The aim of this paper is to explore the life and works of four women leaders in early medieval Christianity who played a central role in fostering faith and learning: Radegund (d.587) in France, Hilda (d.680) in England, and Leoba (d.780) and Hrotsvit ...
The aim of this paper is to explore the life and works of four women leaders in early medieval Christianity who played a central role in fostering faith and learning: Radegund (d.587) in France, Hilda (d.680) in England, and Leoba (d.780) and Hrotsvit (d.973) in Germany. The criteria for selecting these four examples are as follows: first, those who greatly contributed to the formation and expansion of early medieval Christianity; second, those who knew the importance of religious life of individuals and groups; third, those who showed feminine characteristics in their activities and writings. Primarily based upon their own writings, I attempted critically to analyze their works, literary features and skills, and their place within Christian history and thought.
Radegund played a foundational role in the Christian communities taking root in a France beset by chaos in the seventh century. Radegund, wife of King Clothar and abbess of Poitiers, formed a safe and comfortable religious community of women protected from the impending violence and barbarity. Her enduring works made it possible for Christianity eventually set its foundations in French territory, and she also established a bridgehead through which Christianity could spread to the northern Europe. Hilda, abbess of the monastery of Whitby in Northumbria, played a decisive role in adopting Roman Christianity during the turbulent conflicts in Britain between Celtic and Roman Christianity. Her double monastery in Whitby was a good model for how Christians and pagans should live together to many Christians around the world. Leoba, beloved partner of Bonifacius in shaping the early stage of German Christianity, connected England and European Christianity in her work as a missionary. The Vita of Leoba not only shows the daily life of British convents but also the difficult circumstances of the mission field in Germany. As a nun and writer, Hrotsvit raised the level of the female religious for early medieval Christian women. Strongly supported by the Ottonian empire, she left many important writings on saintly legends, plays, and histories.
From this analysis, we can presume that not a few women Christian leaders played important roles in shaping early medieval Christianity. First, women did not keep silent behind the monastic walls as passive witness to Christianity. Their small but strong voices spread over their tiny cells and became clamor validus which rang through European society and Christianity. Second, we can find their works and presence not only in the activities of their daily lives, including administrative and economic work of their community, but also in crucial missionary works and religious occasions. Hilda’s superb administrative works, for instance, drew the attention of her abbot. Even if women leadership in a double monastery was usually limited, their active involvement in managing monastery affairs and handling worldly duties show their important roles. Third, the writings of some women leaders were oftentimes no less important than that of male leaders.
Going beyond the level of collaborator or partner to men, women Christian leaders were essential partners during the formation period of early medieval Christianity. As Adam and Eve cultivated Paradise in Genesis, the collaboration and partnership of men and women led to the shaping of early medieval Christendom. Christian history and tradition are the shared heritage of many Christians including men and women. In this sense, it is very important to evaluate correctly and recognize the works and contributions of women Christian leaders. Only at that point will the mari-stella in Hrotsvit’s Abraham shine brightly in the skies and make known the meaning of her renowned name.