Anne E. Lester

title.none: Hicks, Religious Life (Anne E. Lester)

identifier.other: baj9928.0810.020 08.10.20

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Anne E. Lester, University of Colorado at Boulder ,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Hicks, Leonie V. Religious Life in Normandy, 1050-1300: Space, Gender, and Social Pressure. Studies in the History of Medieval Religion v. 33. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2007. Pp. x, 240. $80 978-0-84383-329-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.10.20

Hicks, Leonie V. Religious Life in Normandy, 1050-1300: Space, Gender, and Social Pressure. Studies in the History of Medieval Religion v. 33. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 2007. Pp. x, 240. $80 978-0-84383-329-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Anne E. Lester
University of Colorado at Boulder

Religious Life in Normandy is an ambitious book, which grew out of a more focused Cambridge doctoral dissertation, completed in 2003. Here Leonie Hicks sets as her goal an analysis of religious life in Normandy encompassing relationships among religious (monks and nuns), the clergy and the laity as viewed through the lens of spatial practice. More specifically, the author is interested in the experiences of the laity and religious in the context of sacred spaces and how gender differences inform such experiences. She begins with the changes wrought by the Gregorian Reform and ends loosely around 1300. Early in the introduction she adds further to this mix, explaining that her analysis is "underpinned by theories of space, gender and the body" (2). The pages that follow are given over to an adequate discussion of the now familiar theoretical frameworks of Pierre Bourdieu and Henri Lefebvre, as well as the work of Roberta Gilchrist on gender and Caroline Walker Bynum on the body. Yet nowhere in these pages does she provide a clear definition of what she means by the theory of the body, or how exactly it relates to ideas of space and gender. Hicks is clear on one point: this is not an institutional or economic history of the Norman Church. And yet, the book is devoted to discussing the institutions and legislative guidelines that people inside and outside the Norman Church created. There is thus some inconsistency here. Hicks seeks admirably to show another side of medieval religious institutions, particularly the ways they structure relationships and inform interactions. Unfortunately, on the whole her study falls short of these broad ambitions.

Although eschewing an institutional history and the study of charters that typically accompanies such endeavors, Hicks relies on evidence from the wide variety of monastic houses in Normandy active during the twelfth century, including older Benedictine houses, monasteries and nunneries that were part of the new orders (such as the Cistercians, Augustinians, Premonstratensians and houses connected to Savigny and Fontevraud) as well as hospitals and leper houses. When sources are available, Hicks considers the architecture and physical structures of these houses with an eye to how men and women interacted in these various spaces. Yet it is the visitation records of Archbishop Eudes of Rouen (1248-75) and Stephen of Lexingon (1229-43), abbot of Savigny, later abbot of Clairvaux, that form the backbone of Hicks' analysis and conclusions. The two registers record the visits each man made to the religious houses under his care. Eudes visited a far greater variety of institutions including those of the regular and secular clergy as well as hospitals and leprosaria. By contrast, Stephen was charged with visiting and administering only houses within the orbit of Savigny, which by the thirteenth century had been incorporated into the Cistercian order. Both registers are extremely rich sources filled with deliberate as well as incidental details that offer a wealth of evidence for the religious life as it was lived, in all of its banal failings and tantalizing abuses. Yet, these are also subjective sources, concerned with reform and the ideals espoused by the institutional church during a pivotal time in its history. Hicks, however, offers no source critique, no sense of the biases that make these texts problematic for issues like space, gender, and the body. Finally, monastic rules, letter collections, miracle compilations, and chronicles from Normandy further round out Hicks' source base, yet the majority of these texts date from the late eleventh or early twelfth century.

One of the most challenging aspects of Hicks' book is the organization of her subject matter. The book is divided into four chapters, each addressing "key areas in spatial practice, accommodation and conflict": display, reception and intrusion, enclosure, and families (2). There is no central idea, however, that unifies these themes that can help the reader understand what is at stake in Hicks analysis. "Display" (chapter one) primarily concerns the ways that monks, nuns, and sometimes hospital inmates set forth a public image for the laity. Issues that the author takes up in this first chapter include: the topography of Norman foundations, their architecture, clothing, activities in the chapter house, public penance, and liturgical display. This is a dizzying array of topics, most of which receive only cursory treatment. It is often unclear who is engaged in the display (monks, nuns, the laity or more typically both), but this too is never commented on. Chapter two, on "Reception and Intrusion" is similarly ill-focused. Not surprisingly--given Hicks' main sources-- those who were received inside monastic houses and when they were accommodated are rich and fruitful topics. The laity frequently sought or demanded hospitality in monastic houses, staying as guests or receiving care in the infirmary. Moreover, monasteries and nunneries felt pressing obligations to provide for their major patrons and founders and to allow them inside the confines of the cloister, the church, and chapter room on various occasions. Retirement posed a particularly interesting challenge for monasteries and hospitals alike, for many lay patrons sought entry into the monastic life at the end of their lives despite reform decrees attempting to curtail this practice. The education of children also presented specific challenges for monastic houses, as did a reliance on servants, both frequent themes in the visitation records. But Hicks also addresses in this same chapter the role of the laity in liturgical services inside monastic churches as well as the place of priests' wives and concubines, topics that seem far afield. She attempts to connect these phenomena through the lens of gender, but this reads rather like the imposition of an additional idea into an already encumbered chapter. Similar organizational problems plague the later chapters on "Enclosure" (chapter three) and "The Family" (chapter four). Hicks certainly brings to bear interesting anecdotes, but many themes like intrusion and display reappear in the later chapters causing any sense of an ordered argument to unravel.

