A welcome presence: The custodial activities of third order women religious in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italy

Liise Lehtsalu

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Third order women religious actively participated in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Italian society. Scholars have argued that the introduction of monastic enclosure for all women religious after the Council of Trent crushed non-enclosed forms of female monasticism in Italy and Europe. The study of third orders reveals, however, that non-enclosed monastic communities survived the Tridentine reforms and met specific social needs in the early modern society. Third order women religious provided education, care, and companionship to women of all ages and socioeconomic ranks. They thus filled a gap left by other monastic and custodial institutions. Ecclesiastical and secular authorities as well as neighbors considered women’s third orders an asset to local communities. Drawing on examples from Bergamo and Bologna, this article examines the social activities of tertiary women and shows activity to be a useful category of analysis for recovering the place of women religious in early modern society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-66
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Early Modern History
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2018


  • Italy
  • Counter-Reformation
  • women religious
  • third orders
  • monasticism
  • education
  • elderly-care
  • custodianship

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