Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fiona Griffiths (New York University)
“Enoc of Wales and the Fate of Nuns' Priests in the Central Middle Ages”

Friday October 4, 2013
7.30 p.m.

English Studies Conference Room of the Graduate Center, CUNY (room 4406)
A wine and cheese reception will follow the presentation and question time.

Enoc of Wales is not a well-known figure, even among medievalists. His story—reported briefly in a single source—has survived as a cautionary tale of misguided spiritual enthusiasm, priestly misconduct, and sexual scandal. According to Gerald of Wales, Enoc was a Welsh abbot, who briefly and disastrously set himself up as a priest and spiritual guide for nuns. “At length,” as Gerald reported, Enoc “succumbed to temptations and made many of the virgins in the convent pregnant… he ran around in a comical manner, throwing off the religious habit, and fled with one of the nuns.” Gerald’s account of Enoc’s brief career as a priest for nuns lends itself to several interpretations. It is, most obviously, an indication of Gerald’s skepticism concerning men’s spiritual involvement with women—a dire warning against foolhardy experiments like Enoc’s. However, his story also indicates that men were engaging women spiritually during the period. Indeed, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, monks and priests across Europe were increasingly turning their attention to the spiritual lives of women, founding experimental communities for women (and men) that were probably very much like Enoc’s, or variations on it. These men are crucially important to the history of female monasticism: they supported and facilitated female religious life in a period now often seen as its zenith. Yet they remain something of an enigma, both for medieval observers and for modern scholars: celibate men who engaged in regular and often spiritually intimate contact with celibate, and sometimes virginal, women. In this paper, I explore the figure of the nuns’ priest in both medieval accounts and modern historiography, showing how and why nuns’ priests became subjects of scandal, suspicion, and ridicule, and contrasting cautionary accounts like Gerald’s with evidence that nuns’ priests viewed their service to women as divinely ordained, blameless, and spiritually beneficial.

No comments: