This summer I received the Mary Magdalene Impact Fellowship to support a research project mapping allegations of clerical concubinage in a set of visitation records from the archdiocese of Prague, recorded 1379-1382. Although clerical marriage had been banned in the eleventh century, clergy continued to engage in long-term relationships that frequently functioned as de facto marriages for the next several centuries, as ecclesiastical officials unsuccessfully tried to implement celibacy reforms. The practice of clerical concubinage was widespread for centuries and the women involved were held in regard by their own communities; however, they have historically been overlooked, perpetuating a view of the medieval Church as nearly entirely male, especially in its pastoral context. By mapping individual concubines, this digital humanities project renders visible the overlooked women whose lives were tied to the Church in the most intimate ways. My research took me to the city itself in late August 2022, where I visited churches, drank excellent Czech beer, and wandered the medieval streets of the Old Town for seven days.
[Pictured: Prague’s astronomical clock, the centerpiece of the Old Town district.]
My favorite site was the Vyšehrad complex, where in 1380 the altarist Paul was accused of having a concubine, and supporting her in his home. Vyšehrad (or Wissegradensis, as it’s listed in the Latin record) is a historic complex covering 89 acres with the gloriously decorated Basilica of St. Peter and Paul.
[Pictured: The front entry. The painted murals cover every wall, arch, and ceiling.]
The complex had buildings stretching back for over a 1,000 years, the oldest being a small chapel, the Rotunda of St. Martin of Tours, founded in the 11th century [pictured]. It’s the only early medieval building remaining at Vyšehrad, which was the seat of Prague’s royal power from the earliest 9th-century settlements.
On my final day, I trekked across the Vlatava River and up the hill to the magnificent Prague Castle complex [pictured].
Here in in 1380, brothers Nicolaus and Jacobus, the altarist and presbyter of St. Vitus, were both accused of keeping concubines and children in their homes. The complex crowns the city with its historic palaces and ecclesiastical buildings, extensive gardens, and medieval streets; the St. Vitus Cathedral sits as the jewel in the crown.
The cathedral grants visitors an overwhelming view of the entire city from its clock tower [pictured] and contains remarkable royal and saintly tombs stretching throughout the middle ages.
I took this research trip to find in person some of the remaining churches mentioned in my record, and (more often) to find sites of churches that no longer existed. Gaining an on-the-ground familiarity with the layout of the city allowed me to check the accuracy of my map. Originally, I pulled coordinates from a central spot in the town where the allegation occurred if the named church was no longer extant, which led to some inaccuracies. I found several coordinates popping up on the map in places where there were not churches, or where it would be impossible for there to be churches (like on the river!). In advance of this trip, I didn’t realize how valuable this spatial awareness would be, but with a familiarity with the streets themselves, born of hours walking around to different sites, I could look critically at my work in a new way.
I also benefited greatly from the freedom afforded by this funding and trip to work rigorously on this project without the competing responsibilities of coursework and work; when I wasn’t out walking the city, I holed up in my hotel room to read and reread the visitation records, correcting data entry and expanding the types of information I collected. I added fields to the map displaying allegations of child-bearing relationships and robust informational pop-ups.
I recently presented my map at the at the conference Masculinities and the Law in Premodern Europe, where I focused on the implications of this research for the competing constructions of clerical masculinity. I’m grateful the Mary Magdalene Impact Fellowship supported my research and enabled me to speak on this work before an expert audience. You can find the map on the Medieval Studies digital humanities project page, and can catch me presenting again at the Medieval Academy of America’s annual meeting in February, in which I will discuss the digital humanities side of the project.
[The author, pictured in front of St. Vitus Cathedral]