Special Issue "Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 May 2021).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Archaeology, University of Iceland, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
Interests: medieval monasticism; medieval Church history; Christianity; gender archaeology; feminism

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues, 

While the Christian monastic tradition and its development on the mainland of Europe has been extensively studied by scholars, medieval monasticism in Northern Europe has gained considerably less attention. However, interest in the topic has grown steadily, as can be observed from the multidisciplinary research that has taken place during the last decades. Therefore, this Special Issue intends to bring together scholars who have recently investigated the monastic houses operating during the Middle Ages in Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, and Finland, and certain areas of the British Isles. 

The growing interest in studying medieval monasticism in the North can partly be explained by the current multidisciplinary approaches in academic research, as well as the emergence of studies on material culture and its entwinement with archival material during the last decades of the twentieth century. It may also be further explained by an increased awareness of how North-European historiography—including medieval monastic studies—has been shaped by Catholic and Protestant views since the nineteenth century, albeit in combination with longstanding nationalistic political perspectives. Consequently, depending on current religious and political environments, the medieval monastic tradition has for example either been interpreted as being of the utmost significant value or, as has been the case in Northern Europe, marginalized if not outright rejected. Moreover, the monastic houses have traditionally been approached as separate niches of the Christian societies of Northern Europe, and thus not acknowledged as interactive parts of people’s everyday lives, regardless of their wide-ranging operations and agency in their surrounding society. In addition, there has particularly been a tendency to observe female nunneries as diminutive replicas of the male monasteries, notwithstanding the fact that the nuns actively yielded diverse charitable works in areas such as healthcare and even vocational and theoretical education to the public, despite living under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as much as the monks. 

Hundreds of monastic houses are known from the Middle Ages on the British Isles. The number is much higher than in other societies of Northern Europe, probably because of a much longer tradition of Christianity there than in Scandinavia and the societies by the Atlantic Ocean. Still, around 240 Christian monastic houses from 15 different religious orders were run in Denmark (including Northern Germany) Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland from AD 1100 until the mid-sixteenth century. Some operated continuously for more than four centuries, while others vanished after a relatively short period of operation. Monasticism endured throughout the Middle ages, influencing the politics and culture of Northern European societies, including people´s everyday life, through religious and lay interaction. These societies functioned symbiotically with monasticism, affecting and modifying one another in important and mutual ways. After the Reformation in 1536, when all the monastic houses were closed, Catholicism was forbidden in most North-European societies and remained banned until the late nineteenth century when freedom of religion was legally established in those regions again. As mentioned earlier, research on medieval monasticism in Northern Europe appears to have been heavily influenced by the current political debates, and there is a growing feeling amongst scholars that medieval Catholicism has been subjected to much bias. Therefore, the topic needs to be revisited, not least due to the growing multinational and religious tolerance apparent in present academic studies of humanities. 

This Special Issue intends to bring together scholars from different fields of medieval studies, with the goal of portraying current approaches in studies on monastic houses operating in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages. By highlighting North-European medieval monasticism specifically, the Issue aims to place it in a broader geographical and cultural context as being one of the active agents that formed the Christian worldview of the Middle Ages. The overall ambition of this Special Issue is simultaneously to emphasize and introduce novel approaches to the reciprocal formation of the pan-European monasticism through its shifting localities and temporality. 

Please

(1) outline the overall a. focus, b. scope and c. purpose of the special issue;

The focus of the Issue will be on the expansion of papal power to Northern Europe and the contextual movement of monasticism thereto during the Middle Ages. The contributions will be multidisciplinary, but the center of attention will be monasticism in this northernmost province of the medieval Christian Era. The purpose is to emphasize the reciprocal influences monasticism had on all spheres of the European societies, in the northernmost ones as much as further south on mainland Europe. The aim is furthermore to depict how concurrent political and religious movements have shaped approaches to the studies on the topic since the nineteenth century. 

(2) suggest how the issue will usefully supplement (relate to) existing literature.

As based on the current re-examination of monasticism, this Issue is intended to be a broadly revised supplement to the existing literature on medieval monasticism operating on the fringes of the medieval Church: Northern Europe during the Middle Ages.

