I hope you enjoyed the first part of my research to learn why convents were so thought after, why the religious life (and not only) of Medieval women was so tightly connected with them.
A convent’s curriculum
Of a very high standard, a convent’s curriculum covered Latin reading and writing, religion, morals and manners. Painting, weaving, spinning, and embroidery were also taught, with the latest involving deep knowledge of geometry and design, allegories, Bible stories and even Greek mythology – all needed to create those intricate designs.
This implies that history and literature were also part of a convent’s curriculum, besides the knowledge of making and mixing colours. Some convents even studied classical writers and the seven Greek Liberal Arts: grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, dialectic, rhetoric and music. Less prevalent during the Early Middle Ages was transcribing. Much later, though, some convents became renewed for their libraries and their manuscripts were circulated even outside the convent’s walls.
As was expected during a time when men went
to fight wars most of the time and pursue crusades during the remainder of the
time, the need for women skilled in medicine and surgery was on the rise so
convents covered these too.
Music as part of the convent life of medieval women
Promoters of Christianity, convents taught music, chants and choir songs essential to glorifying God. But music was also the means of raising funds for the cloister through donations for benefactor’s weddings or by charming wealthy women in pursuing their intellectual interests.
According to Professor Laurie Stras from Huddersfield University, during the 15th century, 20 percent of the female population of Catholic Europe lived in convents, translating into 50 percent of women of noble birth. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess, author, and composer, left us 11th-century musical compositions of sacred music in the simple style of the troubadours, some of the most-recorded music of its kind in modern history.
Since convents were often self-sufficient entities, a deep knowledge of the law was needed, some abbesses proving extremely skillful on this matter.
The decline in convent life starts here
By Late Middle Ages, due to the rise in the vernacular and the apparition of castle school (in 8th century due to Charlemagne), court schools, church and village public elementary schools (seeing a rise in the 12th – 13th century), or of religious guilds (in Late Middle Ages) the academic standard of the convents lowered.
As a result, the nuns become less and less skilled in numeracies and math, thusin record-keeping and so many nunneries went into debt.
Convents – their daily rituals
Most convents followed the Rule of the
Benedictine order: daily prayers, readings, and work, the power of a nun’s
prayer often sought after and perceived as equal to that of a monk.
An abbess with absolute authority led the nuns, assisted by a prioress and a few senior nuns, obedientaries. Unlike monks, a nun could not perform a church service, thus the visit of a male priest was required. Expected to show their devotion through their simple attire, the nuns’ veil symbolised their role as “Bride of Christ”.
I hope you enjoyed this close-up in Medieval convent life and the curriculum taught. Return for the last installment of convents, the religious life Medieval women, when we will uncover a few unknown facts, some far from pretty. Why not subscribe to my newsletter?
I am researching again, a task both exhilarating and overwhelming as I have to sieve such fascinating information and only retain the story bits that I need. I want to learn about Medieval women, especially, in the belief that women can write about war as well as take part in it. Mark Twain said: “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Hmm. So, here’s a bit of my research: Convents, the religious life of Medieval Women.
While most of us live in an era where women
have freedom of speech, the right to education, to own a property, to a fair
and equal wage and a life free from slavery and discrimination, let us remember
that this wasn’t always the case.
After centuries-old prejudice against education for women the beliefs that women were not capable of learning or likely to use an education, medieval women had few choices and little support with regards to their own lives. When the average life expectancy was only 31 years, girls as young as 14 years were considered ripe for marriage, having no say no matter their intellectual or religious aspirations. Still, a few women resisted.
Convents were the first institutions to rise in the Early Middle Ages, mimicking closely the rise of monasticism in the West of Europe, from a desire to enhance celebrations of God and to expand Christianity. They came at the right time to meet the women’s need for education or for furthering their religious aspirations.
Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, dedicated herself to God from an early age. She spent her life in the company of other religious women and is considered the founder of the first convent during the 5th century, the women’s branch of Benedictine Monasticism. Scholastica came from a wealthy family, having the means to support herself while pursuing her religious dreams without the shadow of a forced marriage looming over her youth.
Two centuries later the Canon laws, a set
of ordinances made by the Church leadership, supported
furthering the education for girls and women, directing the abbesses and the
abbots to cultivate a love of reading in their communities and all members of
its religious societies, male and female, to be literate in Latin.
Why join a convent?
