Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Father pays a bribe to advance his son's career in the Church
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    A father is depicted bribing the abbot of a wealthy monastery to accept his son into the community. The abbot is taking hold of the child by both his arm and hair, perhaps as an indication of coercion. The father is holding a bag of money. The text says the boy, as an adult, became a priest. He used money and persuasion to become a bishop and then accepted bribes from those who sought to be ordained by him. This kind of crime was known as simony. The term was named after Simon Magus who tried to bribe Saint Peter to teach him how to perform miracles (Acts of the Apostles 8:9-24).

    Even when there was no bribe, a very young child was not supposed to be offered as an oblate, or an offering to God, to a monastic community; and he or she was not obligated to become a professed religious. The concern was that people entering monastic life make an informed choice and have a religious vocation. Nevertheless, the practice of placing child oblates in monasteries was common in the Early and High Middle Ages. Notable oblates include Saint Leoba and Hildegard of Bingen who entered an anchorhold (a monastic cell) with Jutta, her teacher, at the age of fourteen.

    Gratian’s collection known as the Decretum became the first text for the study of canon law at the newly-created universities in Bologna and Paris. This collection was supplemented with papal letters or decretals clarifying points of law or treating new problems. These texts were collected and, in turn, were studied at the universities. Students trained in canon law carried university teachings to local churches as they dealt with issues of doctrine and discipline. Lay people as well as clergy brought issues like the validity of marriages and the probate of wills to church courts at the diocesan level.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Canon Law Monasticism Oblates Simony
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 12
  • Date: 1175-1200
  • Related Work:

    See other pages from the Douai Decretum with illuminations:

    See illustrations of the simony scene from other manuscripts of the Decretum:
    Beaune, Bibl. mun., ms. 0005, f. 075v: http://initiale.irht.cnrs.fr/decors/decors.php?imageInd=1&id=32692
    Reims, BM, ms. 0679, f. 073: http://initiale.irht.cnrs.fr/decors/decors.php?id=56032&indexCourant=10

  • Current Location: Douai, Bibliothèque Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, 590, fol. 59v
  • Original Location: Anchin (Nord), Monastery of St. Sauveur et St. André, a male Dominican house
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Tempera; Gold; Ink
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 46/31/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Brundage, James A. Medieval Canon Law. Longman, 1995;
    De Jong, Mayke. In Samuel's Image: Child Oblation in the Early Medieval West. Brill, 1996;
    Illuminating the Law: Legal Manuscripts in Cambridge Collections. Edited by Susan L'Engle and Robert Gibbs. Harvey Miller, 2001;
    Peters, Greg. "Offering Sons to God in the Monastery: Child Oblation, Monastic Benevolence, and the Cistercian Order in the Middle Ages." Cistercian Studies Quarterly 38, 3 (2003): 285-295;