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

Jennifer C. Edwards

Jennifer C. Edwards, Superior Women : Medieval Female Authority in Poitiers’ Abbey of Sainte-Croix, Oxford University Press, 2019, ISBN : 9780198837923

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.

Table of Contents :
1. Establishing Authority in Poitiers : Radegund and the Foundation of Sainte-Croix
2. Early Tests of Radegund’s Strategies
3. Illuminating the Saint
4. Disputing Privileges
5. The Miracles and Decoration of Sainte-Radegonde
6. Processions and Privileges
7. Contested Elections and Reform