Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

January 2003


Published in Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 21:1 (Winter 2003), pp. 1–23. Copyright © The International Society for the History of Rhetoric. Published by the University of California Press. Used by permission.
This article is in French.


One tends to take for granted that in women’s monasteries the only voices raised were those of its masculine directors and preachers. However, while sermons by priests were generally reserved for Sundays and feast days, the abbesses addressed their communities several times a week or even daily. Although the Pauline prohibitions restricted women from speaking on religious topics in public or to mixed groups, within the walls of the convent that was assimilated to the private domain of a household, abbesses exhorted, instructed and rebuked their nuns at chapter meetings or during recreation sessions. Many such talks might have been considered a form of preaching if they had been delivered by abbots in a monastery of men. However, because abbesses of the era generally lacked rhetorical and theological training, they had to content themselves with the informal registers of sacred oratory.