Lisa M. Bitel, University of Southern California, and Katherine Gill, Hill Monastic Manuscript Library
Xavier University of Louisiana
This database site has a clear mission statement: “to document the participation of Christian women in the religion and society of medieval Europe . . . [and] to collect and make available all existing data about all professional Christian women in Europe between 400 and 1600 C.E.” Clearly organized, beautifully designed, and easy to use, the site groups data into six major components.
The first of these, “Monasticon”, is a growing collection of profiles of all women’s religious communities in medieval Europe. However, entries are not limited to official orders and houses. Monasticon also catalogs less formal female religious communities: Beguines, women associated with hospitals and hospices, and women in family oratories and lay religious groups. Each community receives a unique identification number and a profile describing location, status, dates of existence, historical background, size, order and rule, archival sources, and text sources. Currently, the Monasticon database offers detailed profiles for more than 1,200 out of 3,100 listings. Users can browse Monasticon by region, name, dedication (patron saint), or time period. One can also search the profile database by country, name of religious community, town, diocese, and religious order, among other categories.
“Cartularium” provides access to 45 actual primary source texts relevant to the Monasticon profiles. “Commentaria” complements Cartularium with an extensive offering of secondary texts and essays. All contributions are peer reviewed in order to guarantee the high scholarly quality of the site.
“Vitae” parallels Monasticon by providing biographical profiles of approximately 600 religious women. Many profiles are disappointingly short, such as that of the well-known Julian of Norwich. Others are missing altogether (a random search for Hildegard of Bingen turned up nothing). Hopefully, as the site continues to grow, biographical data will be provided more consistently along the lines of the rich profile of Hilda of Whitby. Biographies can be browsed by name, region, or community, and searched by several other categories, including family.
“Figurae” catalogs just under 300 images of architecture, sculpture, book illumination and other genres. Not all object profiles are accompanied by images, however. Photographic quality of these images is sometimes poor. Users can browse the profiles by title, image type, century, and community; a search engine including related categories is also available. Navigation is not always intuitive: clicking on small images leads to data profiles rather than larger images.
With “Bibliographia”, the user once again discovers a rich portion of Matrix. This bibliographical catalogues of works on medieval women religious contains more than 1,100 primary source and more than 4,000 secondary source entries, browsable by author, title, keyword, region, type, and language. The search engine offers additional searching by publication and source type (primary or secondary) and by publication status (published or unpublished).
“Vocabularium” provides brief but useful definitions for more than 100 terms ranging from “abbess” to “leprosaria” to “vowess.” “De Matrice” describes the site’s mission, provides information about editorial and production staff, and includes contact information for those wishing to contribute to the growth of Matrix.
Students using Matrix learn not just about the history of medieval religious women, but can also gain proficiency in database searching. For example, a student wishing to compare female religious communities of the same order in different countries can use the Monasticon search engine to find all community profiles for, say, Dominican houses in France, Germany, and Italy (searching one region at a time). Students must also learn the pitfalls of database categories, of course: typing “Dominican” yields 86 profiles, but “Dominicans” only three!
Teachers who want students to learn the difference between primary and secondary sources will find Bibliographia an excellent resource: students can search by “source type” and then discuss what kinds of examples they find. Or, they can combine categories such as “publication type” and “source type.” For example, “dissertation” for the former and “primary” for the latter yields only one entry; students could then consider why this is so (this dissertation happens to be a cartulary edition). Finally, the “Browse by keyword” option in Bibliographia will help students looking for project topics, although they should be aware that many cataloged works are in languages other than English.