No region is more famous for the diversity of religious options open to women than the Southern Low Countries during the later twelfth and thirteenth century. One of these options was a life as a nun in the Cistercian order, a monastic group that flourished since its beginnings c 1100. Although the other female religious groups from this period have received much scholarly attention, the Cistercian women remain little studied, despite their relevance for our understanding of female religious identity and the way medieval men interacted with religious women.
My research project puts these women at the forefront of research by studying the emergence of Cistercian nunneries between 1150 and 1275. I will examine the spiritual ideals that inspired these Cistercian communities for women and which social groups supported them. Furthermore, analysing the interplay between the religious options available to women highlights the unique nature of female Cistercian identity. I will also investigate if these nunneries originated as spontaneous gatherings of women aspiring a spiritual life, as they did in the Champagne region, and how they became incorporated into the order. In addition, scholars have pointed out the ambiguous attitude of men, both Cistercian monks and local bishops, towards these religious women. However, evidence from the Southern Low Countries testifies to a culture of support for spiritual women, which I will further explore in its concrete context.