simposio internazionale Cateriniano-Bernardiano. In so far as the dating of Caterina's letters in Cardini, pp. 60, 69, depends on the bull of 1 July 1375, it should be noted that it was a safe-conduct connected with a projected crusade rather than a crusade bull.
25 Text in Fioretti di S. Francesco (Firenze, 1719), pp. 33-37, dated 1 July 1372 according to P. Cividali, "Il Beato Giovanni dalle Celle," Atti della R. Accademia dei Lincei: Memorie della Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, 5th ser., 12 (1906), 403, but this date seems too early. On the tendency to reject pilgrim and crusading ideals or to convert them into "interior" or mystical activity at home in the West, see Anna Benvenuti Papi, "Margarita Filia Jerusalem: Santa Margherita da Cortona e il Superamento mistico della Crociata," and Franco Cardini, "Nota su Mariano di Nanni Rettore di San Pietro a Ovile in Siena," both in Toscana e Terra Santa nel Medioevo, ed. Franco Cardini (Firenze: Alinea, 1982).
26 Undated text in Cividali, pp. 436-439; suggesting [September] 1376 as its date at p. 404.
27 Texts in E. Dupré Theseider, Epistolario di Santa Caterina da Siena (Roma: R. Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo, 1940), I, 82-86, 140-144, 166-170. Crusading exhortations to Giovanna of Naples and Elizabeth of Hungary were probably addressed to them as rulers rather than as women: texts ibid., I, 132-138, 158-170.
28 Text ibid., I, 124-126.
29 Kenneth Setton, The Papacy and the Levant: 1204-1571, Vol. I, The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1976), pp. 258-284.
30 Cited in Atiya, p. 377; see also George Hill, A History of Cyprus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), II, 337-347, 359-360, 373-376; Kamal S. Salibi, Maronite Historians of Medieval Lebanon (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1959), pp. 75-76, 145-147; Eliyahu Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 90-99.
31 Guillaume de Machaut, La Prise d'Alexandrie, ed. Louis de Mas Latrie (Genève: Société de l'Orient Latin, 1877), verses 3798-38l5, 5694-5695, 5820-5832 and passim; further details in Nicolas Iorga, Philippe de Mézières (1327-1405) et la Croisade au XIVe Siècle (Paris: E. Bouillon, 1896), p. 307.
32 Quotation from al-Maqrizi in Ashtor, p. 94, n. 161.
33 Golubovich, V, 73-76, 109, 113-116, 134, 197-198; Leonhard Lemmens, Die Franziskaner auf dem Sion: 1335-1552 (Munster-in-W.: Aschendorff, 1925), pp. 62-64.
34 Anthony Luttrell, The Hospitallers in Cyprus, Rhodes, Greece and the West: 1291-1440 (London: Variorum Reprints, 1978), item I, 299, n. 43.
35 Luttrell, "English Levantine Crusaders: 1363-1367," Renaissance Studies, 2 (1988); see also Maurice Keen, "Chaucer's Knight, the English Aristocracy and the Crusade," in English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages, ed. V.J. Scattergood and J.W. Sherbourne (New York: St. Martins, 1983); The Life of Saint Peter Thomas by Philippe de Mézières, ed. Joachim Smet (Roma: Institutum Carmelitanum, 1954), p. 46.
36 Archivio Vaticano, Reg. Vat. 251, fols. 368v-369v. Sir John, whose wife was named Margaret, was Lord of Tormarton and Acton Turville in the diocese of Worcester, and in 1344 and 1346 he founded a chantry and college at Tormarton, while in August and September 1346 he received papal licenses to visit Jerusalem with a priest and squire, and a safe-conduct to travel to aid the faithful against the Turks: calendared in Bliss (1896), I, 118-119, and in Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, Vol. III, A.D. 1342-1362, ed. William Henry Bliss and Charles Johnson (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1897), 28, 33, 209, 300-301. A papal bull of 17 March 1348 reported that Sir John had spent a long time exploring the holy land, spying on ports, towns and castles, visiting Saint Katherine's at Sinai, and fighting the Turks on land and sea: text in Lettres closes, patentes et curiales du pape Benoit XII intéressant les pays autre que la France, ed. E. Déprez and G. Mollat (Paris: Bibliothèque des Ecoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, 1960), no. 1605. Cf. [R. Austin], "Tormarton," Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 57 (1935), 14-17. A John de la Rivere was one of more than 59 persons permitted to go overseas as a pilgrim, most of them probably to the jubilee of that year in Rome, on 18 October 1350: Calendar of the Close Rolls: Edward III, Vol. IX. A.D. 1349-1354 (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1906), 271-272. See Nigel Saul, Knights and Esquires: The Gloucestershire Gentry in the Fourteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), p. 228-229, incorrectly, it now seems, placing his death in 1361. Dr. Saul, of Royal Holloway College, most kindly provided advice and references.
37 Rawdon Brown, Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts relating to English Affairs: Venice, Vol. VI: 3 (London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1884), 1578-1580.
38 Niccolò da Poggibonsi spent three years on pilgrimage from 1346 to 1350, but that was exceptional and only parts of 1347 were spent in and around Jerusalem: Fra Niccolò da Poggibonsi, Libro d'Oltramare: 1346-1350, ed. Bellarmino Bagatti (Jerusalem: Studium Biblicum Francescanum, 1945).
39 Archivio Vaticano, Reg. Vat. 248, fols. 16v-17.
40 The thousands of English papal petitions from 1342 to 1366 calendared in Bliss (1896), I, 1-537, include no petition similar to Isolda's. Kathleen Louise Wood-Legh, Perpetual Chantries in Britain (Cambridge: University Press, 1965), pp. 55-60 and passim, describes the procedures but makes no reference at all to papal intervention of any sort. See also C. Burgess, "'For the Increase of Divine Service': Chantries in the Parish in Late Medieval Bristol," Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 36 (1985), 50.
41 Bridgwater Borough Archives: 1200-1377, ed. Thomas Bruce Dilks (Frome-London: Somerset Record Society, 1933), nos. 92, 242; the family name is otherwise almost completely unknown and may have been foreign, possibly Flemish.
42Ibid., no. 8 and passim.
43 Arthur Herbert Powell, The Ancient Borough of Bridgwater in the County of Somerset (Bridgwater: Page and Son, 1907), pp. 112, 142-144, assumes that the chantry of Saint Mary was that founded by Isolda.
44 Calendared in Bliss (1896), I, 512-513 [amend his date].
45 "nuda pro christi nomina" might literally mean that Isolda was stripped naked, but nuda really implied poor or humble, as repeatedly used by St. Jerome: R. Grégoire, "L'Adage ascétique 'Nudus nudum Christum Sequi'," in Studi Storici in onore di Ottorino Bertolini (Pisa: Pacini, 1972), I, 359-409.
46 "Ex" [with contraction sign above x] in the left margin might have meant "Extraordinaria" (or "Expeditur"), but that is still uncertain: Bruno Katterbach, Specimina Supplicationum ex Registris Vaticanis (Roma: Subsidiorum Tabularii Vaticani, 1927), I, xvi.


