Christianity in medieval Europe was characterized by an ambivalent attitude toward women: the image of Eve as the source of original sin was juxtaposed with the central role of the Virgin Mary in the salvation of mankind. This theological ambivalence regarding women extended to other realms, from politics to medicine to social status, as women found both opportunities for power and influence as well as limitations placed on their independent action. This seminar will explore the lives of women in the European Middle Ages (ca. 500-1500 CE). Participants will touch briefly on the religious and medical texts that informed medieval views of women and then explore in more depth several sources that illuminate the experiences of particular women. Participants will focus on ordinary (non-aristocratic) women, but also discuss the challenges involved in reconstructing their experiences due to scarce or problematic evidence.
Seminar led by Anna Trumbore Jones, Lake Forest College