Leander of Seville and female cenobitism: a subordinate virginity





Leander of Seville, Virginity, Monasticism, Women, Canon Law


The text De institutione virginum, written by Leander of Seville around 580, is practically the only evidence of the existence of an organized female monasticism before the official conversion of the Visigothic Kingdom to Catholicism in 589. The text is aimed both at showing the superiority of virginity over marriage, and convincing its addressee, his sister Florentina, a professed virgin in a monastery, that she has made the right decision. However, it includes two other aspects of interest to the study of late-Hispanic female cenobitism. On the one hand, it insists on the superiority of monastic community life over consecrated virginity in the family environment. On the other hand, it reveals an ideological perception which transfers to the sphere of the ascetic profession the same criteria that served for undervaluing women and were recurrent in the society of the time. As a consequence, virgins were considered morally weak and physically in need of male protection. The Betic conciliar legislation on female monastic life, emanating from the Council of Seville in 619, shows that these ideas were embodied in the subjection, as a general rule, of female monasteries to the tutelage of male monasteries.