Convents: the Religious Life of Medieval Women 2/3

Glastonbury Abbey - convent curriculum Medieval women

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.

Religious themed tapestry - convents religious life medieval women

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.

crusade tapestry.

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.

Mount Saint Mitchel abbey

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?

Until then: Scarlet Autumn and Chestnuts

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Convents: the Religious Life of Medieval Women 1/3

Convents - religious life of Medieval women

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.

Convent of Christ in Tomar convents religious life medieval women
Convent of Christ in Tomar

Why Convents?

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.

Benedict and Scholastica, Klosterkirche Elchingen. Wikipedia.  convents religious life medieval women
Benedict and Scholastica, Klosterkirche Elchingen. Wikipedia

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 convent.

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.

Yvonne Seale compiled a list of books for those who’d like to know more about the lives of medieval nuns.

Behind this door we will discover more about convents and the religious life of medieval women, like a convent’s curriculum. Soon. Stay tuned by subscribing to my blog posts.

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Post WWII, The Christmas Song, Music Monday

Christmas song chestnuts roasing

Next to Bing Crosby’s renowned White Christmas, and Judy Garland’s Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Doris Day’s Christmas Song, Chestnuts roasting on an open fire is one of the popular songs that hit the radios post WW II.

What is amazing is that Doris had no idea just how musically gifted she was. While recovering from a car accident she would sing while listening to the radio: ‘the one radio voice I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I’d sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.’ (Doris Day)

christmas song Chestnuts roasting
Roasted chestnuts in a paper bag

Doris Day shared a long and fruitful collaboration with Les Brown & His Band of Renown. Here is their ageless collaboration, Christmas Song, Chestnuts roasting on an open fire:

Post WW2, The Christmas Song, Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Doris Day vocals with Les Brown and his orchestra – lyrics:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by the choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny little tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight
They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother’s child is going to spy
To see if reindeer’s really know how to fly
And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you
And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you, Merry Christmas to you!

(Source Musixmatch)
Songwriters: ROBERT WELLS / MEL TORME
The Christmas Song lyrics © Sony/ATV Tunes LLC

christmas song Chestnuts roasting

Song lyrics and movie clip are property and copyright of their owners and are provided for educational purposes and personal use only.

The #MusicMonday meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You can pick a song that you really like and share it on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog feature on Mischenko’s lovely blog, ReadRantRockandroll .

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Snow’s Thousand Faces and Meanings

frozen snow mening pictures

I love snow in all its aspects, yet browsing through past holiday pictures I realized that snow has thousands of faces and meanings. From the simple joy of snowflakes to the excitement and rush of making a snow angel or a snowman; from the wonder of an icicle to the art nature instills in a frozen fence; or, simply, the unspoiled wonder the morning after a snow storm holds.

Join me in finding the different meanings that snow holds.

The weather channel announced the blizzard, so everyone was expecting it: the snowfall. It came over a few days, quietly falling, day after day. The ground has to be frozen, you see, for the snow to settle and we were holding thumbs that first day: freeze, freeze. Checking the windows every half an hour: does the tar still shows? Has a dusty layer of snow settled yet? It takes a couple of day, you know. And it starts with a skift, a light snowfall.

Then, one morning, we woke up to this:

snow thousand faces meanings

And to some footsteps left on our windowsill:

snow thousand faces meanings

Need I say how fast we got dressed to go outside? As fast as our endless layers of clothing allowed us, anyway. And this is what we saw:

snow thousand faces meanings

One of snow’s thousand faces certainly is wonder! Its meaning? Live in the moment.

snow thousand faces meanings

Let it snow… or make it snow!

I think you have to be very patient if you are a coniferous tree. And have lots of practice sitting perfectly still.

snow thousand faces meanings

Snow angels, through their serenity and peace, do confer winter a higher, spiritual meaning. But the joy that goes into making them certainly anchor the holiday season firmly into childhood. Maybe this symbol of winter is the fine, silver thread that connect so many hearts around the world, an universal language.

snow angel in winter. a spiritual meaning

And snowmen! Yet you need a certain type of snow to built one, it has to warm up a little, so the snow will release some heat that, in turn, will bound the snowflakes together and help them hold their shape.

a first winter's snowman

Then the onding, the heavy snow, returned. That’s a massive snowfall, but not big enough to be qualified as a blizzard. An onding is a regionalism used in Scotland and Northern England since the middle of the 18th century.

And a day later we walked to the shops…

The snow was THAT big:

Brave us, we traveled to Sighisoara by train, through snow. This will be a story on its own, but for now this is what we saw: grue, thin, floating ice:

grue, thin floating ice in Sighisoara
rollerblade on ice, snow, winter

Here is a first glimpse at Sighisoara, the amazing medieval city built along Târnava Mare River:

I have ambivalent feelings for the snow and ice clinging to a fence. It can be art, like this spiraled fence capped with snow:

snow on a fence in winter

Or this glowing, frozen chicken wire fence:

frozen chicken wire fence

Yet this barbed wire frozen in winter makes me wince:

barbed wire frozen in winter

I leave you with this: as spiky as a barbed wire, as graceful as a ice-skater’s blades, the icicle is wonder and physics combined:

Glowing icicle
Winter’s artful magic wand.
Alohomora!

For more winter poems and haiku:

Christmas Haiku
Christmas Haiku

Get Christmas Haiku from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or worldwide.

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5 Secrets Revealed in Silent Heroes. Women’s Rights under Taliban

Women killed for teaching girls to read - inconceivable in the 21st century

Sometimes, a truth so inconceivable in its existence during the 21st century, like women’s rights under Taliban, is overlooked by mass-media and only revealed in a book: Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for.

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.

silent heroes women's rights Taliban
Secrets revealed in Silent Heroes: women’s rights Taliban rule

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.’

Silent Heroes
silent heroes women's rights Taliban

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.’

Silent Heroes

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.

The simplest way to enjoy coffee? Pair it with an interesting book.
The simplest way to enjoy coffee? Pair it with an interesting book.

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.”

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

After the mysterious underground fortress, the lacunae in the military chain of command and a diabolic secret lair, there is one more secret to be revealed in this series of 5 Secrets in Silent Heroes.
Have I saved the best for last?
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silent heroes women’s rights Taliban silent heroes women’s rights Taliban
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