Corbel from Sainte-Croix in Poitiers © Martin M. Miles
Corbel from Sainte-Croix in Poitiers © Martin M. Miles

Superior Women: Medieval Female Authority in Poitiers’ Abbey of Sainte-Croix 

Sainte-Croix was established by Radegund in the 6th century. For nearly a thousand years, the Abbey was home to superior women

Superior Women: Medieval Female Authority in Poitiers’ Abbey of Sainte-Croix 
by Jennifer C. Edwards
Oxford University Press 2019

Superior Women examines the claims of abbesses of the abbey of Sainte-Croix in medieval Poitiers to authority from the abbey’s foundation to its 1520 reform. These women claimed to hold authority over their own community, over dependent chapters of male canons, and over extensive properties in Poitou; male officials such as the king of France and the pope repeatedly supported these claims. To secure this support, the abbesses relied on two strategies that the abbey’s founder, the sixth-century Saint Radegund, established: they documented support from a network of allies made up of powerful secular and ecclesiastical officials, and they used artefacts left from Radegund’s life to shape her cult and win new patrons and allies. Abbesses across the 900 years of this study routinely turned to these strategies successfully when faced with conflict from dependents, or more local officials such as the bishop of Poitiers. Sainte-Croix’s nuns proved adept at tailoring these strategies to shifting historical contexts, turning from Frankish bishops to the kings of Frankia, then to the Pope and finally to the King of France as former allies became unavailable to them. The book demonstrates respectful cooperation between men and monastic women, and more extensive respect for female monastic authority than scholars typically recognize. Chapters focus on the cult’s manuscripts, church decoration, procession, jurisdictions between cult institutions, reform, and rebellion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jennifer C. Edwards is an historian of women, gender, and religion in medieval Europe. She is Associate Professor and Chair of History at Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY, where she teaches courses in ancient and medieval history. She is associate editor of the Medieval Feminist Forum and serves on the Advisory Board of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. She holds a BA in Classics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an MA and PhD in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.