Dr. Steinunn Kristjánsdóttir
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

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Keywords

  • Northern Europe
  • medieval monasticism
  • Middle Ages
  • historiography of monasticism
  • culture of writing
  • theoretical and vocational education
  • cult of saints
  • liturgical music
  • monastic gardening
  • textile production

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Research

Article
Monasticism in the British Isles: A Comparative Overview
Religions 2021, 12(9), 767; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12090767 - 15 Sep 2021
Viewed by 781
Abstract
The medieval British Isles were marked by a lively monastic presence throughout the entire period. Groups of monks, nuns, regular canons and canonesses, and friars established communities even in the furthermost reaches of the territory, and by doing so they came to play [...] Read more.
The medieval British Isles were marked by a lively monastic presence throughout the entire period. Groups of monks, nuns, regular canons and canonesses, and friars established communities even in the furthermost reaches of the territory, and by doing so they came to play an important part in the life, culture, economy, and politics of the region. This paper will provide an overview of the arrival and spread of the different religious orders in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, and by doing so, it will provide some comparative study of the different parts of the British Isles and examine how and when the spread and settlement of the various religious groups manifested itself across the islands, and what their impact was upon their localities and the society around them. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
Article
Cistercian Monasteries in Medieval Sweden—Foundations and Recruitments, 1143–1420
Religions 2021, 12(8), 582; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080582 - 28 Jul 2021
Viewed by 617
Abstract
This article presents an overview of the Cistercian monasteries that were founded in Sweden in the 12th and 13th centuries. The first were Alvastra and Nydala, founded in 1143, both male monasteries. However, eventually the nunneries came to outnumber the male monasteries (7/5). [...] Read more.
This article presents an overview of the Cistercian monasteries that were founded in Sweden in the 12th and 13th centuries. The first were Alvastra and Nydala, founded in 1143, both male monasteries. However, eventually the nunneries came to outnumber the male monasteries (7/5). The purpose of the article is also to discuss the social background of the monks and nuns who inhabited these monasteries. As for the nuns, previous studies have shown that they initially came from the society’s elite, the royal families, but also other magnates. Gradually, social recruitment broadened, and an increasing number of women from the aristocratic lower levels came to dominate the recruitment. It is also suggested that from the end of the 14th century, the women increasingly came from the burghers. The male monasteries, on the other hand, were not even from the beginning populated by men from the nobles. Their family backgrounds seem rather to be linked to the aristocratic lower layers. This difference between the sexes can most probably be explained by the fact that ideals of monastic life—obedience, equality, poverty and ban on weapons—in a decisive way broke with what in secular life was constructed as an aristocratic masculinity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
Article
The Making of Nordic Monasticism, c. 1076–c. 1350
Religions 2021, 12(8), 581; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12080581 - 28 Jul 2021
Viewed by 672
Abstract
The introduction of regular religious life in the Nordic region is less well-documented than in the neighbouring kingdoms of northern Europe. In the absence of well-preserved manuscript and material remains, unfounded and sometimes distorting suppositions have been made about the timeline of monastic [...] Read more.
The introduction of regular religious life in the Nordic region is less well-documented than in the neighbouring kingdoms of northern Europe. In the absence of well-preserved manuscript and material remains, unfounded and sometimes distorting suppositions have been made about the timeline of monastic settlement and the character of the conventual life it brought. Recent archival and archaeological research can offer fresh insights into these questions. The arrival of authentic regular life may have been as early as the second quarter of the eleventh century in Denmark and Iceland, but there was no secure or stable community in any part of Scandinavia until the turn of the next century. A settled monastic network arose from a compact between the leadership of the secular church and the ruling elite, a partnership motivated as much by the shared pursuit of political, social and economic power as by any personal piety. Yet, the force of this patronal programme did not inhibit the development of monastic cultures reflected in books, original writings, church and conventual buildings, which bear comparison with the European mainstream. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
Article
The Historiography of Medieval Monasticism: Perspectives from Northern Europe
Religions 2021, 12(7), 552; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070552 - 20 Jul 2021
Viewed by 935
Abstract
The article provides a thematized discussion of the development of the historiography of European monasticism in northern Europe (north Atlantic, North Sea to the Baltic). Whilst it does not offer a comprehensive overview of the field, it discusses the significance of major currents [...] Read more.
