Speculum Virginum

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Illustration of a "harvest" allegory, from a 13th-century manuscript. The "Three Conditions of Woman": the virgins who dedicated themselves to Christ are shown as harvesting "hundredfold", the pious widows harvest "sixty-fold", and the pious married wives harvest "thirty-fold".

The Speculum Virginum (Jungfrauenspiegel "Mirror of Virgins") is a 12th-century didactic treatise on female monastic life. The original text dates to the mid 12th century and was possibly composed at the Augustinian Abbey of Andernach, founded by Richard, abbot of Springiersbach, for his sister in 1128. Richard appointed one Conrad as spiritual advisor to his sister, and some scholars have suggested Conrad as the text's author.

The work provides one of the earliest comprehensive theologies of cloistered religious life. The document mainly consists of a hypothetical dialogue between Peregrinus, a male religious teacher, and Theodora, a female disciple. The dialogue seeks to strengthen the determination and resolve of Theodora (and hence by example, other readers) to live life as a virgin dedicated to God.

The growth of the various manuscript of the Speculum Virginum in the Middle Ages had a particular resonance for women who sought a dedicated religious life. Yet, it not only impacted the development of female monastic life, but in turn influenced the proliferation of male monastic orders,[1] and even Protestant theology via the writings of Nikolaus Selnecker[2] and Conrad Porta.[3]

The text was widely read from the 12th century until the Reformation, and it survives in 26 vernacular (Middle Low German) and in 30 Latin recensions. The Latin text was edited with a German translation by Seyfarth (1990). Most surviving manuscripts date to the 15th century. An early version of the Latin text is preserved in Cologne W276a (ca. 1140), possibly originating from Andernach, and in BL Arundel 44.[4]


  1. ^ see Mews 2001, pages vii and 1[clarification needed]
  2. ^ Jungfrauenspiegel und von Notwendigkeit wahrhafter Kirchenzucht (1580)
  3. ^ Jungfrawen-Spiegel (Eisleben, 1580)[1]
  4. ^ Seyfarth in Mews 2001 (48).
  • Jutta Seyfarth (ed.), Jungfrauenspiegel, Fontes Christiani 30 (4 vols.), 1990 (2001).
  • Jutta Seyfarth (ed.), Speculum virginum, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis 5, Turnhout, 1990.
  • Urban Küsters, Jutta Seyfarth, 'Speculum virginum', in: 2VL 9 (1995), 67-76.
  • Constant J. Mews (ed.), Listen daughter: the Speculum virginum and the formation of religious women, 2001, ISBN 0-312-24008-2 (review: Sorrentino, Janet The Medieval Review April 12, 2001.Medieval Review at Indiana University)

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