Christine McWebb

title.none: Miramon, Les 'donnes' au Moyen Age (McWebb)

identifier.other: baj9928.0101.004 01.01.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Christine McWebb, University of Alberta,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Miramon, Charles De. Les 'donnes' au Moyen Age: Une Forme de vie religieuse laique v. 1180- v. 1500. Paris: Editions de Cerf, 1999. Pp. ii, 486. 270F. ISBN: 2-204-06101-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.01.04

Miramon, Charles De. Les 'donnes' au Moyen Age: Une Forme de vie religieuse laique v. 1180- v. 1500. Paris: Editions de Cerf, 1999. Pp. ii, 486. 270F. ISBN: 2-204-06101-8.

Reviewed by:

Christine McWebb
University of Alberta

Although the interest in the social history of peripheral religious movements during the Middle Ages, such as the beguines for instance, has undoubtedly grown in academic circles, the semi-religious movement of what Charles de Miramon has taxed the 'donnes' in French (donatus ) is an exception to these new research venues. De Miramon's exhaustive and complete study from a historic-social perspective consequently stands as a necessary contribution to the understanding of monastic life during the High and the later Middle Ages as such. Moreover, de Miramon's monumental work offers an insatiable well of primary sources, mainly in Latin, discussing the social and religious circumstances of this rather heterogenous group of people who found themselves caught between two forms of life, the lay and the monastic models.

As is implied in the title of the work, de Miramon proceeds in a chronological order starting with the first appearances of the term donatus in various written sources around 1180. As he stresses in the Introduction, he will attempt to redefine the term 'semi-religious' which, up to this point, has largely been attributed to the mainly female movement of independence of the beguines and to their male counterparts the beghards, present mostly during the later Middle Ages in Northern Central Europe. De Miramon expands his research geographically to Western Mediterranean Europe organizing his findings along the three predominant historiographic traditions of the Middle Ages: the monastic and the semi-religious ways of life as well as the role of the 'donnes' within hospitals and charitable institutions. The author proposes to focus on the exterior form of the 'donne's' religious life in order to establish a certain classification of the different and numerous customs and models which existed from the end of the twelfth to the fifteenth century. Yet, clearly admitting to the impossibility of deducing from those sources the motivations of individuals to take the step from worldly to monastic or semi-monastic life, the author proposes instead to analyse the norm and the connection between discourse and individual practices.

In order to explain the birth of this semi-religious movement, the author begins by looking at the surrounding forms of semi- religious life in their historic context. Since de Miramon sees the phenomenon of the 'donne' as a social convention, he approaches it from a judicial point of view within the framework of canon law. Looking at the numerous textual and commentary sources, he is then in a position to compare the conventions of the 'donne' to those stipulated in canon law as well as in other relevant ecclesiastical discourses. Further, since the 'donnes' are linked in some form either to a monastery or to a charitable institution, it is essential to zoom in on those groups who accepted them among their midst, such as the order of the Carthusians, to name but one example. The last section focuses on the 'donne's' function with respect to hospitals and leper-houses, illustrating the harmony or lack thereof in which the 'donnes' lived within these communities. To a certain extent, the book can therefore be divided into three greater sections, the first from the Introduction to the end of Chapter V, limited, as it is, to the High Middle Ages, the second from Chapter VI to Chapter IX inclusive dealing with the later Middle Ages, and the third section then from Chapter X onward narrowing the topic down to the role of the 'donne' in charitable institutions and hospitals.

In what is to follow, I shall discuss each point mentioned above in more detail. In order to familiarize the reader with the conventions of the life of a 'donne', the author presents in a preliminary chapter an exemplary case of an Italian female 'donne', outlining the three steps a person had to undertake to convert to the monastic ancillary life, namely the commendatio , the charter of the autotradition, and the signum which plays a role once the individual has been received within the order. In Chapter I, de Miramon focuses on the archaeology of this movement starting with the first appearances of the term donatus in written sources around 1180. He attributes special attention to the birth of the rituals, such as the formula se et sua which is at the centre of the conversion process as well as to the theological influence of its developments, in particular the doctrines of Anselm of Canterbury. However, as de Miramon rightfully concludes, the study of the conversion process does not elucidate in its entirety the rise of this movement. Consequently, he looks at other relevant monastic conventions, in particular the widely practised concepts of brotherliness and familiarity. This detour of sorts convincingly explains the birth of the 'donne' movement at the end of the twelfth century (Chapter III). The wealth of historic examples as well as of statistical data is to be applauded in particular in this chapter.