The article provides a thematized discussion of the development of the historiography of European monasticism in northern Europe (north Atlantic, North Sea to the Baltic). Whilst it does not offer a comprehensive overview of the field, it discusses the significance of major currents and models for the development of monastic history to the present day. From focusing on the heritage of history writing “from within”—produced by the members of religious communities in past and modern contexts—it examines key features of the historiography of the history of orders and monastic history paradigms in the context of national and confessional frameworks. The final section of the article provides an overview of the processes or musealization of monastic heritage and the significance of monastic material culture in historical interpretations, both academic and popular. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
Article
A Brief History of Medieval Monasticism in Denmark (with Schleswig, Rügen and Estonia)
Religions 2021, 12(7), 469; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070469 - 25 Jun 2021
Viewed by 707
Abstract
Monasticism was introduced to Denmark in the 11th century. Throughout the following five centuries, around 140 monastic houses (depending on how to count them) were established within the Kingdom of Denmark, the Duchy of Schleswig, the Principality of Rügen and the Duchy of [...] Read more.
Monasticism was introduced to Denmark in the 11th century. Throughout the following five centuries, around 140 monastic houses (depending on how to count them) were established within the Kingdom of Denmark, the Duchy of Schleswig, the Principality of Rügen and the Duchy of Estonia. These houses represented twelve different monastic orders. While some houses were only short lived and others abandoned more or less voluntarily after some generations, the bulk of monastic institutions within Denmark and its related provinces was dissolved as part of the Lutheran Reformation from 1525 to 1537. This chapter provides an introduction to medieval monasticism in Denmark, Schleswig, Rügen and Estonia through presentations of each of the involved orders and their history within the Danish realm. In addition, two subchapters focus on the early introduction of monasticism to the region as well as on the dissolution at the time of the Reformation. Along with the historical presentations themselves, the main and most recent scholarly works on the individual orders and matters are listed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
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Article
Something Distinct, or Business as Usual? Interpreting the Plan of the Late Medieval Bridgettine Monastery in Naantali, Finland
Religions 2021, 12(6), 432; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12060432 - 10 Jun 2021
Viewed by 1087
Abstract
This article analyses modern interpretations of the medieval plan of the Bridgettine Monastery of Naantali, Finland. Instead of seeing the distinct spatial organisation as deviation from the Bridgettine norm, we consider it as an expression of a medieval process, by which monastic principles [...] Read more.
This article analyses modern interpretations of the medieval plan of the Bridgettine Monastery of Naantali, Finland. Instead of seeing the distinct spatial organisation as deviation from the Bridgettine norm, we consider it as an expression of a medieval process, by which monastic principles were re-conceptualised in order to be realised in material form. This perspective builds on the shift in thinking that has taken place in the study of medieval urban planning. Instead of being ‘organic’, meaning disorganised, medieval urban development has come to be considered as intentional, guided by general principles, although not in a manner that is always obvious to the modern mind. We concur that models such as St Bridget’s visions and the plan of Vadstena Abbey are important tools for reconstructing medieval monastic plans. Meanwhile, we propose that such models can also add latent and counterproductive baggage to this field of study by encouraging modern expectations of regularity within monastic architecture. If the designs of monasteries do not follow such models perfectly, discrepancies are often erroneously misconceived as indications of the builders’ insufficient skills and knowledge. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
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Article
Religious Images and Iconoclasm in Reformation Iceland
Religions 2021, 12(6), 428; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12060428 - 09 Jun 2021
Viewed by 778
Abstract
This work assesses what happened to liturgical objects from Icelandic churches and monastic houses during and after the Lutheran Reformation, through an examination of written sources, such as inventories and Visitation books, and material evidence in museum collections and from archaeological excavations. The [...] Read more.
This work assesses what happened to liturgical objects from Icelandic churches and monastic houses during and after the Lutheran Reformation, through an examination of written sources, such as inventories and Visitation books, and material evidence in museum collections and from archaeological excavations. The aim of this work is first, to assess the extent and nature of iconoclasm in Iceland and secondly to re-examine traditional narratives of the Icelandic Reformation in the light of material culture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
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Article
Þingeyrar Abbey in Northern Iceland: A Benedictine Powerhouse of Cultural Heritage
Religions 2021, 12(6), 423; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12060423 - 08 Jun 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1018
Abstract
Þingeyrar Abbey was founded in 1133 and dissolved in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation (1550), to virtually disappear with time from the face of the earth. Although highly promising archeological excavations are under way, our material points of access to this important [...] Read more.
Þingeyrar Abbey was founded in 1133 and dissolved in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation (1550), to virtually disappear with time from the face of the earth. Although highly promising archeological excavations are under way, our material points of access to this important monastic foundation are still only a handful of medieval artifacts. However, throughout its medieval existence Þingeyrar Abbey was an inordinately large producer of Latin and Icelandic literature. We have the names of monastic authors, poets, translators, compilators, and scribes, who engaged creatively with such diverse subjects as Christian hagiography, contemporary history, and Norse mythology, skillfully amalgamating all of this into a coherent, imaginative whole. Thus, Þingeyrar Abbey has a prominent place in the creation and preservation of the Icelandic Eddas and Sagas that have shaped the Northern European cultural memory. Despite the dissolution of monastic libraries and wholesale destruction of Icelandic-Latin manuscripts through a mixture of Protestant zealotry and parchment reuse, philologists have been able to trace a number of surviving codices and fragments back to Þingeyrar Abbey. Ultimately, however, our primary points of access to the fascinating world of this remote Benedictine community remain immaterial, a vast corpus of medieval texts edited on the basis of manuscript copies at unknown degrees of separation from the lost originals. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
Article
Monastic Musical Fragments from Iceland
Religions 2021, 12(6), 416; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12060416 - 07 Jun 2021
Viewed by 777
Abstract
Little has survived from medieval liturgical books in the Nordic countries other than fragments. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to state their exact provenance, but the contents sometimes indicate that they once belonged to a monastic institution. The article presents some [...] Read more.
Little has survived from medieval liturgical books in the Nordic countries other than fragments. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to state their exact provenance, but the contents sometimes indicate that they once belonged to a monastic institution. The article presents some of these sources, focusing on two fragments with music for the celebration of St Olav from Iceland and Sweden which show how an already established sequence of songs was adapted to fit the liturgical needs of a monastic community. In addition, it briefly presents two other Icelandic sources that follow monastic use and can shed more light on musical traditions in the Icelandic monasteries in the Middle Ages. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
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Article
Medieval Monasticism in Iceland and Norse Greenland
Religions 2021, 12(6), 374; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12060374 - 21 May 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 985
Abstract
The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the monastic houses operated on the northernmost periphery of Roman Catholic Europe during the Middle Ages. The intention is to debunk the long-held theory of Iceland and Norse Greenland’s supposed isolation from [...] Read more.
The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the monastic houses operated on the northernmost periphery of Roman Catholic Europe during the Middle Ages. The intention is to debunk the long-held theory of Iceland and Norse Greenland’s supposed isolation from the rest of the world, as it is clear that medieval monasticism reached both of these societies, just as it reached their counterparts elsewhere in the North Atlantic. During the Middle Ages, fourteen monastic houses were opened in Iceland and two in Norse Greenland, all following the Benedictine or Augustinian Orders. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
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Article
Medieval Monastery Gardens in Iceland and Norway
Religions 2021, 12(5), 317; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050317 - 29 Apr 2021
Viewed by 920
Abstract
Gardening was an important part of the daily duties within several of the religious orders in Europe during the Middle Ages. The rule of Saint Benedict specified that the monastery should, if possible, contain a garden within itself, and before and above all [...] Read more.
Gardening was an important part of the daily duties within several of the religious orders in Europe during the Middle Ages. The rule of Saint Benedict specified that the monastery should, if possible, contain a garden within itself, and before and above all things, special care should be taken of the sick, so that they may be served in very deed, as Christ himself. The cultivation of medicinal and utility plants was important to meet the material needs of the monastic institutions, but no physical garden has yet been found and excavated in either Scandinavia or Iceland. The Cistercians were particularly well known for being pioneer gardeners, but other orders like the Benedictines and Augustinians also practised gardening. The monasteries and nunneries operating in Iceland during medieval times are assumed to have belonged to either the Augustinian or the Benedictine orders. In Norway, some of the orders were the Dominicans, Fransiscans, Premonstratensians and Knights Hospitallers. Based on botanical investigations at all the Icelandic and Norwegian monastery sites, it is concluded that many of the plants found may have a medieval past as medicinal and utility plants and, with all the evidence combined, they were most probably cultivated in monastery gardens. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Medieval Monasticism in Northern Europe)
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