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Charitable Communities: Beguines and Charity in Later Medieval Douai, 1218-1360

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Title: Charitable Communities: Beguines and Charity in Later Medieval Douai, 1218-1360
Author: Gonzales, Mary Anne
Department: Department of History
Program: History
Advisor: Goddard, Peter
Abstract: Beguines were devout laywomen who adhered to aspects of the apostolic life; they practiced chastity and simplicity within the secular world and supported themselves through manual labour. But above all, they dedicated themselves to charitable works, which involved caring for the poor, elderly, sick, and dying in their communities. Although charity was at the core of the beguine way of life, it has not been at the centre of historical analysis in most studies of the women’s lived religious experiences. Thus, this dissertation examines the women’s relationship to charity and its meaning in their experiences as urban laywomen. The lives of the beguines in the town of Douai, which sustained eighteen beguine communities from 1218 to 1360, reveal that active charity was a form of manual labour that held religious significance to the women. It intersected with key aspects of the women's urban experiences, including their participation in commercial industry, poverty, emotional life, social interactions, and mobility. A common thread across these themes is the significance of theological, social, and spiritual meanings of charity that informed women’s charity work as lay penitents. Using a combination of prescriptive a female penitents to Douaisiens and the penitential life to women called beguines in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Douai. It argues that the concept of charity and caregiving infused the daily experiences and traditional gender roles of women with spiritual significance. A key approach in this study is emphasizing where secular and spiritual life converged in the women's acts of charity. Consequently, this dissertation promotes a view of Douai's urban life and the experiences of beguines there from "below" than from the "top". In doing so, it places the women, their experiences, and interactions with their urban community at the forefront of the analyses provided here.
Date: 2021-05-11
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Embargoed Until: 2022-12-07

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