During the Middle Ages, girls of seven years
of age were sent by their families to a nunnery to gain an education until the
age of 14 when they were expected to get married. Few girls dedicated their
life to God to pursue a calling, like Christina of Markyate, a 12th century religious
Englishwoman with visionary powers who, having made a vow of virginity in her
youth and determined to resist marriage, fled to the protection of local
hermits. A community of virgins grew around her, while through her spiritual
and managing abilities she became the prioress of a flourishing Benedictine
Some women saw in convent life the only way
of pursuing their learning interests. There were also those who joined a
convent to escape the dreary prospect of death through childbirth backed by
marriage, often denigrated in favour of virginity. A virgin was respected more
like a man than a married woman was.
And convents didn’t disappoint.
Scholarly nuns who rose to the rank of an abbess were treated as equals by men and their social class. Their voice, once silenced in their whisper, was suddenly heard through writings of treaties on logic or rhetoric, through music, even as advisors to popes, kings, and emperors, such as Hildegard of Bingen.
I just gotten used to writing 2019 and, in a flash, it already flew by, taking with it milestones and achievements, forgotten plans and stolen moments with my family. Life is faster, we work harder, have more plans, higher goals, yet we are busier than ever before. I grasp at the meaning of calmness through the chaos that my present day translates to. My heart knows it before my mind, achieving some state of calm through all this chaos is a must. Deep breath now…
Some say we are addicted to stress, that our neural pathways thrive on it, on back to back meetings and the adrenaline rushing through our bodies. But is pushing ourselves actually making us more productive?
Is more, always better?
Perhaps spreading us thinner through juggling numerous projects at a time – ours, a co-workers, the kids’ – is not a measure of how much we can achieve. Perhaps doing less, resisting the urge to focus on other’s business, focusing more on our needs, on what really matters, is the true way forward. Being able to say ‘no’.
Asking ourselves: do I really have time for this? Do I need to add this to my schedule? Am I the one that has to do it? – is just as important as the skill needed to solve that extra issue.
Achieving Calm through all the Chaos in 5 Steps
Prioritize: life before work
Ask yourself, which are the most important people in your life? To me is my family. What manners next? Perhaps work, a hobby. And then? Friends, sport, social life?
These are aspect of your life you need to prioritize at the beginning of each year. Put them in your calendar first: birthdays, anniversaries, school holidays, family gatherings, dates.
Do not worry to leave the leftover time for work – it will still be plenty available!
Create a path through all that clutter
I am not talking about desk clutter, but all the bullet points on your daily ‘to do’ list. For some, an Excel spreadsheet works well, for others, a daily planning stuck on the fridge door will do. Start with that.
There you go, now you know in what order to prioritize your daily tasks. Focus on only one task at a time.
Plan, prioritize, but also make time to breathe – every day.
Know your personal and your career goals
If you make them clear to yourself at the beginning of each year, you would have reduced most of the clutter from your daily planner. They say, if you know your yes’s, then your no’s are easier.
Keeping your goals in mind makes it easier to prioritize on a day to day basis and it makes your decisions a lot easier.
And family time? Sharing daily, joyful moment with your family keeps you connected, thus making it easier to keep your personal goals in sight.
Face it, head-on
Often, solving the top issues, the most stressful ones, and reshuffling the rest can remove most of the daily stress our minds deal with.
Next assess these issues that seem to be constantly moved from one day to the next and ask yourself: will I feel a sense of accomplishment if I finish them? Are they important? If you think yes, then schedule one a day, prioritize it and finish it. If no, then they were just cluttering your daily schedule.
Meditate and Sleep
Maybe not for everyone, and I am the first to admit that I have a problem with both – I find them equally time-consuming. But when I do meditate – I realize that my objectives are clearer, what was a conundrum is clarified, I know how to approach a problem and, in conclusion, I feel less stressed.
Sleeping is a whole other issue. Beneficial for all and it does improve the immune system. And, yes, a good night’s sleep does give us a performance-edge and increases our mind’s agility.
It is easy to allow small worries to become big issues, but achieving that sense of calm through all the daily chaos is doable and can be a positive aspect of your 2020. I hope it will!
And read on. Poetry, in particular, calms the mind. Poetry is as good as gold 🙂
My dream was to write a fictional story true to the lives of those caught in the War in Afghanistan: civilians and soldiers, Afghan populace and the Taliban. Reveal secrets, if need be. Thus, Silent Heroes was born.
Taliban, the spiritual weapon of the Afghan Nation
Afghanistan is a country nick-named as “unconquerable” and “the graveyard of empires”. It was a valuable location along the Silk Road and throughout centuries the Afghan land was used as a pawn between various dynasties and empires: of Alexander the Great, Muslim Arabs, the Mongols, the British quite a few times, then the Soviet Union. The Mujahedeen forces successfully opposed the Soviet troops through guerrilla tactics and in 1996 the Taliban government finally established its totalitarian Islamic State, The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Taliban ruled through terror and extremism and it could only be removed from power by the use of armed forces by the United States armed forces and their allies.
