Research Stream


Julie Hotchin (2015)
Australian National University

Reforming Affections: Emotion, Devotion and Religious Women in late medieval Germany

The project analyses devotional compilations made by and for religious women to explore how these scripts for affective performances, combined with visual and musical stimuli, contributed to the development of emotional styles and notions of self and community consonant with the ideals of late medieval monastic reform.

Reforming Affections: Emotion, Devotion and Religious Women in late medieval Germany

Image: Wienhausen, detail of vaulting in nun’s choir. © Kloster Wienhausen. Reproduced with permission.

Focusing on the rite of a nun’s consecration – or coronation as it was known in Germany – Reforming Affections explores how the emotions aroused in connection with this ritual were integral to generating, maintaining and changing religious sensibilities. Drawing on literary, visual and material evidence from women’s monasteries in northern Germany, this project will offer new insights into how emotions produced religious change, how individuals negotiated new emotional styles and how emotions were conceptualized through liturgy, song, images and objects.

At the heart of this project are fifteenth-century devotional compilations from the Cistercian convent of Wöltingerode and the Augustinian convent of Steterburg, both of which are in the modern-day federal state of Lower Saxony. These manuscripts comprise prayers and meditations to guide a nun’s meditative preparation for her coronation. Their language and imagery is indebted to the tradition of the soul as loving sponsa Christi (bride of Christ) from the Song of Songs, which is replicated in the dramaturgy of the coronation ritual. Methodologically, emotions are understood as dynamic experiences that are concerned with processes of change and ‘becoming’, and these devotional compilations are interpreted as ‘intimate scripts’ for the performance of feeling.  Reforming Affections explores what emotions (e.g. love, joy, jubilation) and their methods of expression were promoted to nuns to generate their self-understanding as a sponsa Christi, and asks how learning to feel in a particular way contributed to broader shifts in religious sensibility within communities experiencing religious change.

Related publications:

‘Meditations for a nun’s coronation from Wöltingerode’, in Rosenkränze und Seelengärten. Bildung und Frömmigkeit in niedersächsischen Frauenklöster, ed. Britta-Juliane Kruse (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012), pp. 117-126.

‘Reformatrices and their books: Religious women and reading networks in fifteenth-century Germany’, in Communities of Learning: Networks and the Shaping of Intellectual Identity in Europe, 1100 – 1500, ed. by John N. Crossley and Constant Mews. Europa Sacra, 9 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2011), pp. 251-91.

‘The Nun’s Crown’, Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal, No. 4, 2009; 187-194.