The Royal Abbey of Fontevrault: Religious women & the shaping of gendered space

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This article examines the religious and architectural history of the Royal Abbey of Fontevrault, in the French province of Anjou, investigating the active and deliberate role women played in shaping the physical and symbolic space of this female monastic community. Founded in the early 12 th century and active until the French Revolution, the abbey was a rare institution in which administrative power was in the hands of women, enabling them to exert almost complete control over the built environment. The nature and impact of this control is examined by tracing the development of the abbey from an initial settlement of rough dwellings into a large monastic complex comprising five distinct communities. By exploring the planning and building of Fontevrault in the context of typical monastic design as well as contemporaneous Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, the article reveals the extent and significance of this gendered construction of space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-80
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of International Women's Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies


  • Architecture
  • Gender
  • Monastery


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