Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Two Abbesses, Two Synods

 From Casting Light Upon the Shadow:

Perhaps it should first be explained that there was nothing unusual about there being men and women at Coldingham as it was one of a number of ‘Double Houses’. Contact between the two sexes in the double monasteries probably varied widely. We know, for example, that the two houses at Wimborne in Dorset were separated by high walls, while at Coldingham, it seems, conditions were relaxed to the point where it created scandal. Evidence suggests that at Whitby, there was a ‘bigger minster’ with other buildings and outlying areas which might equate to the later granges. It is probable that in fact the earlier princess-abbesses all ruled double houses, rather than all-female communities.

And princess-abbesses is almost exclusively what they were. Abbesses were royal, they were powerful, and they were influential. Two in particular attended major synods and influenced policy. They were related, too, and were members of the ruling house of Northumbria.

One of the most famous, and indeed one of the earliest, of those abbesses was Hild. Whitby was her monastery, and it was into her care that the infant Ælfflæd, daughter of King Oswiu and his wife, Eanflæd, was given when she was promised to the Church after a major battle in which her father was victorious. (Read more.)


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