Now She is Martha, Now She is Mary: Beguine Communities in Medieval Paris : 1250-1470
This dissertation examines communities of beguines (religious laywomen) and their role in the social, economic, and intellectual life of medieval Paris. This exploration not only uncovers the composition and importance of a heretofore ignored community of lay religious women in a major medieval city, it also seeks to explain why beguine communites, which were condemned at the Council of Vienne in the early fourteenth century, continued to flourish in Paris, the very city where the beguine movement's most famous casualty, the brilliant mystic Marguerite Porete, was condemned and burned as a heretic in 1310. This study demonstrates that, while university clerics expressed anxieties about the active elements of the beguine life, other powerful groups in Paris viewed these women more positively. Parisian beguines found support in the royal family and the increasingly influential Parisian bourgeoisie because the beguines met the spiritual and practical needs of the city's female populace, served as a focus of royal patronage, and contributed to the city's silk industry. The bases and consequences of these competing perceptions of beguines are explored through an examination of two aspects of the beguine life that scholars of medieval women have traditionally discussed separately: work and spirituality. Published and unpublished fiscal and property records demonstrate that Parisian beguines' involvement in the city's burgeoning silk industry brought them into close contact with urban elites and the royal family. The beguine's devotional practices, on the other hand, attracted the attention of clerical observers, especially at the University of Paris, who employed several different images of the beguine---mystic, ascetic, social outcast, and arrogant rival---in sermons that reflected directly and indirectly upon their experiences as university scholars. By examining beguine communities within the context of one of the most populous and cosmopolitan cities of medieval Europe, this study explores the impact of women on the construction of medieval clerical identity; uncovers the gendered, subjective valuation of women's voices and activities; and examines the ways in which local networks, in conjunction with the legal structures of Parisian society, permitted women to continue to identify as beguines long after the Council of Vienne (1311-1312).
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