• RSS Queering the Church

    • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
  • RSS Spirit of a Liberal

    • Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand September 15, 2014
      Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier's Story has just been released. The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain--"Ain't gonna study war no more." Golden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout that is […]
      Obie Holmen
    • Gay Games Symposium July 21, 2014
      I am pleased and honored that the UCC has asked me to moderate a symposium during the games entitled Queer Christians: Celebrating the Past, Shaping the Future. [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
      Obie Holmen
  • RSS There Will be Bread

    • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
  • RSS The Wild Reed

    • Journey to the Southern Highlands & Tablelands August 18, 2017
      Part 3: Goulburn and CanberraThis evening I share some more images and commentary on my recent visit to the Southern Highlands and Tablelands of New South Wales. This post focuses on time spent in Goulburn and Canberra. Part 1 in this series focused on Exeter and Mt. Alexandra, while Part 2 spotlighted Bundanoon and the Sunnataram Forest Monastery. My visit […]
      noreply@blogger.com (Michael J. Bayly)
    • Quote of the Day August 17, 2017
      Is it possible to debase the office of the presidency any lower? It is hard to imagine, but every time I think it can't get any worse, it does.– Susan Stabilevia FacebookAugust 16, 2017Related Off-site Links:Off the Rails: Trump Holds Unhinged Press Conference, Defends White Supremacist/Neo-Nazi Violence in Charlottesville – Kerry Eleveld (The Daily Kos […]
      noreply@blogger.com (Michael J. Bayly)
  • RSS Bilgrimage

  • RSS Enlightened Catholicism

  • RSS Far From Rome

    • the way ahead March 23, 2013
      My current blog is called the way ahead.
      noreply@blogger.com (PrickliestPear)
  • RSS The Gay Mystic

    • Christmas at Litmanova December 29, 2016
      The Marian Shrine of Litmanova, Slovakia.Christmas 2017A forest chapel at the Slovakian Marian shrine of Litmanova.Stunning painting of the Sacred Heart inside the forest chapel.
      noreply@blogger.com (Richard Demma)
    • Not Our President November 16, 2016
      To hear the simplistic denial of those who scream out with naiveté “give Trump a chance” as they condemn others engaged in selfless protest against a certain political and social tsunami in the making, is to ignore his life-time public embrace of policies that tens of millions reject as not just destructive, but evil per se. They are not mistaken.Those in st […]
      noreply@blogger.com (Richard Demma)
  • RSS The Jesus Manifesto

    • Another World is Neccessary: Anarchism, Christianity and the Race from the White House July 30, 2008
      I’ll be presenting at the upcoming Jesus Radicals conference in Columbus, Ohio. My session (on the relationship between Church and State) will be on Friday afternoon. If you’re in the area, drop by. I’d love to meet some of the folks who frequent this site. Here’s the info: August 15-16, 2008 St. John’s Episcopal 1003 W Town Columbus, OH [...]ShareThis […]
      Mark Van Steenwyk
  • RSS John McNeill: Spiritual Transformations

  • RSS Perspective

    • Charlottesville August 18, 2017
      Watching Anderson Cooper discussing Charlottesville on CNN. In this segment he destroys the fiction created by Trump that there were "very fine people" taking part in the alt right demonstrations. A reporter who was present shows a video of the torch lit march in which those "fine people" chanted "Jews will not replace us" ...An […]
      noreply@blogger.com (crystal)

St Walpurga, Abbess

National Catholic Reporter reminds us today that it is the feast of the early English saint, Walburga, who entered the abbey of Wimbourne aged just eleven, then as a young sister was sent to accompany her uncle St Boniface to Germany, where they founded the “double monastery” of Heidenheim.

Read the full report , “Feb 25th, St Walburga, Missionary, Abbess,” at National Catholic Reporter. As you do so, pay close attention:  the text reminds us of so much that we have forgotten about the real history of women in the Church.

First, consider the academic achievement.  It is a commonplace to remember the role of the monasteries in preserving classical scholarship and learning during the so-called “Dark Ages” of Europe.  We are all familiar with the idea of devoted monastic scribes laboriously copying out and decorating magnificent illuminated manuscripts of the Scriptures, and also of other works from the classical period. The results, such as the splendid Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and others, are extraordinary achievements that we rightly treasure today. The monasteries were also responsible for much of the foundations of Western music as we now know it, resting as it does on the early examples of Ambrosian chant, and later of Gregorian chant.

Gregorian chant illuminated manuscript

This picture though is incomplete. In presenting the monks as the sole guardians of scholarship, it disgracefully ignores the substantial contributions of Byzantium and the Islamic civilization, which preserved and further developed many aspects of classical civilization that the monasteries totally ignored. As the example of Walpurga shows, it also ignores the contribution of many remarkable women.

Consider her activity as a young nun in her first monastery:

At Wimbourne she lived among a community of 500 Sisters who chanted the office, studied Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, Latin, the ordinances of the Church, Latin classics, and sometimes Greek. The nuns were manuscript copyists. They took care, too, of their own convents, of fields, mills, gardens, and stables. They did spinning, weaving tailoring, tanning, and cobbling. They made vestments for the altar. Their religious life included the rite of consecration of Virgins

So:  those fabled illuminated manuscripts were produced not only by the monks, but also by the nuns, who also prepared the vestments, and worked the fields. They studied Latin and Greek, and also the writing of the church fathers. This is a far cry from the situation in the mid twentieth century, when Rembert Weakland, then head of the Benedictine order and based in Rome, wanted to offer some theological training to the Benedictine sisters. He encountered strong opposition from the curia, who believed that theology was only suitable for male religious, and that the women did not “need” it.

More significant still was her later experience in Germany:

Winibald (Walpurga’s brother) built a church and double monastery at Heidenheim in Suevia for himself and Walburga in 752. When he died in 761, Walburga became abbess of the entire monastery. She ruled the monks and nuns with wisdom and grace.

Abbesses in the medieval world were powerful women, with substantial authority in their territories over both men and women, both clerical and laity.  In some cases, it has been said that the abbesses had substantial power even over the local bishops, including some influence over their appointment.  I think I have read, but am open to correction, that abbesses were also among those attending some of the early General Councils of the Church.

The history of women in the early church, like that of its “gay” and lesbian history, has been hidden for too long.  As we remember St Walpurga, let us also remember all the other strong and powerful women whose major contributions have been forgotten.



Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: