Manuals for Penitents in Medieval England
Title Details

190 Pages

23.4 x 15.6 cm

Imprint: D.S.Brewer

Manuals for Penitents in Medieval England

from Ancrene Wisse to the Parson's Tale

by Krista A. Murchison

  • Description
  • Contents
  • Author
  • Reviews
First comprehensive survey of a major genre of medieval English texts: its purpose, characteristics, and reception.

The "bestseller list" of medieval England would have included many manuals for penitents: works that could teach the public about the process of confession, and explain the abstract concept of sin through familiar situations. Among these 'bestselling' works were the Manuel des péchés (commonly known through its English translation Handlyng Synne), The Speculum Vitae, and Chaucer's Parson's Tale.
This book is the first full-length overview of this body of writing and its material and social contexts. It shows that while manuals for penitents developed under the Church's control, they also became a site of the Church's concern. Manuals such as the Compileison (which was addressed to a much broader audience than its English analogue, Ancrene Wisse) brought learning that had been controlled by the Church into the hands of layfolk and, in so doing, raised significant concerns over who should have access to knowledge. Clerics worried that these manuals might accidentally teach people new sins, remind them of old ones, or become sites of prurient interest. This finding, and others explored in this book, call for a new awareness of the complications and contradictions inherent in late medieval orthodoxy and reveal plainly that even writing that happened firmly within the Church's control could promote new and complex ways of thinking about religion and the self.
Introduction: Teaching Sin

Part I. Self-Examination Writing before 1250
1 Sin in the Cloister
2 'A Woman in Whom Great Trust was Placed': Differentiated Education and Ancrene Wisse

Part II. Manuals for Penitents, 1250-1300
3 Learning about Sin
4 'De privetez n'i troverét rien': The Compileison and 'Anxieties of Outreach'

Part III. Manuals for Penitents, 1300-13505 A Reforming Curriculum
6 Teaching Virtue

'To enden in som vertuous sentence': Concluding with Chaucer's Parson
Bibliography
Index

Krista A. Murchison is an assistant professor of medieval English and medieval French at Leiden University, in The Netherlands. At present (2020-2024), she is leading an individual Dutch Research Council-funded project on medieval manuscripts destroyed during World War II. Her previous grant-funded research projects include a digital analysis of French manuscripts produced in medieval England (2018).

"Krista Murchison's brilliant in-depth study of casts light on an area that has received little focused attention. She challenges the long-standing idea that modernity was largely a development of the early modern Renaissance mind. The focus on the self-reflection literature of this earlier period is an engaging
attempt to demystify the medieval by examining a wildly popular genre of medieval writing. This is a brilliant piece of scholarship and will be an excellent addition to reading lists focusing on church history and lay practices." Lynette White, Birkbeck, University of London, History
"Manuals for Penitents successfully illustrates that a body of writing which has often been seen solely as orthodox, impersonal, and repetitive contained complications and contradictions that promoted independent thought and an interest in the self. Murchison's monograph sheds new light on these undervalued and yet highly popular medieval texts." Diana Denissen, Medium Ævum

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9781843846086

December 2021

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Title Details

190 Pages

2.34 x 1.56 cm

Imprint: D.S.Brewer