Power in Pursuit of Religion: The Penitent Sisters of Speyer and Their Choice of Affiliation

  • Christopher M. Kurpiewski
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The history of women’s religious communities in the Middle Ages remains largely indistinct from that of the male orders charged with their spiritual care. In this chapter, Kurpiewski examines the choice of affiliation for women active in an urban religious movement during the thirteenth century. Self-identifying with the redemption of Mary Magdalen, women who joined the German Order of Penitents enjoyed substantial ecclesiastical support. A case study from the episcopal city of Speyer, however, reveals sisters becoming key players in a contest between burghers and the cathedral. By choosing their moment to attach themselves to the Dominican Order, the sisters were able to undercut their lord bishop on behalf of their families and neighbors, thereby helping secure Speyer’s status as a free city.


Primary Sources

  1. Armgut, Martin, ed. Reuerinnen- Und Dominikanerinnen-Kloster Sankt Maria Magdalena Überm Hasenpfuhl Vor Speyer. Vol. 1. 2 vols. Neustadt an der Weinstrasse: Stiftung zur Förderung der Pfälzischen Geschichtsforschung, 1995.Google Scholar
  2. Jaffé, Philipp, ed. De Rebus Alsaticis Ineuntis Saeculi XIII: Annales Colmarienses, Basileenses, Chronicon Colmariense. Monumenta Germaniae Historica 17. Hannover: Hahn, 1861.Google Scholar
  3. Lehmann, Christoph. Chronica Der Freyen Reichs Stadt Speier. Edited by Johann Melchior Fuchs. 4th ed. Frankfurt a.M.: Anton Heinscheidt, 1711.Google Scholar
  4. Remling, Franz Xavier, ed. Geschichte Der Bischöfe Zu Speyer. 2 vols. Mainz, 1852.Google Scholar
  5. ———. Urkundenbuch Zur Geschichte Der Bischöfe Zu Speyer. 2 vols. Mainz, 1852.Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

