Griffiths, Fiona J.
Griffiths, Fiona J.
Education: Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1999.
New York University, New York, NY, assistant professor of history.
National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship; Humboldt Fellowship; Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; Brewer Prize, American Society of Church History; Walter Jackson Bate Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University; Scouloudi Research Fellow, Institute of Historical Research at the University of London.
The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2007.
Also author of Nuns and Priests: Mutuality and Dependence in the Medieval Monastery, 1050-1250. Contributor to books, including Medieval Memoires: Men, Women and the Past, 700-1300, edited by Elisabeth van Houts, Addison Wesley/Longman, 2001; Listen, Daughter: The Speculum Virginum and the Formation of Religious Women in the Middle Ages, edited by Constant J. Mews, Palgrave, 2001; Women Writing Latin, edited by Laurie Churchill, Routledge, 2002; Medieval Religion, New Approaches, edited by Constance Hoffman Berman, Routledge, 2005; and Frauen—Kloster—Kunst: Neue Forschungen zur Kulturgeschichte des Mittelalters, edited by Jeffrey F. Hamburger, Carola Jäggi, Susan Marti, and Hedwig Röckelein, Brepols, 2007. Contributor to professional journals, including Journal of Medieval History and Viator.
Fiona J. Griffiths is a scholar of medieval history whose particular interest is the monastic life of women. She is interested especially in the intellectual and spiritual differences in gender and how women were educated in the monasteries. Her first book, The Garden of Delights: Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century, focuses on a twelfth-century illuminated manuscript called the Hortus deliciarum ("Garden of Delights") that was written by the abbess Herrad at the Hohenbourg monastery in France's Alsace region. Although the original manuscript was destroyed during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, scholars were able to reconstruct it in the 1970s. Until Griffiths's book, however, not much scholarly analysis had been done on the text. Heavily illustrated, the manuscript contains text discussing the Old Testament, the life of Christ, the Church's role as the Bride of Christ, and thoughts on the last days of the world. "Herrad wrote her book so it would, in her words, be both ‘useful’ and ‘delightful’ and her wish was that the women of her community would ‘never cease to ponder it’ in their thoughts," according to Henrietta Leyser in a Medieval Review article.
Griffiths argues that Herrad can be considered a creative composer of religious text. Herrad described herself as a bee that collects the words of the Bible and gathers them into a book, and so, Leyser stated: "Griffiths argues forcefully that we take seriously the role of the bee as an important symbol for creative composition, a metaphor dating back to Seneca but found also in a range of Christian texts, and she thus refutes the suggestion that Herrad is only an encyclopedist with no claim to be an author. For this reevaluation of Herrad and her work and her fine study of this hitherto strangely neglected book Griffiths must be congratulated." In a review for Theological Studies, Marie Anne Mayeski pointed out that Griffiths shows the Hortus deliciarum to be a work that counters many scholars' idea "that medieval women's texts are primarily prophetic and/or mystical …, or that female education declined in the advent of Scholasticism." Griffiths, however, does not insist that the Hortus deliciarum should be considered typical; rather, she acknowledges the book's uniqueness. Mayeski, though, held that this position actually "reinforces" the author's argument because she is not insistent upon her thesis. "Rather, her notes and bibliography (one-third of the volume) raise complex questions and implicitly invite her readers to join the search for a more complete picture of women's intellectual and political activities in the twelfth century."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Theological Studies, December, 2007, Marie Anne Mayeski, review of The Garden of Delights:Reform and Renaissance for Women in the Twelfth Century, p. 927.
Medieval Review Online,http://quod.lib.umich.edu/ (November 1, 2007), Henrietta Leyser, review of The Garden of Delights.
New York University Department of History Web site,http://history.fas.nyu.edu/ (January 31, 2008), faculty profile of Fiona J. Griffiths.