Faculty Advisor

Smith, Katherine

Area of Study

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Publication Date

Summer 2017


In the 1970s, historian Richard Southern argued that the period of reform in the Twelfth Century solidified a patriarchal state in the medieval period, and since his publication (continuing into the current tradition), historians have agreed with this thesis that the period of centralization and codification within the canon tradition existed antithetically to female empowerment and agency, and solidified the authority and normatively of heterosexual, dominate, masculinity. When discussing the canon celebrations and successes of women in the Twelfth Century, historians use the term “token,” ascribing their ability to survive in a state which denounced their agency to circumstances such as rank, wealth, and personal connection. A few historians have challenged these perceptions regarding the Twelfth Century, including Alcuin Blamires and Fiona Griffiths (starting in the 1990s, and continuing the debate to this day); drawing on their examples, this research has questioned the extent to which the Twelfth Century’s theological reform was a heteronormative masculine movement of authority. In analyzing prominent theologians’s (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Abelard, Gilbert of Hoyland, and Aelred of Rievaulx) works regarding the nature of the soul, and its ascendancy to heaven, as well as the classical tradition in which these theologians based their claims, I have found evidence which suggests a Twelfth Century consensus on the existence and superiority of a non-dichotomous gender identity, which combines aspects of contemporary ideals of both male and female attributes. The lives and literature of some of the most notable female “tokens” of the Twelfth Century Catholic Reform (Christina of Markyate, Herrad of Hohenbourg, and Hildegard of Bingen) as well as the commentary they received from their male peers demonstrate a level corroboration with the theological evidence. These women appear, based on the available documentation, to have gained position, respect, and fame based on their conformity to the theological definitions of non-dichotomous, non-binary spiritual gender identity. This research, archaic and obsessed with minuscule details as it may appear, is a significant find in the study of history of gender and medieval history. This research undercuts decades of historical assumptions, and gives agency back to medieval religious men and women who lived within this non-dichotomous gender schema. Additionally, it provides the context necessary to fully unify the theological teachings of many Twelfth Century scholars, including the women discussed here. This research also provides a launching dock for legal examinations into medieval gender theory and practice.


University of Puget Sound