Gender and Monasticism in Late Antiquity

Rebecca Krawiec

in Shenoute and the Women of the White Monastery

Published in print February 2002 | ISBN: 9780195129434
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834396 | DOI:
Gender and Monasticism in Late Antiquity

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The coexistence of two apparently contradictory attitudes towards gender in Shenoute's monasticism engage the variety of literature describing female monastic experiences in late antiquity. This chapter describes the evidence for Egyptian monasticism, including virgins living in the cities, the desert mothers of Upper Egypt, and the female community under Pachomius; the dual monasteries of Jerome and Paula in Palestine; and a letter by Augustine written to a female monastery undergoing conflicts of leadership similar to Shenoute's. I conclude that the different nature of the various sources make a one‐to‐one comparison difficult but that, in general, Shenoute seems to have been more willing than his male counterparts to be intimately involved in the female community. I then examine another gender issue of late antique Christianity, namely, the role of eunuchs, especially those who voluntarily castrate themselves. Here I argue that Shenoute was unable to tolerate the presence of these individuals because their sexual ambiguity called into question the essentialism of gender in the construction of the self, as well as the gendered foundations of the monastery.

Keywords: Augustine; castrate; desert mothers; essentialism; eunuchs; gender; Pachomius; Palestine; self; virgins

Chapter.  7375 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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