  1. Brundage, James A. “Prostitution in Medieval Canon Law.” Signs 1:4 (Summer 1976): 825–845.Google Scholar
  2. ———, and Elizabeth M. Makowski. “Enclosure of Nuns: The Decretal Periculoso and Its Commentators.” Journal of Medieval History 20 (1994): 143–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Coakley, John Wayland. Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Collaborators. Gender, Theory, and Religion. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.Google Scholar
  4. Cyrus, Cynthia J. The Scribes for Women’s Convents in Late Medieval Germany. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dannenberg, Lars-Arne. Das Recht Der Religiosen in Der Kanonistik Des 12. Und 13. Jahrhunderts. Berlin: Lit, 2008.Google Scholar
  6. Decker, Otmar. Die Stellung Des Predigerordens Zu Den Dominikanerinnen (1207–1267). Quellen Und Forschungen Zur Geschichte Des Dominikanerordens in Deutschland 31. Leipzig: Albertus-Magnus Verlag, 1935.Google Scholar
  7. D’Emilio, James. “Epilogue: Future Directions in the Study of Medieval Galicia.” In Culture and Society in Medieval Galicia: A Cultural Crossroads at the Edge of Europe, edited by James D’Emilio, 947–961. The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 58. Boston: Brill, 2015.Google Scholar
  8. Duggan, Lawrence G. Bishop and Chapter: The Governance of the Bishopric of Speyer to 1552. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1978.Google Scholar
  9. Ehrenschwendtner, Marie-Luise. “Creating the Sacred Space Within: Enclosure as a Defining Feature in the Convent Life of Medieval Dominican Sisters (13th–15th C.).” Viator 41:2 (2010): 301–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Freed, John B. “Urban Development and the ‘Cura Monialium’ in Thirteenth-Century Germany.” Viator 3 (1972): 311–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. ———. The Friars and German Society in the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1977.Google Scholar
  12. Griffiths, Fiona. “‘Men’s Duty to Provide for Women’s Needs’: Abelard, Heloise, and Their Negotiations of the Cura Monialium.” In Medieval Religion: New Approaches, edited by Constance Berman, 290–315. London: Routledge, 2005.Google Scholar
  13. Grundmann, Herbert. Religious Movements in the Middle Ages [Religiöse Bewegungen Im Mittelalter]. Translated by Steven Rowan. 1967 Rev. ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  14. Hamburger, Jeffrey F. The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany. New York: Zone, 1998.Google Scholar
  15. Happ, Sabine. Stadtwerdung Am Mittelrhein. Cologne: Böhlau, 2002.Google Scholar
  16. Hilgard, Alfred, ed. Urkunden Zur Geschichte Der Stadt Speyer. Strasbourg: Trübner, 1885.Google Scholar
  17. Hinnebusch, William A. The History of the Dominican Order. Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1966.Google Scholar
  18. Jansen, Katherine L. The Making of the Magdalen: Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000.Google Scholar
  19. Johnson, Sherri Franks. “Convents and Change: Autonomy, Marginalization, and Religious Affiliation in Late-Medieval Bologna.” The Catholic Historical Review 97:2 (April 2011): 250–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. ———. Monastic Women and Religious Orders in Late Medieval Bologna. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2014.Google Scholar
  21. Karras, Ruth Mazo. Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England. Studies in the History of Sexuality. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.Google Scholar
  22. Lester, Anne E. Creating Cistercian Nuns: The Women’s Religious Movement and Its Reform in Thirteenth-Century Champagne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lewis, Gertrud Jaron. By Women, for Women, about Women: The Sister-Books of Fourteenth-Century Germany. Studies and Texts 125. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1996.Google Scholar
  24. Lindgren, Erika L. “Searching for Women in the Records of Women: Two Examples from the South German Dominicans.” Church History and Religious Culture 88:4 (2008): 563–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ———. Sensual Encounters: Monastic Women and Spirituality in Medieval Germany. ACLS Humanities E-Book electronic edition. New York: Columbia UP, 2009, 2014.Google Scholar
  26. Robson, Michael J. P. The Franciscans in the Middle Ages. Monastic Orders. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2009.Google Scholar
  27. Rossiaud, Jacques. Amours Vénales: La Prostitution en Occident, XIIe-XVIe Siècle. Collection Historique. Paris: Aubier, 2010.Google Scholar
  28. Simon, André. L’Ordre Des Pénitentes de Ste. Marie-Madeleine En Allemagne Au XIIIeme Siècle. Fribourg, CH: Oeuvre de Saint-Paul, 1918.Google Scholar
  29. Simons, Walter. Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.Google Scholar
  30. Stabler Miller, Tanya. The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.Google Scholar
  31. Stump, Phillip H. The Reforms of the Council of Constance, 1414–1418. Studies in the History of Christian Thought. Vol. 53. Leiden and New York: E.J. Brill, 1994.Google Scholar
  32. Taylor Jones, Claire. Ruling the Spirit: Women, Liturgy, and Dominican Reform in Late Medieval Germany. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.Google Scholar
  33. Thompson, Ausgustine. Cities of God: The Religion of the Italian Communes, 1125–1325. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2005.Google Scholar
  34. Tinsley, David F. The Scourge and the Cross: Ascetic Mentalities of the Later Middle Ages. Mediaevalia Groningana 14. Leuven: Peeters, 2010.Google Scholar
  35. ———. “The spiritual friendship of Henry Suso and Elsbeth Stagel.” In Friendship in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse, edited by Albrecht Classen and Marilyn Sandige, 487–493. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2010.Google Scholar
  36. Voltmer, Ernst. Reichsstadt Und Herrschaft: Zur Geschichte Der Stadt Speyer Im Hohen Und Späten Mittelalter. Trier, 1981.Google Scholar
  37. ———. “Von Der Bischofsstadt Zur Reichsstadt. Speyer Im Hoch- Und Spätmittelalter (10. Bis Anfang 15. Jahrhundert).” In Geschichte Der Stadt Speyer, edited by Wolfgang Eger. Vol. 1. Stuttgart: City of Speyer, 1983.Google Scholar
  38. Williams-Krapp, Werner. “Maria Magdalena.” In Die Deutsche Literatur Des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexicon, edited by Kurt Ruh et al. Vol. 5. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 1977.Google Scholar
  39. Wolverton, Lisa. “Gendered Politics and Women’s Voices.” In Cosmas of Prague, 120–169. Catholic University of America Press, 2015.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher M. Kurpiewski
    • 1
  1. 1.Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA

Personalised recommendations