Convents, Courts and Colleges: The Prioress and the Second Nun

Julia Bolton Holloway

Sculpture becomes most interesting when showing two or more figures in tension against each other, rather than only one; as in the Alexandrian clustering of the Three Graces, one of whom gives, one who takes and one who both gives and takes, peaceably reconciling their warring opposites.1 It is wise to tell students not to write on only one Shakespearian dramatis persona, as their artistic existence is only achieved through their co-existence with the other characters in their play. Chaucer similarly compares and contrasts characters, in words in a book rather than with actors upon a stage or as forms and shapes in sculpture, in the Canterbury Tales. Literature is not reality, though it plays games with codes of representation. We have, amongst that diverse pilgrimage cavalcade, the lusty Wife and the celibate Clerk, the Benedictine Monk and the Franciscan Friar, the young and jovial Kentish Miller and the elderly and choleric Norfolk Reeve, and a host of others. Some personify occupations in competition with each other,2 others represent the tension of worldly hierarchies, the experienced Knight accompanied by the apprentice Squire, the Prioress, taking first place, prior, with the Second Nun, taking second. Chaucer's Prioress is Gothic, his Second Nun, Romanesque

On a pilgrimage, ideally, all were to be equal, kings with beggars, women with men, which was a major reason for the pilgrimages performed by such women as Saint Birgitta of Sweden, a member of that country's royal household, and Margery Kempe, the wife of a Norwich burgess.3 But, from the Council of Whitby until Vatican II, cloistered clergy were not to go on pilgrimage. Theirs was the interior pilgrimage, their cloister with its well at the center a paradigm of paradise amidst the wilderness of the world and its sinfulness.4 Chaucer's cavalcade is satiric and comic. Pilgrims ideally were to walk, and preferably, barefoot, on pilgrimages. We hear of Henry II doing so after his murder of the Archbishop, Thomas Becket. Even Henry VIII, before his murder of Thomas More, went so on pilgrimage to Walsingham.5 The Parson's Tale states: "Commune penaunce is that preestes enjoynen men communly in certeyn cas, for to goon peradventure naked in pilgrimage or barfot" (X.104) and "This folk taken litel reward of the ridynge of Goddes sone of hevene and of his harneys whan he rood upon the asse, and ne hadde noon oother harneys but the povre clothes of his disciples; ne we ne rede nat that evere he rood on oother beest" (X.434).6 Chaucer, placing his pilgrims all on horseback, is joking, a joke his medieval readers would have relished for its code-switching and breaking but to which we are not privileged, having lost that canonical lore.

Pilgrimage, after Whitby, and before Vatican II, was a secular activity, a performance of piety by the laity, not by the clergy; although there were a few exceptions.7 Chaucer's Monk, Friar, Prioress, Nun, Priest, Summoner, Pardoner and Parson ought not to be here. Their presence is outrageous comedy. Inns were forbidden to the cloistered clergy who, if they had to travel, were enjoined to stay in other monastic establishments along their route. The Tabard, so close to the Bell, was situated outside the city limits of London, in its redlight district, as was later to be also Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, giving rise to those references within his plays to venereal diseases, brothels and whores. Similarly were the theatres of ancient Rome in the unincorporated areas and Renaissance woodblocks for Terence's Comedies therefore show us the Boethian "whores of the theatre" plying their oldest profession amidst the theatre goers.8 The Cook's Prologue and his Tale give us that cityscape. What is the Prioress doing in such an unsavoury context?

Victor Turner has shown us how pilgrimage and its piety inevitably gives way to its opposite, to Vanity Fair, to St. Denis' Lendit, to commerce and license, great fairs rising up next door to sacred shrines.9 Maria Corti has spoken of "Models and Anti-Models."10 The sign demands its anti-sign, its undoing, its deconstruction. Pilgrimage texts, especially those in the vernacular, appear to require such a dynamic play of opposites on many levels and planes. Dante noted that he wrote his pilgrimage work in the language of "women and children," the vernacular.11 Mikhail Bakhtin has observed how the two worlds, of official Latin, and of the folk, and defiant, vernacular, played against each other, the unofficial world of the proletariat mocking, parodying and profaning the sacredness of Latin. Bakhtin has also noted how these Two Worlds' juxtaposition give us Carnival/Lent.12 In such a dialectic we can expect Lent to turn back into Carnival, sacrament to become excrement, eschatology to be scatological.

Elsewhere I have written of the vernacularization in Dante, Langland and Chaucer of Luke's Gospel, where the first people who meet the risen Christ at Easter and then tell others, Mary Magdalen, Luke and Cleophas, are accounted to be telling lying fables, not truthful sermons. I noted there that the account of the Emmaus Pilgrims allowed for the use of inns, pilgrims and fables, the world of Carnival, to be followed by that of the sermon of bread and wine as the sun set, the world of Lent and Resurrection.13 In that study I stated that theology was the critical theory of medieval pilgimage poetry. In the Pauline structure women were forbidden to preach sermons and the old wives' tales they told were not to be listened to.14 In the opposing Christian anti-structure women and beggars, whores and lepers, were on top, in which the first shall be last, in a world upside down.15 In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales women can preach, as does the Wife of Bath, and the pilgrims are not deaf to her words, even if she herself is. The Gospels, revolutionary texts that they are, broke paternalistic codes in having, as Jerome is careful to say to Marcella, Paula and Eustochium and then Abelard to Heloise,16 Mary Magdalen the whore be the first to see the risen Christ. The Gospels themselves allowed the up-so-doun Carnival of the Canterbury Tales in this game of texts and codes. Then they were followed by the Pauline Epistles and the Parson's Sermon, order restored.17

