Lay Female Devotional Lives in the Counter Reformation

Church History and Religious Culture

In 1563, the Catholic Church responded to the Protestant challenge to the religious life as the most holy feminine state with the maxim aut maritus aut murus (wife or wall). The navigation of that dictum by early modern women across Catholic Europe has arguably been one of the dominant themes in the scholarship over the last thirty years. Certainly, there had always been the opportunity for women to lead a religious life outside of marriage and the cloister as beatas, tertiaries and beguines. Yet it was after the Council of Trent (1545–1563) that women had to renegotiate a space in the world in which they could lead spiritually-fulfilling devotional lives. If this was one unintended legacy of 1517, then the quincentenary of the Reformation seems a timely moment to reflect on new directions in the now burgeoning historiography on lay women in Counter-Reformation Europe.

  • 1

    Merry Wiesner Hanks, “The Reformation of the Women,” in Gender, Church, and State in Early Modern Germany: Essays by Merry E. Wiesner (London, 1998), 75.

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  • 8

    Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt, “The Permeable Cloister,” in The Ashgate Research Companion to Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, ed. Jane Couchman (London, 2013).

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  • 10

    Silvia Evangelisti, “Wives, Widows, and Brides of Christ: Marriage and the Convent in the Historiography of Early Modern Italy,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Mar., 2000), 247 and n. 55.

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  • 12

    Susan Dinan, “Overcoming Gender Limitations: The Daughters of Charity and Early Modern Catholicism,” in Early Modern Catholicism: Essays in Honour of John W. O’Malley, eds. Kathleen M. Comerford and Hilmar M. Pabel (Toronto, 2001), 108.

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  • 16

    Alison Weber, “Devout Laywomen in the Early Modern World: The Historiographic Challenge”, in Devout Laywomen in the Early Modern World, ed. Alison Weber (London, 2016).

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  • 20

    Elizabeth Rapley, “ ‘Un tresor enfoui, une lampe sous un boisseau:’ Seventeenth-Century Visitandines Describe Their Vocation,” in The Cloister and the World: Early Modern Convent Voices, ed. Thomas M. Carr (Charlottesville, 2007), 157.

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  • 24

    Anne Jacobson Schutte, “Ecco la santa! Printed Italian Biographies of Devout Laywomen, Seventeenth-Eighteenth Centuries,” in Devout Laywomen (see above, n. 16).

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  • 26

    Paige, “Enlightened (Il)literates,” p. 129.

  • 28

    Rapley, “Un Trésor Enfoui,” p. 157.

  • 42

    Elizabeth Rapley, “Women and the Religious Vocation in Seventeenth-Century France,” French Historical Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Spring, 1994), 613–631.

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