Devoted Holiness in the Lay World

Anneke Mulder-Bakker

in The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe

Published in print August 2013 | ISBN: 9780199582174
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191749919 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Devoted Holiness in the Lay World

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Gender and Sexuality


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The growing cities of late medieval northern Europe offered religiously gifted laypeople contexts in which to devote themselves fully to religion without having to leave the world or to take vows. Countless women, and a few men, lived as lay recluses and anchorites, secluded in the midst of cities; others pursued holiness in the private households of beguines, adherents of the Modern Devotion, or ascetic widows. These holy women and men were the innovative pioneers of a new lay spirituality. By studying about twenty spiritual biographies written by or about holy laywomen, this essay seeks to determine their involvement in religious culture and in the shared spirituality of the holy women (mulieres religiosae) and the faithful at large. It focuses on ascetic, devotional households; personal networks and confraternities; women's intellectual work; and the claiming, by some women, of religious authority.

Keywords: female authority; confraternity; ascetic household; lay religion; laywomen's intellectual power; female leadership; networks; spiritual biography; holy widows; holy women

Article.  8293 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Gender and Sexuality

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