Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Man who had taken a vow of chastity reclaims his fiancée
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    A man who had taken a vow of chastity is depicted trying to claim his former betrothed, who has since renounced their betrothal and married another man. He is shown trying to persuade her to come to him. She, however, is making a gesture of rejection. Moreover, she and her husband have their arms around each other’s waist, a gesture asserting their married status. The text examines prohibitions against marriage of persons with vows, especially nuns and widows who have vowed chastity. It also addresses the question whether a woman can renounce one betrothal in favor of another.

    The image comes from the Concord of Discordant Canons or Decretum, a collection of church rules or canons which was attributed to a Bolognese monk named Gratian. In its final form, the Decretum had three parts: a treatise on law; a set of hypothetical cases and a tract on the sacraments. This illustration is found at the beginning of the twenty seventh hypothetical case or Causa. Causa XXVII is concerned with marriage, especially the collision of marriage with religious vows of chastity. Gratian’s collection 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. Issues like the validity of marriages and the probate of the wills of lay people were litigated in church courts at the diocesan level.

    Medieval families, particularly those of greater social status or wealth, often negotiated potential marriages for their children. One betrothal might be given up in favor of another. Betrothal was so close to marriage in legal form that it was sometimes difficult to cancel a prior engagement. Moreover, vows of chastity might be made even by married lay persons, although one spouse was not supposed to enter a religious community without the other’s consent. This hypothetical case brings these two issues together, placing the vow of chastity in opposition to the first man’s commitment to the woman involved.

  • Source: La Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux,
  • Rights: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
  • Subject (See Also): Betrothal Canon Law Chastity Husbands Marriage Wives
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 12
  • Date: 1175-1200
  • Related Work: See other illuminated pages from the Troyes Decretum manuscript:
  • Current Location: Troyes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 0103, f. 193v
  • Original Location: Paris
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Manuscript Illuminations;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Tempera; Gold; Ink
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): //
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Brundage, James A. Medieval Canon Law. Longman, 1995;
    Cavallar, Osvaldo and Julius Kirshner. "Making and Breaking Betrothal Contracts (Sponsalia) in Late Trecento Florence." Panta rei: Studi dedicati a Manlio Bellomo. Edited by Orazio Condorelli. Il Cigno, 2004. Pages 395 - 452. Reprinted in Marriage, Dowry, and Citizenship in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy. Written by Julius Kirshner. University of Toronto Press, 2015. Pages 20-54.
    Illuminating the Law: Legal Manuscripts in Cambridge Collections. Edited by Susan L'Engle and Robert Gibbs. Harvey Miller, 2001;