Mikhail Bakhtin also wrote on the Problems of Dostoevski's Poetics, seeing there the use of many voices, each with its own part of the code of the whole, as dialectic and dialogical.18 Similarly, the Russian Formalists have discussed Pushkin's Tales of Belkin in which Pushkin creates an author who collects stories from his acquaintances, two of these stories being supposedly by a novel-reading woman and in all of which are characters who are influenced by written or spoken stories.19 Authors can create authors of tales within tales. And sometimes these personae can even carry out sex changes, authorial transvestism and cross dressing, such as Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Gustave Flaubert's Emma Bovary ("Madame Bovary, c'est moi!"), Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and James Joyce's Mo[l]ly Bloom and Anna Livia Plurabelle. In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales we have a Geoffrey Chaucer who creates a plurality of characters, who in turn often create a plurality of characters, reminding one of those racks of masks in classical and medieval Terence manuscripts.20 Among these masks Chaucer assumes are those in transvestite drag of scarlet-clad, Mary Magdalen-like Alisoun of Bath (following upon his mask of the Miller assuming the mask of black-and-white-clad Alisoun), and of the black and white clad Prioress (though she has a touch of gold and like her literary ancestress, the Roman de la Rose's Constreyned Abstinence, a touch as well of scarlet coral) and the Second Nun.21

This triad of "women," the elderly Wife/Widow of Bath, the mature and "courtly" Prioress and the humble, virginal, and young Second Nun, confront us in the text as part of its Sphinx riddle. I have argued elsewhere that the three forms of the Wife of Bath fragmented in her Prologue/Tale are manifestations of the Great Mother who customarily took the forms of Crone, Wife and Maiden at well heads and who was particularly worshiped at Bath.22 The Wife boasts that she has had the world in her time ("That I have had my world as in my tyme," III.473) and sighs, "Allas, allas! That evere love was synne!" (III.614), while her Prologue portrait states, "Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce,/ For she koude of that art the olde daunce" (I.475-6). The Prioress, who should never have been traveling with the Monk, and certainly not staying at an inn with him, bears a brooch that reminds us of his with the love knot ("He hadde of gold ywroght a ful curious pyn;/ A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was," I.196-7), hers stating "Love conquers all" ("And theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,/ On which there was first write a crowned A,/ And after Amor vincit omnia," I.160-62). Love lust has conquered the Wife and the Prioress, but not the Second Nun.

The Wife and the Prioress, in scarlet and in black, are both stitched together out of the intertextuality/ intersexuality of Ovid and the Roman de la Rose. The Second Nun comes from the pages of the Golden Legend. The Wife is the secular pilgrim par excellence, traveling to Rome, Jerusalem (three times emphatically), Compostela and Cologne, except that, unlike Saint Birgitta of Sweden and Margery Kempe, she is interested in sex, not in vows of chastity. Thus she with her peripatetic, far-flung journeys in the world contrasts strongly with what the Prioress and the Second Nun should exemplify, the cloistered life within convent walls. Her story, despite her pilgrimages, is pagan, about magic and marriage. At least the other two women tell Christian tales. But the scarlet 'A' of Hester (Esther of the Bible) Prynne is not too secretly borne by the Prioress as well as boldly by the Wife. Only the Second Nun is free from its taint. Let us now turn to their two tales and see how in them, "Mordre wil out" (VII.576; VII.3052, in the latter instance this being stated to have been caused because of gold, mostly associated in the Canterbury Tales with sin and death).


In this discussion we will give the Prioress that precedence that, in the world's eyes, she deserves. Her Prologue portrait pairs her with the Monk, both of them having dogs, which were forbidden in monastic rules and communities. Her table manners come straight out the Roman de la Rose,23 and were there taught by the ancestress of the Wife of Bath, La Vieille. She swears, or does not swear, by St. Loy, St. Eligius, the patron saint of goldsmiths and hay and dung carters.24 Her name comes out of courtly romance, such as from the Lais of Marie de France, not the Golden Legend. She is Lady Sweetbriar, "madame Eglentyne" (I.121). She counterfeits, imitates, the behavior of court. And indeed her convent, Stratford atte Bowe, had once a royal member, Elizabeth of Hainault, sister of Queen Philippa, who died there in 1375.25 The absurd rosary "brooch of gold ful sheene" she carries with its "crowned A" (I.160-1), is typical of the adulation for Richard II's Queen Anne who died at Sheen in 1394.26 In all, despite the goodness of Queen Anne, neither the portrait limned by Chaucer of the Prioress nor her tale are positive.

D.H. Lawrence said "Trust not the teller, trust the tale." In the Prioress' Tale, "Mordre wil out." Her Prologue portrait stressed her sentimentality:

But, for to speken of hire conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous
She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes hadde she that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed.
But soore wepte she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte;
And al was conscience and tendre herte. (I.142-150)
The Tale instead is of a vicious pogrom, a program of vengeance gone out of bounds without any statute of limitations, the Jewish lex talionis being no more than an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. But here an entire community is wiped out to avenge the death of one child. We meet the merciful Prioress' vengeful shadow.27 In England we would say that she would be the sort who would contribute to the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and not to the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In America she would likely be a dues-paying, card-carrying member of Animal Rights groups.

These anti-Semitic tales spread across Europe, particularly taking hold in times of stress, such as the Black Death. The scrupulous hygiene exercised by Jewish communities and individuals created anxiety and hostility amongst the less careful Christians. An early version, told in Byzantium, became embedded in the text Arculf dictated to Adamnan on the island of Iona. In it an iconoclastic Jew throws an icon of the Virgin into a privy.28 Later versions of these tales are frequently coupled with the (non-existent) figure of St. Nicholas, patron of school children and thieves, patron of mischievousness and naughtiness, and as such occur, for instance, in the monastic dramas for schoolboys and oblates of the Orléans 201 manuscript.29 In Spain, during the time of tension connected with the Reconquista, King Alfonso the Learned composed and had illuminated many Cantigas de Santa Maria with such tales against Jews amongst them.30 The tales, psychiatrically, are sick, often about defecation, with much projecting and inappropriate scapegoating; but generally in the genre the Jew is not put to death, only forced to convert, a fate worse than death, and be forgiven.