Women executed by Taliban for teaching girls to read – inconceivable in the 21st century
‘Afghan women live in constant fear and nine out of then are victims of domestic abuse. Warlords still thrive and power is gained through violence and intimidation and, in some parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban is still seen as a protector of the populace. A populace who has one too any empires’ gravestones in their backyard. As soon as your military forces will withdraw from Afghanistan, and one day they will, this country will revert to the lawless, conflict-ridden landscape that it was in the eighties, after the Soviet occupation, and the U.S. Nation-Building will join the other empires’ tombstones.’
But the Taliban still thrives, partially because the Afghan populace has seen one too many empires taking over their land under the pretense of protection and progress – only to take advantage of their resources, mainly poppy production, and then leave. So they lost faith in any foreign power, no matter the promises it made.
‘The Taliban has executed Afghans who dared vote in the Presidential elections of 2004. People in my village were scared that they won’t stay alive for much longer if they went to vote because the Talibans were searching everyone’s voter registration cards.’
Yet Afghanistan had known times of peace, prosperous times, when education boomed and women could study at university taking subjects that were considered extravagant, such as communism, feminism, and capitalism, taught by foreign-educated scholars. That was once upon a time. Now, the extremist Taliban take advantage of the village men away at war and hold public executions, killing any woman who dares teach young girls to read using only an old, tattered book, hidden in her tiny kitchen.
It is all part of the unknown, harsh reality of the 21st century. Taliban executes women who dare teach young girls to read under the false pretext of breaking a law of the Islamic Religion.
As an authoress, I am the resultant force of the books I read. As a woman, I am the resultant force of the women who influenced my life – my mother, my grandmothers, my daughter, my girl friends, my female role models. As a human being, I am one of the forces shaping my children’s future; albeit a tiny one, I can point forward and upwards. Scientia potetia est.
Amazon Review: “Oh, how I loved and admired Emma Dil and her brother Ratik. Their bravery tugged my heartstring and reminded me that for some children a world of conflict is the norm. The actions of the resilient villagers remained with me long after I turned the last page. An atmospheric novel that oozes tension, sadness and a little glimmer of hope for humanity.”
We often use similes without realizing, when we desire to emphasize the meaning of an idea or an image. But similes allow us insight into a different culture, as you can notice from these Afrikaans similes and their English translations.
Ons gebruik gereeld vergelykings, somtyds sonder dat ons dit besef, om ‘n idee of beeld te versterk. Vergelykings gee ons ook insig in ander kulture, soos jy kan opmerk van herdie Afrikaanse vergelykings en hulle (direkte) Engelse vertalings.
so arm soos ‘n kerkmuis = as poor as a church mouse
This simile is probably deriving from an older one, as hungry as a church mouse – illustrating how the Catholic and the Orthodox priests were careful not to mess the smallest crumb of the sacramental bread.
Die vergelyking het heelwaarskynlik sy oorsprong van ‘n ouer een, “so honger soos ‘n kerkmuis”, wat illustreer hoe versigtig die Katolieke en Ortodokse priesters was om nie die kleinste krummel van die heilige nagmaalbrood te mors nie.
so bitter soos gal = as bitter as bile
so bleek soos ‘n laken = as pale as a sheet
In English we would rather say as pale as death, as pale as a ghost, as white as a sheet)
so blind soos ‘n mol = as blind as a mole so blou soos die hemel / die berge = as blue as the sky / as blue as a mountain so dapper soos ‘n leeu = as brave as a lion
so dood soos ‘n mossie = as dead as a sparrow
This simile might derive from as dead as a dodo (referring to the dodo being an extinct species), although I think that as dead as a door nail is more used.
so doof soos ‘n kwartel = as deaf as a quail
Quails are widespread in South Africa and very easy to catch. The expression is based on a misunderstanding between Dutch and German. In German “doof” means “dumb”. Because quails are easy to catch or be lured with simple tricks, the Germans called them “doof” and the word entered Dutch and then Afrikaans. In English we would say as deaf as a post.
