Category Archives: Billets

A Chaplain in the Engelthal Sister-Book

By Emma Gabe, 04/01/2021

Ez saz ein reicher pfaff ze Vilseck, der hiez Ulschalk, der waz manig jar ein grozer offener sunder gewest, und da er ir heiligez leben vernam, da bat er sie, daz sie in enpfingen, er wolt ir caplan sein und wolt in mit allen trewen vor sein. Der wart ein so heiliger man, daz man leider von im sang.

Karl Schröder, Der Nonne von Engelthal, 3.

The Engelthal sister-book––a hagiographical text written in the first half of the fourteenth century containing the religious experiences of nuns from that community––tells about the nuns’ chaplain, Ulschalk. The writer, an anonymous nun, notes that Ulschalk was a great sinner for many years before reforming, asking to become the community’s chaplain, and becoming “such a holy man that songs were written about him” (Schröder, 3). But why was he called a “great sinner”? Does this label result from particular deeds and actions performed by Ulschalk while he lived a worldly life, or was it simply a way of accounting for his late conversion to the religious life? This description of Ulschalk’s previous life is notably different from the lives of the nuns, many of whom appear to have always led virtuous lives––at least according to the sister-book’s author(s). This raises the question: while Ulschalk reformed and became a holy man, would the same type of reformation be possible for a woman who had been a great sinner in the world?

Ulschalk’s religious conversion occurred after he had a family, because his daughter was later elected prioress. This suggests that Ulschalk’s family was also powerful and influential outside the monastery. Indeed, family networks and influence permeated medieval cloister walls and shaped internal politics. Yet his daughter took the opposite approach to power, which reveals gendered approaches to power: where Ulschalk wished and asked to be the nuns’ chaplain, his daughter rejected the powerful position of prioress with a typical modesty topos by claiming she would rather be sick than prioress, a wish that God kindly granted (Schröder, 38–39).

Karl Schröder, ed. Der Nonne von Engelthal. Büchlein von der Genaden Uberlast. Tübingen: Laupp, 1871.

Conflict and Collaboration

EvEn (Conflict and Collaboration: Everyday Encounters between Women and Clergymen in Pre-Modern Europe) is a research blog dedicated to the study of the various forms and expressions of the relations between clergymen – secular priests, friars, bishops, and local clergy as well as the higher levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy – and women – noblewomen, nuns, and laywomen – from every social stratum, from the Middle Ages until the end of the Early Modern period. These encounters were sometimes initiated by the formal setting of the Church: spiritual guidance, ecclesiastical superiors in nun’s convents, or countryside parishes. They also included incidental encounters in the context of everyday activities, such as a casual discussion during a tour of a chapel or participation in confraternities. Encounters also occurred in moments of difficulty, when women were obliged to act as witnesses at episcopal courts or when they asked for shelter and spiritual help, as in the cases of the convertite, the women who abandoned Judaism or Islam for the Christian faith. They also occurred during adventurous holy missions and when traditional barriers momentarily disappeared, as in the case of the foundation of a convent or at the departure for an evangelizing mission to the other side of the world. Finally, encounters also included illegal relationships, love stories maintained through the grates of convent parlours or presbytery concubinage.

This multiplicity of moments of encounters, exchanges, and relations, sometimes conflictual, sometimes collaborative, will be explored by the topics of this blog. The blog aims to understand the mechanisms, dynamics, continuities, and ruptures of these encounters, in connection with their immediate context and the broad movements taking place in the Church and Europe during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. This research on the points of contact between people reveals individuals who were connected to each other, acting in networks that went beyond the barriers of the ecclesiastical and secular worlds or of the male and female worlds. In these networks, ideas and spirituals currents were circulated and transformed between every point of contact and by each individual participant to this diffusion of information.

The EvEn project has five main objectives:

1) To analyze a variety of case studies in which it is possible to reconstruct one or more interactions between women and clergymen;
2) To explore the various networks that these cases reveal and to investigate the potential information that circulated through these networks;
3) To compare the various case studies individually presented by each collaborator in order to analyze the encounters between women and clergymen in the long term and over an international territory;
4) To create digital tools to connect individual studies/research to the broader world of Digital Humanities; and
5) To promote the collaborative research and the creation of networks between emerging scholars across the world.

The blog contains:

1) Cases and people: single cases found during archival research, accompanied with some initial hypotheses and interpretations, as well as biographies of the individuals involved.
2) Archival material: freshly transcribed samples of archival material.
3) Project: a page for the individual projects of each contributor.
4) Map: a collective map locating protagonists and showing networks and their evolution over time.
5) Editorial: plural-hand articles to analyze the broader historical to which protagonists of encounters and networks are connected.

EvEn is, therefore, a collective blog that discusses and maps the encounters and relations between women and clergymen, focusing on agency, strategies of action, conflicts, friendships, networks, and the sharing of information. Even, as an adjective, means both something recurrent or continuous: just as this topic need to be explored deeply and with a different perspective than previous historiography, as an historical phenomenon spanning the whole history of Christianity. Even also refers to the state of being equal or balanced: to this end, the project attempts to “even out” our understanding of relations and encounters between individuals traditionally considered to be regulated by a relation of power – the clergyman having authority over women – by placing the aspirations, objectives, and strategies of women at the centre of the investigation. Finally, EvEn presents a space to develop even more about the history of women, and the religious and cultural history of Medieval and Early Modern Europe.