Perhaps what we have is uncontrollable internalized hostility unleashed by one oppressed, powerless group, women, against another mirroring group, Jews, cathecting intolerance. (Later, in the South, similar patterns of internalized/projected hostility amongst share-croppers living on the margins of poverty would result in the scapegoating lynching of African Americans.) In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice we see side by side on the stage Portia as Mercy, Shylock as Justice, debating and enacting their crucial and cruel dialectic. In Langland's Piers Plowman we witness the Four Daughters of God embrace harmoniously on Easter morn following an initial discord. But in the telling of the Prioress's Tale it is the Marian ultra-feminine Prioress who should be ultra-merciful who becomes instead ultra-judgemental, demanding far more than a pound of flesh, demanding the shedding of blood.

The lady-like Prioress, so careful not to leave a "ferthyng" of grease in her cup, with her impeccable table manners (I.130-141), tells a tale of a child of seven (following upon her likening herself to a child of one), who obnoxiously sang a hymn to the Virgin through the length and breadth of the Jewish Ghetto31 and who was slain, his body cast into the privy. The mother, a grieving Rachel, in this photographic negative of the Slaughter of the Jewish Innocents by Herod seeking to murder the Messiah,32 finds the schoolchild still singing, despite his throat cut to the neck bone. The body of the boy is taken to the convent in a procession while still singing, with his mother swooning over him, he is presumably still covered with latrine filth, and then he is finally cleansed with holy water (VII.639).33 Later, the Abbot will weep salt tears upon him, reminiscent of the scene in Saint Erkenwald where the Bishop, weeping, baptizes the dead Judge.34 The boy meanwhile has told of the grain laid by Mary upon his tongue, reminiscent of the Croxton Play of the Sacrament where a Christian in collusion with Jews retained the sacrament in order for it to be used in a Black Mass.35 In this version so much that is relevant to the Jewish community becomes here carried out by the Christian child in odd distortions. Much else is strange, including the link's words concerning Saint Augustine (VII.441), followed by the Prologue's reference to the holiness of a babe at the breast (VII.453-457), when we recall that Saint Augustine spoke of a child being green with jealousy at his sibling's nursing at the mother's breast, and not being sweetly innocent.36 Another odd reference, in this anti-Semitic tale, is the figural likeness drawn between the Virgin and "O bussh unbrent, brennynge in Moyses sighte" (VII.468-9). We have already noted the reference to "Thise new Rachel" (VII.627), Jacob's bride mourning her lost sons. Is the Prioress, in her much protested "innocence," ignorant, or knowledgeable, of the illogical arabesques she appropriates from the Hebrew Scriptures?

Just as Jews, the physicians of kings in the Middle Ages, could be resented for their careful hygiene, so also were they envied for their great access to learning, to the Book at its source and origin which next shaped Christendom and Islam. The technology of the alphabet was a brilliant Semitic invention, to be appropriated by the Greeks (alpha, beta are not Greek words but derive from aleph, beth), Etruscans (their alphabet became the Germanic runes), and Romans. After the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 by Titus and Vespasian, Judaism, in mourning, gave up its magnificent heritage of music, including the singing of David's Psalms. Christian monks kept alive that tradition not only of those written words, now translated into Syrian, Coptic, Greek and Latin, but also of that music. In time secular songs were harnessed to that music, giving us both Ambrosian hymns and Gregorian chant. Women in convents in the earlier Middle Ages had had access to Latin learning but, with the coming of the universities (a largely Arabic and Jewish institution in its origins) from which they were excluded, women were further separated off from power structures. We know from Eileen Power's work that the ability for nuns in convents to learn grammar, Latin, had greatly decreased in this period.37 (Yet we will find the Prioress' apprentice, the Second Nun, proficient in English, Italian and Latin, and finding it best to study books rather than to court idleness. Similarly the Canon's Yeoman, the Sorcerer's Apprentice, surpasses his master, the Canon, in virtuousness and repents and reforms.) Barred from preaching sermons, women could still sing hymns (we find Abelard composing such for Heloise and her convent of the Paraclete based upon stories of women and men in the Hebrew Scriptures) as an outlet for their emotions, if not their intellect. The Prioress creates a persona for herself, a Jungian animus of herself, in the illiterate hymn-chanting school boy who is terrifyingly and tauntingly caught, trapped and victimized in mirroring ghettoized worlds. She is unforgiveably both victim and victimizer.

The Prioress' Prologue and Tale have played with the use, and abuse, of words by children who do not understand them. The Marian Prioress has spoken of herself as an innocent infant of but twelve months old, "innocent" meaning not nocent, not harmful, infant, "infans," not yet speaking. She has likewise stressed the seven year old child as not learning to read his primer, not understanding and instead learning by rote the hymn he sings perpetually. The tale has the same effect upon many of us as the hymn within it upon the Jewish community. The Prioress with her cultivated and counterfeited appearance and falsely assumed stance of innocence and childishness reminds one of the whited sepulchre back in Belgium that is Kurtz' Intended in Heart of Darkness.38 She is kin to both the Monk and the Canon. She is kin, intertextually, as well to the Roman de la Rose's Faus Semblant's leman, Constreyned Abstinence, in appearance and in hypocrisy. Her tale combines the blood libel of the legends of little St Hugh of Lincoln, of little St William of Norwich. Both she and her tale are negative and, I believe, neither should be trusted.

The tale has followed an account of a Monk, a Wife and a Merchant in which the Monk has broken so many of his vows, poverty, chastity and obedience, and so much of his Rule, against staying overnight, against eating when on a day's journey, against money-dealing and against sexuality. The Host censored that behavior ("Draweth no monkes moore unto youre in," VII, 442), but the Prioress, addressed twice by the Host as "My lady Prioresse" and "my lady deere," murmurs not at all against the Monk of the Shipman's Tale. Her rhyme royal tale is then followed by the rhyme doggerel of the mock-courteous Tale of Sir Thopas, as if Chaucer were ridiculing the Prioress and her "courtliness." And feigning himself to be as untaught as she. But the link between the Tales of the Prioress and the Author gives us an embarassed wordlessness. The pilgrims are at a loss as to how to respond to Eglentyne's tale-telling. They remind us of those awkward moments during Civil Rights when someone inadvertently made a racist remark, the rest of the company falling silent, hoping that the silence could register disapproval and discomfort.39


The Second Nun (the last shall be first) received, humbly, a mere line and a half, along with the half-line for the Nun's Priest, in the General Prologue. Similarly had Langland in Piers Plowman given Lady Mede a grandiose ten line catalogue and inventory of scarlet and golden ribbons, emerald and ruby jewelry, and then to Holichirche a mere half line of white linen garb, that garb of the saved in Apocalypse.40 The Second Nun's Tale, following upon the Nun's Priest's, and close to the end of this bawdy pilgrimage, turns excrement back into sacrament, scatology back to eschatology. She begins with again a reference to the Roman de la Rose, refering to the figure of Idleness, portress of the gate of the cupidinous garden of that poem.41 She recommends that we eschew that portress, putting her down by means of her opposite, business.42 The Monk may have kept himself occupied in his cell with tragedies. She has occupied herself in her cloister with mirroring Golden Legends and weaving literary garlands of roses and lilies, of saints and martyrs.43 I illustrate her with a 1500 woodblock of St Birgitta at work in a book-filled scriptorium writing her Revelationes.

