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Archive for July, 2019

There were thousands of women who served in God’s Kingdom in Medieval times. Over the next few months, we will cover the stories of only a few. Our stories will go in somewhat of a chronological order from around 450 AD to 1500 AD. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[1]

Medieval women displayed Christlike character that was responsible for the advancement of the Gospel through their words of wisdom and deeds of charity. Over one hundred and fifty years ago, Irish writer Julia Kavanagh (1824-1877) noted about women during the Middle Ages:

“The progress of Christianity owes much, however, to these women. They had little personal influence, and thus their action was not perceived at first; but the virtues of Christianity, purity, temperance, forgiveness, and resignation were essentially feminine virtues: they were more easily practiced by women than by men; and this gave to the weaker sex a moral superiority over the stronger one, which is visible even through the primitive rudeness of those dark ages.”[2]

Women were not allowed to participate in the hierarchy of the ecclesiology of the institutionalized church. Nevertheless, they would hold many leadership positions in the monasteries, convents, and other Christian groups such as the faithful Beguines. Some might argue that remaining outside of the hierarchy of the institutional church enabled women to have far greater ministry to the poor, neglected, and oppressed people. When the institutionalized church forbade women access to official ministry, many faithful female believers followed their calling from God to go and show the love of Christ in the world anyway. Countless thousands who were blessed by their ministry have been grateful.

We will begin our journey through the Middle Ages with the story of a very remarkable woman who lived in the 5th century – Genovefa of Paris.

 

 Genovefa (423-502)

 Genovefa is most remembered as the woman who saved Paris from Attila the Hun. In the 5th century the Roman Empire was crumbling as hordes of barbarians were pouring into Europe. In Genovefa’s time pagan Franks had established themselves in Gaul in part of the area that we call France today. Notice on the map that this includes Paris. Later some of these Franks would convert to Christianity including Genovefa’s parents Severus and Gerontia.

 

Genovefa was born in the parish of Nanterre (about 4 miles from Paris) in 423 AD. Even in her earliest years she was recognized as saintly and wise. She desired to live her life in total devotion to God. As many Christians did in that era, she practiced ascetism. Genovefa had the freedom to practice her religion independently of established authorities. For one thing, monasticism had not reached this part of Gaul and so she was not part of a convent. After her parents died, she lived with her godmother. Then later she set up housekeeping with a few female companions. Many women came to her for guidance and perhaps some of them remained under her roof. She led these women in prayer, fasting, and acts of charity.

While some biographers have said that Genovefa was just a peasant, it seems more likely that she was a member of the Gallic upper classes. She owned fields and participated in the harvest. She was free to go where she wished when she wished, including travel outside of the city. She must have been brilliant and headstrong as well as pious because she rose to the occasion and did what she felt was right even when others opposed her.

During the waning years of the Roman Empire whatever local man had the most authority became the ruler. In Gaul this might be a bishop or a wealthy descendant of a Romanized family, a Frank like Genovefa, or even a strong man with an army. Women were normally excluded, but Genovefa would not let her femaleness stop her from aiding Paris by doing some of the work that the men were supposed to do. Once when there was a severe famine in Paris she took a boat up the river to Arcis to collect the taxes that were owed to Paris. When Genovefa returned to Paris she distributed loaves of bread to the poor herself.

Genovefa was unequalled for her works of charity in times of famine, fever, or distress. When Childeric, king of the Franks besieged Paris Genovefa was at Troyes and prophesied his defeat. In spite of his threats, she led a small band outside of the city to find provisions and brought back boatloads of corn for the starving citizens.

In 451 AD Parisians began to panic, fearing that Attila the Hun would seize their city and lay waste to it as he was doing throughout Gaul. People began to pack up their money and valuables and prepare to send them to other cities for safekeeping. Genovefa called together the matrons of the city and persuaded them to join her in prayer with fasting and vigils to ward off the threatening disaster just as Queen Esther had done in the past. The women agreed and went to the baptistry where they sat for days seeking God’s deliverance while fasting and praying and keeping watch. In the meantime, Genovefa tried to persuade the men of Paris to keep their goods with them and not send them to other cities. She said those cities were in danger, but Christ would protect Paris.

Many citizens did not believe her and actually conspired to stone or drown her, but an archdeacon who knew her talked the angry mob out of it. In the event, Genovefa was proven right and the citizens honored her instead.

There are many other stories about Genovefa. Miraculous healings, casting out of demons, and the stopping of a destructive rainstorm on her property are all attributed to her.  Genovefa was over eighty years old when she died.

Genovefa wanted to build a church in honor of Peter and Paul. Clovis I, king of the Franks began the construction of the basilica. He died before it was completed but Queen Clotilde finished it. Scenes from Genovefa’s life are depicted throughout the church. (Photo is a statue of St. Genovefa in the Basilica of St. Clotilde.)

Next time, in Part 2, we will continue with the story of Clothilde, Queen of the Franks.

 

 

 

 

[1]See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for Women in the Patristic Era.

[2]Julia Kavanagh. Women of Christianity, Exemplary for Acts of Piety and Charity(New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1869). 55.

