chapter  3
20 Pages

3 NursingasaVocationoraProfession?Women’sStatusandthe Meaning of Healing in Early Modern France and England

BySusan Dinan

In the Middle Ages, European Christian women could marry or enter into religious life. Women from prosperous families who could afford convent dowries most frequently joined contemplative orders as choir, or veiled, nuns, and dedicated themselves to lives of prayer.1 Convents populated by women from elite families were devoted to contemplative prayer, but they also functioned within larger surrounding communities. Medieval convents managed land and money, handed out surplus food after meals, and some gave small sums of alms to the poor.2 They were integrated into their communities as providers of assistance, if only on a very limited level. Women from more modest families might join contemplative orders as lay sisters or servant nuns. Servant nuns paid a smaller dowry to join the community, did not take solemn vows, and worked in the convent doing domestic labor.3