The Role of the Female Elder in Shenoute's White Monastery<sup>1</sup>

Gawdat Gabra and Hany N. Takla

in Christianity and Monasticism in Upper Egypt

Published by American University in Cairo Press

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9789774161223
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9781617970450 | DOI:
The Role of the Female Elder in Shenoute's White Monastery1

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The White Monastery in the 4th and 5th centuries consisted of different communities, or congregations. They were separated physically but united under one set of monastic rules and one main monastic leader, at least during the tenure of its third head, Shenoute. One of these communities was female and was located in a neighboring village. Shenoute appears to have had at times a contentious and tense relationship with at least some, if not most, of the women who lived in this monastic system. This chapter examines some of the duties and obligations of the female elder as laid out in the rules that Shenoute both inherited from previous leaders of the monastery and adapted and expanded during his own leadership. It gives particular attention to those rules that regulated interaction between the female elder and the male community in order to compare the role of the female elder and the male elder, that is, the man who served as a “second in command” to Shenoute in the male community of the monastery. It is argued that the tensions and contradictions in the female elder's position in the White Monastery's hierarchy illustrate how gender paradoxically contributed to both egalitarianism and inequality in Shenoute's monasticism.

Keywords: Shenoute; monasticism; monastic life; female elders; White Monastery; gender; egalitarianism; inequality

Chapter.  5849 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Christianity

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