so dom soos ‘n esel = as stupid as a donkey so donker soos die nag = as dark as the night so dronk soos ‘n matroos = as drunk as a sailor so droog soos kurk / strooi = as dry as cork / as dry as straw (as dry as a bone is used in English) so dun soos ‘n plank = as thin as a plank (rather as thin as a rail in English)
so fris soos ‘n perd = as healthy as a horse
This is an interesting Afrikaans idiom as the English equivalent originates in the NE of the USA and is best used in summer. In English we would rather say as healthy / as fit as a butcher’s dog. This makes sense as a butcher’s dog would have a diet based on meat and other scraps, thus keeping him healthier than the stray dogs.
so geduldig soos Job = as patient as Job so geel soos goud = as yellow as gold geld soos bossies = money like weeds (has a lot of money) so gereeld soos klokslag = as regular as clockwork so giftig soos ‘n slang = as poisonous as a snake
so goed soos goud = as good as gold (completely genuine)
This simile most probably draws from the end of the 19th century when banknotes were first introduced in the USA. These were actually IOUs, written promises for a later payment, in gold and silver. Thus the expression, IOUs were “as genuine as gold”, as good as gold.
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit… “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843
so glad soos seep = as smooth as soap so groen soos gras = as green as grass so groot soos ‘n reus = as big as a giant so hard soos klip = as hard as stone so helder soos kristal = as clear as crystal so honger soos ‘n wolf = as hungry as a wolf
so koel soos ‘n komkommer = as cool as cucumber
As cool as a cucumber dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. Cool here does not refer to low temperature, but rather to someone unruffled. As cool as a cucumber was first recorded in 1732, in John Gay’s New Song on New Similes.
so koud soos ys = as cold as ice so krom soos ‘n hoepel = as crooked as a hoop so kwaai soos ‘n tierwyfie = as vicious as a tigress so lelik soos die nag = as ugly as the night so lig soos ‘n veer = as light as a feather so lui soos ‘n donkie = as lazy as a donkey so maer soos ‘n kraai = as thin / skinny as a crow so mak soos ‘n lam = as tame as a lamb so maklik soos pyp opsteek = as easy as lighting a pipe
so moeg soos ‘n hond = as tired as a dog
As tired as a dog draws back to the 9th century, originating in the adjectival phrase dog-tired. It is said that Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and King of the Anglo-Saxons used to send his sons, Athelbrod and Edwin, out hunting accompanied by their dogs. Whichever son would catch more game would be seated at their father’s right hand side at the dinner table that evening. The hunt would leave both young princes as tired as a dog.
so nat soos ‘n kat = as wet as a cat so nuuskierig soos ‘n aap = as curious as a monkey so oud soos die berge = as old as the mountains so plat soos ‘n pannekoek = as flat as a pancake pronk soos ‘n pou = shows off like a peacock so reg soos ‘n roer = as straight as a barrel (of a gun) so rond soos ‘n koeël = as round as a bullet so rooi soos bloed = as red as blood so regop soos ‘n kers = as upright as a candle rook soos ‘n skoorsteen = smokes like a chimney so sag soos sy = as soft as silk so seker soos twee maal twee vier is = as sure as knowing two times two is four sing soos ‘n nagtegaal = sings like a nightingale so skerp soos ‘n lemmetjie = as sharp as a razor blade so skraal soos ‘n riet = as slim as a reed so skurf soos ‘n padda = (skin) as scabby / dry as a toad
slaap soos ‘n klip = sleeps like a stone
The former version of sleep like a stone would be sleep like a log – metaphorically mentioned in English as early as the 17th century:
“foundering is when she will neither veere nor steare, the sea will so ouer rake her, except you free out the water, she will lie like a log, and so consequently sinke.”
John Smith, A Sea Grammar, 1627
so slim soos ‘n jakkals = as clever, crafty as a jackal so soet soos suiker / stroop = as sweet as sugar / syrup so stadig soos ‘n trapsuutjies = as slow as a chameleon so steeks soos ‘n donkie = as stubborn as a donkey so sterk soos ‘n os = as strong as an ox so stil soos ‘n muis = as quiet as a mouse stink soos ‘n muishond = stinks like a skunk so suur soos asyn = as sour as vinegar so swaar soos lood = as heavy as lead so swak soos ‘n lammetjie = as weak as a lamb so swart soos die nag = as black as the night swem soos ‘n vis = swims like a fish sweet soos ‘n perd = sweats like a horse so taai soos ‘n ratel = as tough as a honey badger so trots soos ‘n pou = as proud as a peacock so vas soos ‘n rots = as steady as a rock so vinnig soos ‘n windhond = as fast as a greyhound
so wit soos sneeu = as white as snow
Imagine the pure, pristine snow of a sunny winter’s morning. Shakespeare was one of the first to use this powerful simile:
… What if this cursed hand Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood, Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens To wash it white as snow? …