Medieval Life for Religious Women!

Emma Sharber, Period 6

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For my flyer, I've chosen The Prioress, otherwise known as the nun. Not only is she a woman who has chosen to affiliate herself with the church (to varying degrees of success), she is also a woman living in the 1400's. While the shared experiences between men and women of Medieval times were few and far between, the experiences between women of different social classes also differed greatly. For example, the life of a peasant woman would very well be different from that of a queen, just like the life of the rich and poor would be very different today.

For these reasons it is important to note that The Prioress's experiences as a "nun" are the not the same as the Wife of Bath's experiences, which I will elaborate on below.

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Nuns of the 1400's

In the medieval times, nuns took vows to let go of their possessions and follow a holier path. They typically took three vows: The Vow of Poverty, The Vow of Chastity, and The Vow of Obedience. It was these three vows that would ensure the nuns committed to a holy life which they would dedicate to worship. In the middle ages most women were uneducated and becoming a nun was a means of learning to read or write. There were many reasons one became a nun, and many terms illustrating them. For example, an oblate is the term used for a young girl given to a nunnery by her parents with intentions that she be raised as a nun. Typically, the parents would also give a dowry to the church.

To be a nun in medieval times was to be the epitome of a woman, as the daily life of a nun typically entailed cooking, cleaning, providing medical care, and much, much more. Most nuns were given hard manual labor, however, nuns that came from richer families would usually get a lighter workload due to their wealthy background.

In this time, money still fueled corruption in the church, something Chaucer often comments on in The Canterbury Tales.

Medieval Europe: Religion In Medieval Europe

The Prioress's Mistakes

Keeping in mind how nuns were in the 1400's, it becomes suddenly clear that The Prioress does not exemplify the traits of an honorable nun.

For starters, she is described by Chaucer as being very glamorous. She wears jewelry such as, "A string of beads and gauded all with green; And therefrom hung a brooch of golden sheen" and her mouth is described as being "small and therewith soft and red." Chaucer does not say this to mean that her lips are naturally red, but more that she wears lipstick.

What kind of nun now would wear lipstick and non-religious jewelry, let alone one in the 1400's? Chaucer uses these signs as a dead giveaway that the Prioress is not who she seems. While she has impeccable manners and treats everyone around her kindly, it's implied to largely be a facade to maintain her identity as a nun.

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