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Introduction to Series – Women in Medieval Times

Over one hundred and fifty years ago, Irish writer Julia Kavanagh (1824-1877) noted about women during the Middle Ages:

“The progress of Christianity owes much, however, to these women. They had little personal influence, and thus their action was not perceived at first; but the virtues of Christianity, purity, temperance, forgiveness, and resignation were essentially feminine virtues: they were more easily practiced by women than by men; and this gave to the weaker sex a moral superiority over the stronger one, which is visible even through the primitive rudeness of those dark ages.”[1]

Medieval women displayed the Christlike character that was responsible for the advancement of the Gospel through word and deed in the Middle Ages. There were thousands of women who served in God’s Kingdom in Medieval times. Over the next few months, we will cover the stories of only a few. Like their female forebears in the Patristic Era these women contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God, not so they could be remembered, but so they could serve the Lord Jesus by serving others.[2]

The Middle Ages cover a long period of time – about a millennium. There are so many variations in how scholars break up the time periods in the Middle Ages. Because his dating method lines up so well with the stories I want to tell about women during Medieval times, I will be somewhat following the outline as given by Thomas Cahill in his book on the Middle Ages (which I highly recommend).[3]

 

The Early Middle Ages(Also called the Dark Ages) 4th through 11th Centuries.

This era began after the Roman Emperor Constantine came to power in 312 AD. When Constantine declared that Christianity would be the state religion in 313 AD, scholarship, commerce and the size of cities began to increase. This continued until the end of the eleventh century.

The High Middle Ages– 12th and 13th Centuries and first half of the 14th Century.

This era extends from approximately 1100 to 1347. This was a Renaissance period in Europe until the Black Death began in 1347.

The Late Middle Ages– Second half of the 14th Century and 15th Century

This era covers the tragedy of the Black Death and ends with the first voyage of Columbus in 1492.

 

For our purposes,  500 AD is a turning point for my series on the Middle Ages. I covered some stories from the very early Middle Ages (4th and 5th Centuries) in the “Women in the Patristic Era” series, which we defined as 2nd through 5th centuries. We noted in our series that especially after 313 AD Christian Women enjoyed the freedom to travel, preach the gospel, and minister even in leadership positions. Tragically, by 500 AD women were not allowed to participate in the hierarchy of the institutionalized church. Since things really changed for women when the church and state came together to rule, my stories will pick up where the “Women in the Patristic Era” stories ended – around 500 AD.

 

Introduction to the Early Middle Ages – 313 (or 500) AD to 1100 AD

In spite of their being sidelined, women could and did hold many leadership positions outsideof the institutionalized church in the monasteries, convents, and other Christian groups such as the faithful Beguines. It could be argued that remaining outside of the hierarchy of the institutional church enabled women to have far greater ministry to the poor, neglected, and homeless people. When the institutionalized church forbade women access to official ministry, many women found ways to go and show the love of Christ in the world anyway. It was not God’s plan to shut women up; He called and gifted many for ministry to countless thousands and they served wherever Christ called them in spite of the patriarchal system.

While Christianity was spreading from 313 to around 500 AD, cities began to grow and prosper. Scholarship, commerce, and religion, began to increase and many people including women had more access to education. As the gospel of peace was preached in Europe life improved for many people. Christians took care of the poor and homeless.

Things were looking up for European civilization but then during the 5th and 6th centuries, hordes of barbarians began to pour into Italy and spread through much of Europe.  Learning, scholarship, and culture practically disappeared from the European continent.[4]Thankfully, Christianity, including the influence of women, prevented total degradation. Over several centuries Christianity made many converts and overcame the idolatry of the barbarians. Women took comfort in the gospel and the fellowship of other female believers. Because of their virtuous lives, Christianity flourished in an otherwise barbaric culture.

Life for women in Medieval times had its ups and downs. Freedom had been high for women as Christianity advanced in the 4th and early 5th centuries. Then, as already mentioned, the status of women was lowered when the church and state united and men set up male-only government. Women would not gain influence again until men would go to war leaving the women to manage responsibilities at home. Women would prove how capable they were as they managed families, farms, businesses, and even some governmental positions.

Most of the peasants lived on land owned by the wealthy and worked as serfs. They did not own property and paid rent to the landlord and taxes to the government. The middle class system as we know it would not develop for several hundred years. In the meantime there were only the lords and the laborers. Women shared in the agricultural work with their husbands besides caring for children and taking care of the home.

Many of the stories we have for women in the 5th and 6th centuries deal with the ruling classes. This makes sense since during the barbarous times education went by the wayside and books were being destroyed.  Not much was written down except for important people and we are fortunate to have the few surviving documents that remain. Our stories of some of those important people for this time period will include Clothilda, Queen of the Franks, Theodora, Empress of Byzantium, and Radegund, also a Queen of the Franks and an abbess, as well as Irene, Empress of Athens and others.

We will begin our series on the Early Middle Ages with the story of a famous Patron Saint – Genovefa (Genevieve) of Paris. Then we will move on to more stories of Royalty, Abbesses, and Witnesses.

Until next time, you may enjoy reading both of Thomas Cahill’s books!

 

[1]Julia Kavanagh. Women of Christianity, Exemplary for Acts of Piety and Charity(New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1869). 55.

[2]See posts on this blog site from January 22, 2019 through June 4, 2019 for Women in the Patristic Era – 2nd through 5th Centuries.

[3]Thomas Cahill. Mysteries of the Middle Ages and the Beginning of the Modern World(New York, NY: Random House, 2008). 63.

[4]As an aside, in an interesting book by Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, he demonstrates how the Irish saved many copies of the scholarly books that were being destroyed by the barbarians in Continental Europe. With St. Patrick, Irish saints preserved much of the learning of the ages and then with St. Columba went on to spread it to Europe, thus conserving Western Culture.

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