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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  February 1998

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION February 1998

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Subject:

Re: painted cathedrals

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Date:

Thu, 26 Feb 1998 22:45:00 +0000

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 I should probably be asking if you or
> anyone else on the list can point us in the direction of references to nuns' at
> their needlework, as monks at their book-production.
> 
This is a question that deserves a fuller answer than, I suspect, can 
currently be given.  That nuns practiced embroidery, as well as other 
textile arts, is generally believed, but little effort has been made 
to document the practice.  It may be that the documents necessary to 
do so no longer survive, but I suspect that what may have survived 
has been pretty much ignored.  As other discussions on this list 
make clear, however, much work is currently being done on women's 
monasticism, and we may soon know more.  Certainly, a recent 
indication of this is Jeffrey Hamburger's book, Nuns as Artists, 
which analyses a series of very interesting devotional paintings done 
by south German nuns in the early 16th century, although he also has 
references to a house, in Munich I believe, which is documented as 
making tapestries, and earlier, in the 12th century, the nunnery at 
Quedlinburg may  also have produced  tapestries back in the 12th 
century, although the tapestries in question, which were commissioned 
by the abbess, cannot confidently be ascribed to her nuns, and 
Dodwell judges that their attribution to the nuns may represent a 
"romantic post-medieval view" which relegated all textile arts to 
women.  As for embroidery, there is not currently much to go on.  The 
early Maaseik embroideries were once thought to have been made by SS 
Harlindus and Relindus, two sisters from an aristocratic family who 
founded a nunnery nearly Maaseik in the 8th century, from which the 
embroideries entered the parish church at Maaseik in 1577.  The 
embroideries  are now known to be Anglo-Saxon, dating from c.800, but 
the confusion is understandable, since the vita of the two saints, 
written in the 9th century, mentions that they were taught 
embroidery in the nunnery at Valencina (perhaps Valenciennes) and 
that they left behind them certain highly decorated small cloths.  
And the Council of Clovesho in 747 tried to dissuade nuns from 
embroidering their habits (reminiscent of some of Hildegard of 
Bingen's distinctive ideas on her nuns' habits).  In England, which 
in Innocent IV's words was such a treasure house of embroideries in 
the middle ages, there is only one surviving work that can 
confidently be attributed to a nun, one Johanna of Beverley, a 
frontlet for an altar in the Victoria and Albert Museum dating from 
1290-1340.  It carries the inscription: "Domna Iohanna Beverlai 
monaca me fecit."  As someone has already mentioned, Christina of 
Markyate apparently sent three embroidered mitres to Pope Adrian IV 
in 1155, and there are various other documentary references, but in 
many cases, it is not clear whether the woman doing the embroidery 
should be more pertinently considered a nun or a noble woman.  There 
are many more references to noble women as patrons of embroidery, but 
the practice of it, particularly in nunneries, is at present not well 
founded on documentary evidence.  I hope we can soon see more solid 
research done on this.
Cheers,
Jim Bugslag


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