The Literature of Spiritual Formation for Women in France and England, 1080 to 1180

  • Elisabeth Bos
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This chapter explores the extensive literature of spiritual instruction for religious women produced in France and England from the time of St. Anselm to that of Peter of Blois. It considers the question of whether or not spiritual advice for women differed from that provided to men. The chapter argues that far from simply exhorting religious women to maintain an existing state of virginity, such literature encouraged women to pursue interior growth in self-discipline and virtue. Virginity was sometimes used to refer more to religious chastity than to physical integrity. There is a close parallel here with the Speculum virginum, although no composition comparable in scale ever circulated in England or France during the twelfth century. There are certainly major differences between the imagery employed for writings addressed to women and imagery directed to men. The underlying spiritual principles, however, were the same.


Religious Life Twelfth Century Spiritual Life Religious Woman Spiritual Advice 
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  1. 4.
    Jean Leclercq, “Does St Bernard Have a Specific Message for Nuns?” in Medieval Religious Women: Distant Echoes ed. J. A. Nichols and L. T. Shank (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1987), pp. 276–77. Alcuin Blamires argues that Marbod of Rennes held similar views to BernardGoogle Scholar
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© Constant J. Mews 2001

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  • Elisabeth Bos

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