However, the author frequently points to passages further on in the text for explanations which ought to be imminent. This is a problem especially in the second chapter. Conversely, he more than once inserts very lengthy parenthetical explanations which result in a chopped up style interrupting the logic of the argument. For example, on page 111, de Miramon returns to the crisis of the brotherliness already touched upon in Chapter II and, even though it is of relevance to the birth of the 'donne' movement, it seems out of place here. However, I would like to emphasize that in light of the magnitude of information and data the author attempts to incorporate in his text, these kinds of organizational drawbacks represent a difficulty which seems unavoidable.

The conclusion of Chapter III represents a key turning point of sorts in the author's argument as it brings together the first three chapters and establishes the link between the 'donnes' and the other contemporary lay religious movements. The most notable difference seems to be that the 'donnes' did not vow to individual but only to collective poverty which defines them in that respect as a homogenous group setting them apart from the other, often more radical, movements of the turn of the twelfth century.

Chapters IV and V deal with the various normative discourses referring to the 'donne', such as legal and academic documents, but also summas of sermons, penitentiary treatises and polemics of different kinds. The goal of this study is to establish a posteriori a classification of these references, a very ambitious task, since there is not one work entirely dedicated to this movement, but rather the information is inserted in a scattered fashion throughout the entire corpus assembled by the author. Given the immensity and the complexity of this task, the author has greatly succeeded in presenting and contextualizing the existing information for the reader. De Miramon organizes the bulk of the glosses and definitions compiled from the multitude of sources around the concept of the vow of obedience discussed already in Chapter IV. Before he does so, however, he delivers a very helpful outline of the methodology and procedure followed in setting up his classification (pp. 154-68). In his quest to present a comprehensive study, the author concludes this section of his study very aptly by touching upon previously omitted ecclesiastical discourses on the 'donnes' such as those with pejorative overtones. He follows a similar pattern also in Chapter VI, where, after having discussed the compilations of glosses and catalogues which mention the 'donnes' in a positive way, he, in turn, looks at the other side of the coin, extrapolating critical comments from his textual sources, in particular those dealing with the formula of the autotradition, to give oneself se et sua .

After a juxtaposition of the role of the 'donnes' in religious orders during the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries on the one hand and the fourteen and the fifteenth centuries on the other, de Miramon offers a multitude of historical examples where lay people converted to this movement and joined the various monastic orders, such as the Carthusians (Chapter VII), the Belgian Crusaders, the canons of Windesheim and the Benedictines of Saint-Justine of Padua (Chapter VIII) as well as certain female monastic orders (Chapter IX). A convincing justification of the choice of the order is given each time highlighting their social importance in the life of the communities at large, leaving nothing to arbitrariness.

The author, then, follows more and more closely the path of social history in the last chapters of the book where he studies the 'donne's' function within hospital communities. After having shown the gaps that still exist in the research already carried out on the topic, he illustrates the 'donne's' role within these institutions extremely well through a case study of certain hospitals in Lille, France which clearly outlines the transformation the institution of the 'donnes' underwent during the fifteenth century, as humanist thought penetrated social orders at all levels. The new models of semi-religious life discussed here justify in turn the repetition of the essence of the movement in Chapter XI: the 'donnes' as a group of converters torn between civil and religious powers as they are and always have been situated between the religious and the lay world.

If there is one critical point to be made, it would be with regards to the conclusion of the work, which, disappointingly, seems too general and too brief. This, however, can certainly not be said for the peripheral documentation, such as footnotes, bibliography and index which all are extremely comprehensive and marvellously well set up, in particular the bibliography which is very usefully divided into subsections. After a brief bibliography of works dealing with the general history of the sources, the author provides an extensive list of those sources (in manuscript and print form) quoted in the book itself. This is followed by a very complete bibliography and an index divided into three categories, the "index nominum", the "index locorum" and the "index analytique".

As a non-historian, it seems to me that Charles de Miramon has indeed succeeded in fulfilling the objectives outlined in the Introduction of his study, which are, firstly, to bring the movement of the 'donne' out of the dark, although, arguably, it was not as dominant as the movement of the beguines. Yet it certainly played an important role in monastic life during the High and the later Middle Ages. Secondly, the author successfully drew together the many different genres in which references to the 'donne' could be found in order to compile and contextualize them into a coherent study of this phenomenon. De Miramon's book, therefore, is of great value not only to historians but to medievalists in general who are, for instance, investigating questions of literary reception and reading aesthetics.