This book takes an innovative approach to the study of the penitentials and nunnery rules and the ways in which these texts impinged upon the lives of female audiences. The study emphasises the importance of the texts for the promotion of Christian values and of the expectations of churchmen in the construction of appropriate Christian behaviour for women in the early medieval West. These texts constitute the only written works which would have had direct influence upon the lives of lay and religious women. The work focuses upon the elements of the penitentials which provided female-specific expectations, and these fall largely into two categories of sexuality and pre-Christian practices. The nunnery rules seldom provided comprehensive sets of behavioural expectations. Rather, rules emphasised expectations relating to issues of enclosure, work and abstinence which came to be perceived as the defining characteristics of religious women.
'… this is a contribution of great value for what is has made available for teaching purposes, for students writing essays and for scholars.' H-France '… informative… highly readable and refreshing study… merits serious attention.' Journal of Ecclesiastical History 'Smith has laid the foundation for the further examination of texts fundamental to the study of both religious and lay women, many of which remain untranslated and largely inaccessible.' Speculum '… an important contribution to both women's and Medieval Studies, and will also be of great interest to those engaged in studying the history of the book in early Medieval Western Europe… One last aspect of this work which must not be overlooked is the level of interest Smith is able to sustain in the reader by her high level of narrative quality. Her painstaking use of evidence and sources augment the flow of her narrative, rather than disrupt it, as is sadly the case with much scholarship.' Utopian Studies '… useful analysis of a group of sources of information about women's experience in the early Middle Ages.' Parergon '… a valuable overview of ideas about proper female behaviour in the Early Middle Ages.' Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique
Contents: Introduction; The texts; Section i - Penitentials: History: Public penance; Private penance; Purposes of penance; The place of penitentials in women’s lives; Sexuality: Sexuality within marriage: Marriage by abduction; Serial monogamy; Kin marriage; Abstinence within marriage; Modes of intercourse; Adultery; Divorce; Sexuality outside marriage: Fornication; Rape; Sexual incest; Prostitution; Deviant sexuality; Sacred space; Clerical marriage and sexuality; The nunnery; Volition; Work and magic: Women’s work with non-magical associations; Healthcare; Contraception and abortion; Childcare; Magical and pagan practices; Healing; Contraception and abortion; Love magic; Food preparation; Textile work; Intentional evil magic; Funeral practices; Section II - Nunnery Rules: History: Eremetic and domestic asceticism; Augustine’s ’Rule for Nuns’; Early western monasticism; Benedict’s rule; Caesarius’ rule for nuns; Columbanian monasticism; Early monasticism in England; 8th-century Benedictine movement; 10th-century reform movements; Enclosure: Nunnery structures; The rules for enclosure; Work and abstinence: Abstinence; Detachment from the secular world; Relinquishment of status; Poverty; Avoidance of friendship; Silence; Simplicity of dress; Fasting and food; Work; Prayer; Reading; Domestic labour; Special officers; Abbess and prioress; Obedience; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.