Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Matilda making a donation at the tomb of Saint Geminianus

  • Title: Matilda of Canossa greeting Pope Paschal II
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This miniature, appearing in Relatio fundationis cathedralis mutinae, a manuscript written c. 1099-1106, depicts Matilda of Canossa, Countess of Tuscany, greeting Pope Paschal II (image on the left) and offering a donation at the tomb of Saint Geminianus (image on the right), a fourth century bishop in Modena. The Relatio itself is one of the most important codices preserved in the Duomo’s archive in Modena, as it tells the story of the recognition and translation of the saint’s body as well as the construction of the cathedral that was built to replace the shrine above Saint Geminianus’s grave. The text additionally implies that Matilda’s donation was an important contribution to the construction, though the local town was the primary force behind the project.

    Matilda of Canossa was born in 1046 to Beatrica of Lorraine and Margrave Bonifacio III of Tuscany. Bonifacio ruled over a large swath of land in Northern Italy and held immense power as a vassal of Emperor Henry III. After Matilda’s father was murdered by imperial agents, Matilda and Beatrice were sent to Germany by Henry III, who seized Bonifacio's land and material wealth. As a result, Matilda and Beatrice turned their backs on the crown and fostered close ties with the papacy. Matilda finally recovered her father’s lands and material possessions after Beatrice utilized Roman law to win a legal dispute. Matilda maintained her close friendship with Pope Gregory VII after acquiring her inheritance, and supported the papacy by donating her lands, offering counsel to the pope, and taking an active role in Church reform. While her authority was contested many times after her rise to power, she maintained large amounts of influence until she succumbed to gout in 1115.

    Matilda greeting Pope Paschal offers key insight into political maneuvers of the era. At a time where women’s rights to property and power were “regularly contested by their in-laws and relatives” due to an inherent belief that women were inferior to men, Matilda of Canossa’s leadership was maintained through careful tactical decisions and a strategic interdependence between her domus and the papacy. This interdependence was established and vigilantly maintained over the course of forty years: forty years of donations to the papacy, political actions that helped solidify the papacy’s authority, and close personal relationships with popes and bishops. Matilda greeting Pope Paschal is just one instance of her strategic upkeep of this interdependence.

    Matilda’s donation to the tomb of Saint Geminianus also reflects her reputation as a patron of churches, tower houses, and hospices. In 1642, Francesco Maria Fiorentini documented that Matilda had contributed to countless churches, castles, and structures. In her own lifetime, Matilda was rumored to have constructed at least one hundred churches. Her buildings not only helped solidify the interdependency between her domus and the papacy, but also established a strategic network of buildings that was utilized by Matilda to defend her land, quickly gather information, and provide shelter to those traveling through and around Canossa. Her construction also extended to surrounding regions, which helped spread her influence and control. This network lived on after her death, and helped revive trade, pilgrimage, and travel.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons. Facsimile reproductions.
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Churches Countesses Matilda, Countess of Tuscany Hagiography Noble Women Patronage, Artistic Patronage, Ecclesiastical Rulers
  • Geographic Area: Italy
  • Century: 11- 12
  • Date: circa 1099- 1106
  • Related Work: Rotunda of San Lorenzo, Mantua. This church is attributed to Countess Matilda's building program.
    Polygonal tower, Abbey of Saints Severo and Martirius , Orvieto. The tower was commissioned by Matilda of Tuscany as the bell tower for the monastic church
  • Current Location: Modena, Archive of the Chapter of the Duomo
  • Original Location: Modena, Cathedral of San Geminiano
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Manuscript Illuminations
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paint
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 28/45/
  • Inscription: Matildis comitissa [Countess Matilda]
  • Related Resources: Dempsey, John A. "Matilda of Tuscany as Episcopal Patroness." Storicamente 13 ( 2017). Pages 1-24;
    Spike, Michele K. Illustrated Guide to the One Hundred Churches of Matilda of Canossa, Countess of Tuscany. Centro DI, 2015;
    Reynolds, Rosalind Jaeger. "Reading Matilda: The Self-Fashioning of a Duchess." Essays in Medieval Studies 19 (2002). Pages 1-13;
    Verzar, Christine. "Picturing Matilda of Canossa: Medieval Strategies of Representation." Representing History, 900-1300: Art, Music, History. Edited by Robert A. Maxwell. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010. Pages 73-90;