Communities of Care: Women, Healing, and Prayer in the Late Medieval Lowlands


ACLS Fellowship Program




Cistercian nuns and beguines in the rapidly-industrializing cities and towns of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Flanders, Brabant, and northern France provided a vast range of recognized healthcare services. They acted as nurses to the sick, custodians to the dying, midwives, caretakers of the leprous, and managers of hospices who provided food, shelter, medicine, healing prayers, and other comforts to the suffering. Their activities and, moreover, their body knowledge, have long been obscured due to historical trajectories that code them as religious or unauthoritative. Thus, the vestiges of their healthcare knowledge and practice are recoverable not in coherent medical treatises, but in fragments of liturgy, land transactions, recipes, sacred objects, and the everyday behaviors that constituted their world. “Communities of Care” gathers these fragments to reveal the distinctly feminine therapeutic epistemology that motivated their practices as well as the social circumstances that once allowed religious women’s knowledge production to flourish.