St Birgitta, Revelationes, 1500, Nuremburg, Anthony Koberger

She next invokes the Virgin, echoing lines from St. Bernard (and plagiarized by Chaucer from Dante),44 and her mother, St. Anne,45 following that with the Golden Legend's etymologizing of the name of "Seint Cecilie," as containing the meanings of lily, light, heaven, Leah (again lifted from Dante, Purgatorio XXVII.97-108, to be echoed in XXVIII.40-XXXI.145), people, and so forth. The reference to Lia/Leah is interesting, for the Prioress had woven Rachel into her Tale. Another common figural parallel, implied here, is that of Mary Magdalen, the contemplative, and Martha, the vita activa. Wycliffite Chaucer appears here to be saying he prefers good works to the idleness (and sexuality) of the "contemplative" life. The Nun's Tale, rather than being set in both a distant city in Asia and in England's Lincoln,46 is a Roman drama.47 Though the Second Nun's own garb is of humble black and white, her heroine's is of cloth of gold, but under it is a hair shirt (VIII.132-3). She is married to Valerian, but refuses to consummate her vows, telling him of her guardian angel. Valerian, believing the angel could instead be a "hende Nicholas,"48 is sceptical, but goes according to her instructions to the Catacombs along the Appian Way to be baptized by the Pope, St. Urban. In a vision he there sees St. Paul holding out to him a book written with letters of gold. He is convinced and baptized into the faith, returning home to find the angel, now visible, holding out to both spouses crowns of lilies and roses. The domino effect next has Valerian bring his brother Tiburce into the fold, to be rewarded with the palm of martyrdom.49 All three have laid aside the required Roman idolatry, the mandatory sacrifice to idols of either naked pagan gods or of clothed deified emperors upon phallic pillars.50

For this Civil Disobedience, Almachius, the prefect of Rome, given in this tale a Saracen, Muslim name, insists that they sacrifice to the "ymage of Juppiter." The officer Maximus is their next convert, for he finds he cannot carry out the death sentence upon them. Cecilia preaches to them, telling them that by their coming martyrdoms they win the crown (stephanos) of life (VIII.388). Next, Almachius summons Cecilia to appear before his court. She argues her case with conviction, telling him she is of noble birth, telling him that he is a balloon/bladder filled with air, to be pricked with a pin/needle and burst, telling him that though he says he has the power of life and death, he is wrong as he only has the power of death, not life. She stands before her judge/accuser like an Antigone before a Creon, like an Iphigenia before an Agamemnon, like Socrates before the Athenian court, like Christ before Pilate in the Gospels or before the Grand Inquisitor in Dosteivsky's Brothers Karamazov, like Joan of Arc before the English "godams," as in Shaw's play, like the conscientious objector in Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You, like Gandhi on trial by the British Raj,51 or with the simplicity of Rosa Parks refusing to give up a bus seat because her feet were tired. Anthropologists, studying ceremonies of power, have noted that it takes only one dissident to call into question all that is illusion.52 What is also of interest that these incidents are embedded not only in history but also, powerfully, in literary texts using them, Sophocles and Euripides' plays, Plato's dialogues, the Gospels, Thoreau's essay, Dostoevsky's novel, Tolstoy's book, Shaw's play, and more. The early Christian martyrs, especially the women saints, in legends (acts which were read), were admired through time for this defiant disobedience to imperial authority. Chaucer externalized Bohemian Queen Anne, bride to his King Richard II, as the outward symbol, the "crowned A," worn by the Prioress; he may have also internalized her Wycliffite interests and support and up-so-doun humility into the figure of the Second Nun. Chaucer in giving the Second Nun this tale to tell is giving her a royal revolution.

Unlike the child with his throat cut who could not die but was left amidst the ordure of a latrine, St. Cecilie lies in a cleansing bath of purifying flame. Then, her head three times smitten with a sword, her throat likewise cut, she continues defiantly to live and preach for three further days to the Roman people.53 The Prioress, obedient to and manipulative of male hierarchy, carried out revenge, in fantasy, against both a male child and a religious, racial minority in her tale, strangely identifying herself with both and displacing her internalized/projected anger upon them most unjustly and with the greatest sadism.54 The Second Nun, her subordinate, her subaltern,55 chose a different answer, that of non-violent Holy Disobedience, the only effective way there is to rectify inequities of power. Chaucer, what is more, departs from the Golden Legend in having Cecilie preach, which patriarchal Paul forbade to women.

This tale and others like it were in the feminine domain, and used by them as peaceable weapons. Already Hrotswitha had written plays in the manner of Terence about Christian woman martyrs, celebrating their defiance of authority, yet submitting and presenting these plays to her Abbess.56 Already Christina of Markyate had read to her husband on their wedding night the tale of St. Cecilia, then jumped out the window, ran away and become an anchoress.57 Women chose virginity in order not to submit to male power, in order to be free, in order to be like men.58 Christianity had been the liberating religion of women and slaves, though men could impose Pauline doctrine upon it. The Second Nun chose liberation theology, the Prioress complied to the Establishment. Wycliffite Chaucer appears to be on the side of the Second Nun.59


