28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008
Anne E. Lester, Suffering at Home to Recall Jerusalem: Gender, Cistercian Convents, and Crusader Families in Thirteenth-Century Champagne
Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the aristocracy of the County of Champagne contributed a remarkable contingent of knights to the French crusade effort. In turn their familial and religious networks provide an important context for the study of gender, memory and the crusade movement. Although we now know a great deal about the preparations for crusade, the rituals of war, and the effects of crusading as it involved men within crusader families, scholars are only beginning to consider the role of women in this endeavor, and in particular how women who did not travel to the east took part in the crusade movement and the construction of its meaning and memory at home in France. Recent work has show that women were encouraged to promote the crusade effort by praying for the success of each campaign; taking a crusade vow, which they could commute into needed monetary payments; and encouraging their male relatives to take up arms and travel abroad. Yet within Champagne, in addition to these actions, many female relatives of crusaders supported or entered Cistercian nunneries. Many of these female houses were founded between 1200 and 1240 by male crusaders from Champagne either just before they departed for, or when they returned from, the east. The convergence of these two religious movements was not coincidental.This paper explores the relationship between the Cistercian order, the crusade movement, and the role of gender in light of the new emphasis on penitential piety and suffering prevalent during the thirteenth century. I argue that the female family members of male crusaders took up the Cistercian way of life as a means of participating in the experience of suffering that had come to be associated with the act of crusading by the thirteenth century. Many of the Cistercian nunneries in Champagne had ties to hospitals and leper houses or began as penitential communities of repentant women. Taking part in the process of immiseration that Cistercian female spirituality promoted allowed women to imagine – in very physical ways – the suffering of male crusaders. The experience of suffering through caring for the poor in Christ at home augmented the process of remembering crusaders and allowed women to empathize with an image of the male crusader suffering in the east. This process was further heightened during the thirteenth century as the Cistercian order expanded their liturgy to include specific rounds of prayers for success in the east and in southern France, for Jerusalem, and for the well-being of crusaders. Moreover, many of the nunneries founded by crusader families in Champagne came to function as family necropoli, further sharpening the connections between crusaders, memory, and suffering as experienced in female Cistercian houses.
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