There are some important insights to be gleaned here, however. Firstly, although the register of Eudes Rigaud has been very well studied for what it contains relating to female monastic houses [1] and for what it says about Eudes as an archbishop and administrator [2], more can still be done with this rich text. Hicks offers yet another reading of the source and analyzes details that others have not, or at least not in the same way. Secondly, there are fruitful moments where her readings of gender and space come together well. She offers a very interesting discussion of women, mostly widows, who joined male monastic houses, that is, they chose to live like lay sisters near or beside male monastic precincts as a form of religious profession. Hicks underlines the importance of the choice these women made and the significance of taking up a life of religion that still allowed them a degree of independence. The lack of regulation in these cases had its benefits, particularly, as Hicks suggests, for those women who had lived full lives as wives, mothers, and property holders. The life of the cloister with its communal obligations, enclosure, and ceaseless liturgical rounds may not have appealed in the same way to all women. The importance of such flexibility may also lie behind individuals' choices to join a hospital or leper house attending to the sick and poor rather than living in a strictly cloistered environment. There may have been a real appeal to the margins. For as Hicks states, the "spaces [such women] inhabited were not at the heart of the cloister but elsewhere in the precincts and marginal to the central liturgical areas of the church and the chapter house. Like the female followers of Christ, they were liminal and on the margins of accepted religious practice" (144). This is a very important point that is, disappointingly, not followed up with the wealth of thirteenth-century evidence about the growing importance of Mary Magdalene and the impact of the ideals of the vita apostolica on religious life more generally. [3] Indeed, on March 18th 1267 Eudes himself translated the relics of the Magdalene to the Htel-Dieu of Rouen, an event that goes unmentioned in Hicks' text. [4] Hicks is at her best when considering the realities behind individual actions and choices. Her acknowledgement of the challenges inherent in the monastic life allows for a sympathetic reading, for example, of Eudes' criticism of Comtesse, the prioress of Bondeville, who had clearly worked hard to reform and rehabilitate her community, but whom the archbishop chastised for "standing in the courtyard out of doors after Compline." Hicks suggests that she "wanted, or needed, time to herself" (115). Such an intriguing detail comes to the fore because of Hicks' intertwined interests in space and gender.

Ultimately, although filled with interesting observations, Religious Life in Normandy lacks a coherent argument. It reads rather as a sampling of ideas and thoughts formulated in large part from within the rather limited source base the author employs. Moreover, for a book that ends in 1300 there are some glaring omissions pertaining to the religious life: the friars are mentioned only once in passing, the Filles-Dieu never appear (despite the fact that Rouen had one of the first houses for such women), and little is said about other communities of "semi-religious" women like beguines. While the literature on hospitals, hospices, and lepers houses is relatively new, a great deal has been done for France, even if much of the recent research pertains to eastern France. Some comparative analysis here would have helped and would have set the developments in Normandy in a wider context. As it stands it often feels like Hicks' treatment of hospitals and leper houses was added into the discussion as an afterthought. This is unfortunate for such a rich topic presumably would offer different insights into the dynamics of gender and marginal space. In the end, the authors' conclusions, that "the relationship [between the clergy, professed religious and the laity] was one of mutual support" (153) and that "various aspects of spatial practice show that [space] was fluid and allowed for an interaction of different groups in society generally considered to be very separate entities" (161) remain either relatively obvious or unsatisfying. The questions behind this study are important and potentially fruitful ones; the ways they are addressed here, however, still leaves much to be done.

-------- Notes:

1. Penelope Johnson, Equal in Monastic Profession: Religious Women in Medieval France (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

2. Adam Davis, The Holy Bureaucrat: Eudes Rigaud and Religious Reform in Thirteenth-Century Normandy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).

3. Katherine Ludwig Jansen, The Making of the Magdalene (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

4. The Register of Eudes of Rouen ed. J. F. O'Sullivan and trans. S. M. Brown (Records of Civilization Sources and Studies 72) (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964), p. 687.