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widows, historical writing


The idea of the widow in communal memory and historical writing was a resonant and multi-faceted concept for monastic writers of the Middle Ages. This essay focuses on the function and meaning of widowhood in two examples of early medieval historical writing, by one male and one female author, to illustrate how monastic authors engaged significant and enduring aspects of widowhood during the Western European Middle Ages to construct institutional histories. Images of female memory and widowed piety (especially because the widow represented the Church who awaited her spouse, Christ) were useful in describing the experiences of women who held important associations for monastic institutions: the resonances of the Scriptural vere vidua transformed female founders’ previous experiences with worldly marriage into a sacralized state of chastity and remembrance in widowhood, and facilitated such women’s presence in the community’s historical memory.