Medieval Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household
25th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday March 12-Sunday March 13, 2005
Domesticity in Krakow: Daily Activity and Spiritual Life in a Medieval Carmelite Priory

James Boyce, O. Carm., Fordham University

The Carmelites came to Krakow in 1397 at the invitation of Queen Jadwiga and her husband King Wladislaw II Jagiello and were established there by a papal bull of Pope Boniface IX, who authorized the construction of their church, priory, bell-tower and cemetery. Their convent was situated on a site made famous by a miraculous healing of a nobleman by the Virgin Mary some years earlier, and the Carmelites were more than willing to foster this local devotion to Our Lady on the Sands (“na Piasku” in Polish), named for the marshy terrain of the locale. This devotion provided the locus for considerable economic interaction with the local townspeople and also gave the Carmelites a particular identity within the social and economic structures of Krakow.

As a mendicant community the Carmelites interacted with their neighbors to buy the food for their table which, by the fourteenth century, included meat for the consumption on four days of the week, as well as numerous household items, although their own garden probably supplied much of their ordinary eating needs. The tanners, parchmenters and butchers of the area provided for their material welfare while the devotional life of the Carmelite church satisfied the spiritual needs of the people.

As a domestic unit, the lay brothers had the responsibility for the ordinary household chores while the priests busied themselves with study, preaching, hearing confessions and running the shrine church. As a physical home this was the convent where men entered at an early age, received their initial formation, spent several hours each day in liturgical prayer, worked inside or outside the house and eventually died and were buried. My paper will explore the Krakow convent as a domestic and economic center where, according to the mendicant tradition, the spiritual and material dimensions of religious life interacted with the social and religious activity of the townsfolk in an important city of medieval central Europe.

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