How did the tellers of these two Tales manage to live together in the same convent? The answer can best be found in the work by Christine de Pizan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies. This is a treatise written a generation after Chaucer by an Italian woman at the court of the King of France whose son was page to the Earl of Salisbury. Chaucer's son and granddaughter likewise had connections with that household, Alice Chaucer becoming Countess of Salisbury.60 In this text Christine gives us sensible advice on how women can co-exist, despite jealousy, at court, in a convent, and even (though this was impossible from the founding of the universities in the Gothic era to our own twentieth century as these institutions excluded us), in a college. At the beginning of its text the three allegorical ladies of Reason, Rectitude and Justice appear to Christine, telling her to eschew idleness and to write to teach women:
May all the feminine college and their devout community be apprised of the sermons and lessons of wisdom, First of all to the queens, princesses and great ladies, and then on down the social scale we will chant our doctrines to the other ladies and maidens and all classes of women, so that the syllabus of our school may be valuable to all.61
When it comes to dealing with a difficult princess, a prima donna, Christine counsels patience and service, laying down clear and excellent guidelines concerning what to do in the face of envy and pride. She discusses first how a princess should behave, next how a lady serving her should do so, even if she has a bad mistress. And finally Christine addresses women of all ranks, wives, widows, whores and much more, giving them wisdom. She especially discusses the problems of jealousy and envy, which the Russian Formalists would later relate to Pushkin's Mozart and Saleri.62 Christine's de Pizan's Book of the Treasure could be read today with profit by women on the corporate ladder as well as by members of university faculties.

In all these tales within tales are texts within texts. The Wife is in lusty rebellion against her clerkly husband's Book of Wikked Wives, and manages besides to quote intertextually from the Bible and from pilgrimage books, from Jerome, and even to bring in a reference to Chaucer's now lost Book of the Leoun.63 The Prioress gives us a boy eschewing his primer in order to sing a hymn he does not understand from the antiphoner. Her Tale is set in the era when women came to be increasingly denied literacy and education as the Aristotelian influence from Greco-Arabic Spain took hold, establishing universities with their scholasticism and which excluded women, imposing an apartheid of gender.64 The Second Nun is well read in the Golden Legend and in secular Dante's Commedia's use of monastic St. Bernard. The period of her tale looks back to the comparatively Golden Age of Roman culture, which can show us the iconography of women with styli held to their lips, wax tablets clutched in their hands,65 and also it looks forward to such monastic women as Hilda presiding over the Council of Whitby, as Lioba writing letters quoting Virgil to Boniface, as Hildegard of Bingen presents herself as writing the book of her visions which she contemplates and likewise illuminates, and to Saints Birgitta and Catherine ordering Popes to return to Rome. Christine de Pizan, who had had the run of the King of France's library, reworks all the tales of the Book, the Bible, and of the Greek and Latin authors into her visions, and makes her books in turn be royal libraries for her readers. She opens to women the doors of the men's textual communities of power. Similarly had Pushkin's Tales of Belkin, with its masks within masks, had some of its tales within a tale be provided by a woman and have within them women who read texts, including one where she pretends to be unlettered and needing to be taught by her literacy-enamoured lover how to write love letters.66 Both Chaucer and Pushkin lived in ages where there were newly flourishing textual communities overthrowing ancient, masculine thraldoms, replacing these, the Hebrew, Greek and Roman, with vernacular literatures in which, as Dante said, women and children could share along with men. Dante and Chaucer were writing literature that complied with the newly-stirring Feminism of their day. In these three women personae of the Canterbury Tales Chaucer may be making a statement concerning forms of Feminism, and siding not with continued bondage and displaced revenge through the imitation by women of men's mistakes, but with open rebellion to the male establishment in order to gain equal access to power and justice.


