In c. 480 A.D. St Brigid (the Mary of the Gaels) founded a double monastery at Kildare in Southern Ireland. Brigid’s authority and that of subsequent abbesses, was total over both monks and nuns until 1171 by which time the influence of Kildare had dwindled. As it did, that of the Abbey of Kilculliheen in Co. Kilkenny, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and under the Arrouaisian rule, rose. This paper refers to Brigid’s ancient house of charity contrasting it with medieval Kilculliheen – an abbey of immense holdings, ruled by business women involved in intrigues and politics.
This paper contrasts the education of the saintly woman in Conchubranus’ life of Monenna and in the Dublin Collection of Irish saints lives. The Dublin Collection, compiled and revised in the early thirteenth century, describes the schooling of its male subjects. It omits schooling entirely from the two lives of women: they are models of sancta rusticitas, an unlearned wisdom contrasted with the book learning of monks and clerics. Writing before the 1130s for an audience of “sisters”, Conchubranus praises Monenna for her own education, emphatically identical to that to her male peers, and shows her teaching men to read the scriptures.
Archival evidence reveals large numbers of female hermits living in late medieval Italian cities, yet beguines and tertiaries dominate the scholarship. The practice of reclusion is collapsed into these more clearly defined vocations. The legacy of mendicant hagiography confounds this issue by presenting holy women as engaging in a range of devotional practices including reclusion and active charitable service, and by claiming them as belonging to their own order. By placing a range of devotional and living practices within the mantle of a particular order, hagiography masks the real differences between different religious vocations and calcifies a particular mendicant image of a holy woman.