Happy Medieval Monday! Since March is Womens' History Month and today is our granddaughter's saint's day, I thought it the perfect time to consider Nicolette Boellet, otherwise known as Saint Colette, and the life of medieval nuns.
The Church played a gigantic role in medieval history. It's no surprise that books and movies set in the era often feature clergy of some sort. I've seen nuns portrayed as small-minded, harsh, cruel individuals and also as brave, intelligent, benevolent ones. Truth? Surely they were as varied as people in any station of life in any era.
During my studies, it occurred to me that in many ways, medieval clergy had a more stable life than almost anyone -- up to and including royalty. Certainly, they had more comfortable lives than peasants. For one thing, they were pretty much guaranteed a roof over their heads and nourishing (if simple) food to eat. Women as well as men were educated. Nuns were respected, too, their social status just below that of the nobility.
Nevertheless, the nuns' lives were often hard and austere. They spent a lot of time in prayer, including but not restricted to praying "the hours", which meant even rising from bed in the middle of the night to pray. Many orders demanded strict asceticism, calling for abstinence and fasting as well as hard work and prayer.
What kind of work did they do? Convents, like monasteries, were self-sufficient communities. They did everything for themselves. They had to provide their own food and clothing. There were gardens to tend, every sort of household chore to take care of, cooking, wine-making (not trusting their water source) -- no pizza deliveries or washing machines. They sewed, too, of course, and some embroidered. They also ministered to the poor and the sick, taught, and gave sanctuary when needed.
And like any community, there was surely dissension. Not everyone would have agreed or gotten along all the time. Not all nuns were kind and generous. Despite a certain stability, their lives weren't easy. Yet they managed to do a lot of good and were important to medieval society.
While many nuns came from noble families, bearing rich endowments, it was certainly not the case for all. Women from all stations of life became nuns.
Born in Corbie, France in 1381, Nicolette Boellet was not wealthy or privileged. She grew up in the shadow of Corbie Abbey where her father worked as a carpenter.
Her parents were both in their sixties when she was born. By the time she was 17, she was an orphan. She chose to embrace religious life.
From her humble beginnings, she became a force within the church.
As a nun and a mighty medieval woman, she reformed the Poor Clares. Despite much opposition, she returned the order to a lifestyle of strict poverty and devotion. She went on to found eighteen monasteries across Europe, even creating her own order, the Colettine Poor Clares, which still exists today.
Saint Colette wrote a lot, too, including a biography of Saint Clare. She is remembered for being especially mindful and caring towards pregnant women and children.
The medieval era lasted for approximately 1,000 years. Nicolette Boellet -- Saint Colette -- was just one of countless remarkable women through the ages to make positive differences in their worlds. But I like to imagine that during her time in history, when the church -- the cornerstone of medieval society -- was falling apart and women and children often had little or no rights at all, she forged ahead, holding everyone to a higher standard, caring for the weak and defenseless. And still, she took time to write. :)
Happy Feast Day, darling Colette!
For more Medieval Monday, be sure to visit awesome medieval ladies Mary Morgan and Barbara Bettis!
Wishing you a beautiful week ahead!
It's no secret that I prefer fat HEAs. Where better than in a beautiful romance?
From me to you with a smile.
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