Bitel (Lisa M.)

  • s. xx–xxi
  • (agents)
Bitel, Lisa M., “Monastic identity in early medieval Ireland”, in: Alison I. Beach, and Isabelle Cochelin (eds), Cambridge history of medieval monasticism in the Latin west, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. 297–316.  
Despite the common association of monasteries with intercession in the early Middle Ages, the religious, cultural, and social practice of prayer extended beyond the narrow ascetic–monastic sphere. In keeping with both Old Testament and early Christian traditions, prayer was understood as an expression of brotherly love that was the duty of all Christians, and not as the exclusive obligation of a few ascetic specialists. Even when prayer served the primary function of worship, the idea of intercession was at least implied—a functional complementarity reflected in the so-called double command of love: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:30–31). By late antiquity, the charitable dimension of prayer was integral both to ecclesiology and to the development of Christian social concepts. Prayer ensured the connection of the people to God and guaranteed the functional unity of the ecclesia, defined in particular as a communitas sanctorum, a community forged between the living and the dead, with a special emphasis on the saints.
Bitel, Lisa M., Landscape with two saints: how Saint Genovefa of Paris and Saint Brigit of Kildare built Christianity in barbarian Europe, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Bitel, Lisa M., “Tools and scripts for cursing in medieval Ireland”, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 51–52 (2006–2007): 5–27.
Bitel, Lisa M., “Tools and scripts for cursing in early and medieval Ireland”, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 51–52 (2006–2007): 5–27.
Bitel, Lisa M., “Tools and scripts for cursing in medieval Ireland”, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 51–52 (2006–2007): 5–27.
Bitel, Lisa M., Land of women: tales of sex and gender from early Ireland, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.
Bitel, Lisa M., “‘Do not marry the fat short one’: the early Irish wisdom on women”, Journal of Women's History 6.4/7.1 (Winter/Spring, 1995): 137–159.
Bitel, Lisa M., Isle of the saints: monastic settlement and Christian community in early Ireland, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.
Bitel, Lisa M., “Women's monastic enclosures in early Ireland: a study of female spirituality and male monastic mentalities”, Journal of Medieval History 12:1 (1986): 15–36.  
Early Irish communities of religious women have never been adequately studied. However, Irish hagiography, unique among medieval saints' lives because of the incidental details it offers, provides much evidence about nuns and nunneries. Because the Irish saints' lives were written by monks, this information also reveals the monastic attitude towards nuns. Hagiography shows that many nunneries were established before the seventh century. But these communities began to disappear soon after, so that today only the location of a dozen or so are known to historians. Women's religious communities disappeared for a combination of reasons, political, social, economic, and spiritual. Secular society was hostile towards these communities from the start because they consumed a resource considered precious by men: unmarried women. Male ecclesiastics held an ambiguous attitude towards nuns and nunneries. They believed that women could attain salvation as well as themselves. Yet the entire church hierarchy of Ireland was dominated by supposedly celibate men, whose sacral functions and ritual celibacy were threatened by women, especially women's sexuality. Hagiography expressed this threat with the theme of sinful, lustful nuns; even the spirituality of women vowed to chastity and poverty was suspect. This attitude affected the structure, organization, and eventually the survival of women's monastic enclosures in early Ireland.


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Dennis Groenewegen
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March 2018, last updated: August 2021