1 Raymond Pucinelli, Mills College; Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968); Piers Plowman makes use of these triads, where the third combines and reconciles the two opposites. This paper was forged in the crucible of two Chaucer conferences, Tales of Passion and Piety: Women and Religion in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Tales within Tales: Apuleius and Chaucer, University of Colorado, Boulder, 1989, the latter funded by the Colorado Endowment for the Humanities.
2 Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 1-16, 128-137.
3 Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago: Aldine, 1969); The Liber Celestis of St. Bridget of Sweden, ed. Roger Ellis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), EETS 291; The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Sanford Brown Meech and Hope Emily Allen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), EETS OS 212.
4 George Williams, Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought: The Biblical Experience of the Desert in the History of Christianity and the Paradise Theme in the Theological Idea of the University (New York, 1962).
5 Edmond-René Labande, "Recherches sur les pélerins dans l'Europe des VIe et XIIe siécles," Spiritualité et vie littéraire de l'Occident, Xe-XIVe siécles (London: Variorum, 1974), pp. 339-349; Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Medieval Religion (Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1976), pp. 127-128; Durandus, pp. 135-136; Joinville, Memoirs of the Crusades, trans. Sir Frank T. Marzials (New York: Dutton, 1958), p. 166.
6 Text from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987).
7 H.F.M. Prescott, Friar Felix At Large: A Fifteenth-Century Pilgrim to the Holy Land (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950). Pilgrims were to grow beards, not so friars. Friar Felix delights in his, confounding the medieval hair code.
8 Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. V.E. Watts (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), I. i, p. 36; Arthur M. Hind, An Introduction to the History of Woodcut (New York: Dover, 1963), II. 610, fig. 358, from Terence, Comoediae, Lyon, 1493.
9 Victor Turner, "The Center Out There: Pilgrim's Goal," History of Religions, 12 (1973), 191-203.
10 Maria Corti, "Models and Anti-Models in Medieval Culture," New Literary History, 10 (1979), 339-366.
11 Dante Alighieri, De eloquentia, I.i, in Le Opere di Dante, ed. M. Barbi, E.G. Parodi, F. Pellegrini, E. Pistelli, P. Rajna, E. Rostagno, G. Vandelli (Florence: Società Dantesca Italiana, 1960), p. 297.
12 Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and his World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968), pp. 1-58, 437-474.
13The Pilgrim and the Book: A Study of Dante, Langland and Chaucer (Berne: Peter Lang, 1987, 1989, 1993).
14 I Corinthians 14.34; I Timothy 4.7.
15The Reversible World, ed. Barbara Babcock (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978).
16 Jerome, Epistola CXXVII, in Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris, 1854), XXII, 1090; Abelard to Heloise, Letter 6, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, ed. and trans. Betty Radice (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 180.
17 Augustine provides this patterning of the pilgrimage, through lust, to God, in the Confessions; see also the Santa Maria Novella Spanish Chapel fresco, the Via Veritatis, the Pisan Campo Santo fresco, in both of which a procession of travelers and revelers meet up with a confessor: Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death (New York: Harper, 1964).
18 (Ann Arbor, 1973), pp. 150-69.
19 P.N.Medvedev/M.M. Bakhtin, The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship: A Critical Introduction to Sociological Poetics, trans. Albert J. Wehrle (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), p. x, discussing Viktor Vinogradov and Valentin N. Voloshinov, of the Bakhtin school, on Puskin's Tales.
20 Leslie Webber Jones and C.R. Morey, Miniatures of the Manuscripts of Terence Prior to the Thirteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1931). It is not without interest that the Laurentian Library holds a manuscript of the Comedies in Boccaccio's autograph hand.
21 Turner, Ritual Process, passim, notes the sacred importance of red, white and black in Ndembu ritual; Victor Masayesva observed that Chaucer's use of these colours is similar to the ritual structuring amongst the Hopi.
22 John Sharkey, Celtic Mysteries: The Ancient Religion (London: thames and Hudson, 1976), p. 7, plates 14, 23-25; John Adair, The Pilgrim's Way: Shrines and Saints in Britain and Ireland (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 95; Roger Sherman Loomis, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), p. 43 and passim; Julia Bolton Holloway, The Pilgrim and the Book: A Study of Dante, Langland and Chaucer (Berne: Peter Lang, 1987); this account also relates the Wife's pilgrimages to pilgrimage texts, juxtaposing her and the Pardoner, pp. 179-195.
23 Le Roman de la Rose, ed. Félix Lecoy (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1976), II, lines 13355-13411.
24 Anne S. Haskell, Chaucer's Saints (The Hague: Mouton, 1976), 1-2, 32-37. Medieval agriculture required the use of dunging to restore nitrogen to the soil. For this reason Lancelot momentarily hesitates before entering the cart to carry out the rescue of his Guinevere. See Friar's Tale, III.1564, Nun's Priest's Tale, VII.3018.
25The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F.N. Robinson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 654. Chaucer's own daughter was a nun at Barking, whose foundress was sister to Bede's St. Eorconwald, the Middle English poem's St. Erkenwald.
26 Chaucer had played similar games at the conclusion of the Book of the Duchess with Richmond and Lancaster, the long castle on a rich hill (1318-19).
27 Carl G. Jung, "The Shadow," and "Christ, A Symbol of the Self," in Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, trans. R. F. C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), Bollingen Series XX, pp. 8-10, 36-71.
28 Adamanan/Arculfus, De locis sanctis, ed. Denis Meehan (Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies, 1958), Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, 3, p. 119; this tale repeated in Alfonso el Sabio, Cantiga 34.
29 Edmond de Coussemaker, Drames liturgiques du Moyen Age (Rennes: Vatar, 1860); Sacre rappresentazione nel manoscritto 201 della Bibliothèque municipale di Orléans, ed. Giampiero Tintori and Raffaello Monterosso (Cremona: Athenaeum Cremonense, 1958); Charles W. Jones, St. Nicholas of Myra, Bari and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978).
30 Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, ed. Walter Mettmann (Coimbra: Universidad, 1959-1972), I-IV, Cantigas 4, 6 (of English child singing "Gaude Virgo Maria" with refrain to King David), 12, 25, 27, 34, 108, 286; Carleton Brown, "The Prioress's Tale," in Sources and Analogues of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, ed. W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster (New York: Humanities Press, 1958), pp. 447-485.
31 Interestingly, it has been argued that there was transmission of Hebrew music from the Jewish communities of the Sephardim in Spain to those of the Ashkenazim in Germany by way of Christian pilgrims, Abraham Z. Idelsohn, Jewish Music (New York: Tudor, 1929), p. 143; see also Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge: The Interdependence of Liturgy and Music in Synagogue and Church During the First Millenium (London: Dobson, 1959), who argues for the retention of the psalms' music from the Hebraic tradition into Gregorian chant.
32 Liturgically, and in the drama, the passage concerning Rachel mourning her lost children by Jacob was repeated on the Feast Day of the Slaughter of the Innocents, as it had been repeated in Matthew 2.8, and as it was to be repeated in Melville's Moby Dick, whose captain is kin to our prioress.
33 Barbara Hanawalt, The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 173, tells us that baptismal water was recycled if the child pissed, only replaced if the baby defecated into it.
34 St. Erkenwald, ed. Ruth Morse (Cambridge: Brewer, 1975), p. 64.
35 Medieval Drama, ed. David Bevington (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975), pp. 754-788.
36 Augustine, Confessions, trans. W. Watts (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977), I.vii, pp. 20-21.
37 Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922), pp. 246-255. See also Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983).
