Reading and Teaching Manuals of Religious Instruction in Fifteenth-century England

Samantha Kate Sabalis, Fordham University


Reading and Teaching Manuals of Religious Instruction in Fifteenth-Century England uses the creation and circulation of manuals of religious instruction as a basis to explore the history of catechesis and the development of vernacular literary culture in the wake of the Arundel Constitutions of 1407–9. While these Constitutions have been viewed as an instrument of ecclesiastical control that limited vernacular religious writing, this study highlights the continuity and innovation shown through vernacular manuals of religious instruction in the fifteenth century. Originally written in Latin for an exclusively clerical readership in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, these manuals became available to a wide lay readership in the fifteenth century when they were translated into the vernacular. A growing literate population and book market meant that many laypeople could now read these manuals, learning about the faith without the mediation of their parish priests. The dissertation first examines how this lay-directed religious education is reflected in a translation of Robert Grosseteste’s Templum Dei (a thirteenth-century confessor’s manual in Latin) that transforms Grosseteste’s text into a general guide for Christian living as part of a miscellany of religious instructional verse in Middle English. The project then considers the use of manuals of religious instruction for parental teaching, focusing on depictions in hagiography of two holy mothers who raise their children as good Christians, St. Monica and St. Birgitta of Sweden. Finally, this dissertation questions how the material found in these manuals could overlap with political literature, focusing particularly on the complex definition of prudence as both a Christian and a civic virtue in John Lydgate’s The Siege of Thebes that could appeal to the text’s female readers in the aristocracy and gentry. This project encompasses several reading publics—lay readers with potentially heretical sympathies, mothers acting as religious teachers for their children, and gentry and aristocratic women running their households and estates—and considers how such readers engaged with manuals of religious instruction and how they applied what they had learned about the faith to their reading in other discourses.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Womens studies|Religious education|Religious history|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Sabalis, Samantha Kate, "Reading and Teaching Manuals of Religious Instruction in Fifteenth-century England" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10276083.