A History of Women's Religious Communities, 4th to 17th Century

Ranft, Patricia
Date published: 
January 1996

Women religious were present in every crucial aspect of Catholic church life: in schools, hospitals, orphanages, missions, social services and monasteries. Most religious orders to which these women belonged carefully preserved the history of their origins and accomplishments, but no one has tried to unite all these individual histories into one comprehensive account. The difficulties which thwarted such an enterprise have been substantially resolved of late, and the time is at last ripe for a general survey of women's religious life. This history synthesizes the most recent research on women religious in chronological order and places these women in the centre of the narrative. Starting with the 4th-century birth of monasticism and ending with the 17th-century birth of the active congregation, Professor Ranft puts to rest any lingering doubts about the pivotal role women have played in the development of Western culture and the Roman church. Written with both the scholar and student in mind, A History of Women's Religious Communities, 4th to 17th Century is a long-awaited work that fills a gap in the history of western civilization, in the history of women and in ecclesiastical history.