38 William J. Brandt, The Shape of Medieval History: A Study in Modes of Perception (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), on stance amongst the aristocracy; Joan Ferrante, "Public Postures and Private Maneuvers: Roles Medieval Women Play," Women and Power in the Middle Ages, ed. Mary Erler and Maryanne Kowaleski (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988), pp. 213-229. Gothic Criseyde amidst her Romanesque cityscape is another example of such behavioral double standards between outward appearance and inward reality.
39 I recognize that Chaucerians are of two camps, some defending the Prioress, others loathing her. See Richard J. Schoeck, "Chaucer's Prioress: Mercy and Tender Heart," Chaucer Criticism, ed. Richard J. Schoeck and Jerome Taylor (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1960), I. 245-258; Florence H. Ridley, The Prioress and the Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965); Graciela S. Daichman, Wayward Nuns in Medieval Literature (Ithaca: Syracuse University Press, 1986); while Sister Mary Madeleva, A Lost Language (New York: Russell and Russell, 1967), defended her.
40 William Langland, Piers Plowman: The B Version, ed. George Kane and E. Talbot Donaldson (London: Athlone, 1975), II.8-17, I.3.
41Roman de la Rose, 495-698; D.W. Robertson, Jr., "The Doctrine of Charity in Medieval Literary Gardens: A Topical Approach through Symbolism and Allegory," in Essays in Medieval Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 21-50.
42 The shadow tale to the Second Nun's Paradiso, is the Canon's Yeoman's Inferno, of a different kind of business, Satanic rather than Godly, of magic rather than theology.
43 Reflected in the May garlands Emily wove in the Knight's Tale ("This maked Emelye to have remembraunce/To doon honour to May, and for to ryse . . . And in the gardyn, at the sonne upriste . . . /She gadereth floures, party white and rede, To make a subtil gerlend for hire hede; And as an aungel hevenysshly she soong," I.1046-1055); parodied in the ale stake garland of the Summoner, I.666-667; echoed in the lilies and roses (the brains and blood upon Canterbury's Cathedral floor) of St. Thomas Becket's martyrdom, "E sur le pavement l'un od l'autre gesir, /De roses e de lilies li péust sovenir: Car dunc veîst le sanc el blanc cervel rovir, /Le cervel ensement el vermeil sanc blanchir," 5637-5640, in Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence, La vie de Saint Thomas Becket, ed. Emmanuel Walberg (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1964), pp. 173-4.
44 Howard Schless, Chaucer and Dante: A Revaluation (Norman: Pilgrim Books, 1984), notes that both Prioress and Second Nun use Dante's invocatio, pp. 206-208, giving parallel passages, but does not observe borrowing of tale of Rachel and Lia, Magdalen and Martha, Beatrice and Matilda.
45 Medieval Books of Hours delighted in showing St. Anne teaching the Virgin to read. St. Birgitta had St. Agnes, in visions, teach her Latin. Thus women created a subversive textual community against that of the male universities. St. Anne also echoes Richard II's Queen Anne, who sided with the Wycliffites and their literacy campaign.
46 For a brilliant account of the Jewry of York, see Joanne Greenberg, The King's Persons (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963). It has been suggested the Prioress' Tale was composed for the occasion of the visit of Richard II and his consort, Anne, to Lincoln, 26 March, 1387.
47 G.H. Gerould, "The Second Nun's Prologue and Tale," in Sources and Analogues, pp. 664-684; Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York: Longman's, Green, 1941), pp. 689-695.
48 "Angelus ad Virginem" is sung by Nicholas to Alisoun, I.3216.
49 Revelation 7.9; "Pèlerinage à Rome," Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. Fernand Cabrol and Henri Leclercq (Paris, 1939), XIV, 45 and passim, gives engravings of palms sculpted on Roman Christian tombs; mosaics at Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, show white-clad, palm-holding martyrs. These had also appeared on Jewish tombs.
50 William S. Hecksher, Sixtus IIII aeneas insignes statuas romano populo restituendas censuit (The Hague: Utrecht University, 1955); Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (New York: Harper, 1972), pp. 88-90, 112, 151, 155; Meiss, p. 157.
51 Julia Bolton Holloway, "Feminist Gandhi," Gandhi in the Postmodern Age: Issues in War and Peace, ed. Sanford Krolick and Betty Cannon (Golden: Colorado School of Mines, 1984), pp. 61-64.
52 Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual and Politics since the Middle Ages, Collection Drawn from the Essays Presented and Discussed by the Shelby Colum Davis Center Seminar from 1980 to 1982, ed. Sean Willentz (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985; Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretative Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983).
53 Paul, I Corinthians 14.34; the Master of the Magdalene gives a splendid scene of the Magdalene preaching in a fifteenth-century painting whose Brussels donor family consists of a husband, wife and one child, a daughter: Jeanne Tombu, "Un Triptyche du Maître de la Légende de Marie-Madeleine," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Series 5, 15 (1927), 299-310. I owe my knowledge of this painting to Liesel Nolan.
54 A similar binary polarity, even to the sense of smell, is conveyed in the Fleury liturgical dramas where, in the Resuscitatio Lazari, the actors must hold their noses because of the living/dead Lazarus' stench, here the living/dead child covered with latrine filth, then in the Visitatio Sepulchri Mary Magdalen wafts incense and the three Maries bring precious ointments to the resurrected Christ, in the Cecilie story being the perfume of the crowns of lilies and roses. The two versions of the story were related as, for instance, on an early Christian ivory box in the British Museum, showing the "Resuscitatio" sculpted on the doors of the tomb of the "Visitatio," the stories presented in Chinese boxes, Russian dolls style. Interestingly, nuns as well as monks wrote and performed in these plays and Hrotswitha concocts such a play about a prostitute turned hermit.
55 I here borrow a term from Gayatri Spivak's account of Bengali Feminist-Marxists, Boulder, 1986.
56 Hrotsvithae Opera (Leipzig: Teubner, 1930); The Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim, trans. Larissa Bonfante (New York: New York University Press, 1979).
57 The Life of Christina of Markyate: A Twelfth-Century Recluse, ed. C. W. Talbot (Oxford: Clarendon, l959), pp. 50-51.
58 Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris, 1883), XXXIII, 215-352, is not a diatribe against women but a treatise on virginity.
59 On Wycliffism, Lollardism, see, for instance, G. M. Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe, 1368-1520 (New York: Harper, 1963).
60 Martin B. Rudd, Thomas Chaucer (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1926), p. 87.
61 Christine de Pisan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies, or The Book of the Three Virtues, trans. Sarah Lawson (Harmondworth: Penguin, 1985), p. 32.
62 Bakhtin/Medvedev, Formal Method, p. xix. One suspects that the Nun's Priest's Tale is likewise a comment about the problems in this convent, where hen-pecked Chauntecleer's rebellion against Pertelote is the Nuns' Priest's rebellion against the Prioress, just as is the Second Nun's Cecilie likewise a rebellion against authority, shadowing the Second Nun's rebellion against her Prioress. Similarly we will see the Yeoman's rebellion against the Canon. In all these instances the rebellion is positive, though it was not in the case of Perkyn Revelour the apprentice against his master in the Cook's Tale.
63 Mary Carruthers, "The Wife of Bath and the Painting of Lions," PMLA, 94 (1979), 209-222.
64 Prudence Allen, R.S.M., The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 BC-AD 1250 (Montréal: Eden Press, 1985).
65Roman Art, ed. Patricia Corbett (New York: Avenel, 1980), plates XXIV-XXV.
66 "The Squire's Daughter," The Tales of Belkin, in The Complete Prose Tales of Alexandr Sergeyevitch Pushkin, trans. Gillon R. Aitken (London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1966), pp. 119-140.


This is Chapter Four from the E-Book: Equally in God's Image: Women in the Middle Ages



Chapter 5: Holy Disobedience
I. Temptation and Redemption: A Monastic Life in Stone,  Pamela Loos-Noji
II. Is She Dancing? A New Reading of Lucas van Leyden's Dance of the Magdalene of 1519, Liesel Nolan
III. Scholastica and Benedict: A Picnic, A Paradigm,  Sister Jane Morrissey, S.S.J.
Appendix: Saints Benedict and Scholastica: The Liturgical Music,  Father Gerard Farrell, O.S.B.