Musical Leadership in the Nunnery

  • Anne Bagnall Yardley
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


No community thrives without effective leadership. Medieval monastic houses offer a wide variety of opportunities for leadership ranging from positions that rotate weekly to the ultimate leadership position of abbess. St. Benedict devotes much of his rule to discussions of authority and its ramifications in daily life. The rule simultaneously encourages communal decision making and creates a hierarchical structure that vests great authority in those who serve as leaders. The hierarchy, theoretically, rests not on worldly measures of class and wealth but on the time of profession and spiritual gifts. Although there are several notable examples of royal and wealthy women who led nunneries, more recent research supports the idea that nuns choose leaders based on competence and not just on their background and status. Marilyn Oliva’s extensive research on the practices of nuns in the diocese of Norwich shows in fact “a pattern of office-holding that was based more on merit than on social rank.”1


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© Anne Bagnall Yardley 2006

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  • Anne Bagnall Yardley

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