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Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life
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Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life
The Devotio Moderna and the World of the Later Middle Ages

John Van Engen

448 pages | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 19 illus.
Paper 2014 | ISBN 9780812223071 | $32.50s | Outside the Americas £24.99
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the Middle Ages Series
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Winner of the 2009 John Gilmary Shea Prize from the American Catholic Historical Association

Received the 2009 Philip Schaff Prize from the American Society of Church History

Awarded the 2010 Otto Gruendler Prize by the Medieval Institute

Awarded the 2013 Haskins Medal from the Medieval Academy of America

"A grand and important book not only for those bitten by medieval studies but for all interested in Western civilization's transition from medieval to modern."—American Historical Review

"A wonderfully rich and rewarding book. . . . This work will, unquestionably, remain the standard work for years to come."—Speculum

"This is a painstakingly detailed narrative into which analysis is seamlessly woven. . . . A major contribution on several fronts."—Church History

"This will be the definitive study of a noteworthy religious movement of the later Middle Ages. Van Engen has mined the libraries and archives with extraordinary thoroughness and has found a wealth of new knowledge."—Robert E. Lerner, Northwestern University

The Devotio Moderna, or Modern Devout, puzzled their contemporaries. Beginning in the 1380s in market towns along the Ijssel River of the east-central Netherlands and in the county of Holland, they formed households organized as communes and forged lives centered on private devotion. They lived on city streets alongside their neighbors, managed properties and rents in common, and worked in the textile and book trades, all the while refusing to profess vows as members of any religious order or to acquire spouses and personal property as lay citizens. They defended their self-designed style of life as exemplary and sustained it in the face of opposition, their women labeled "beguines" and their men "lollards," both meant as derogatory terms. Yet the movement grew, drawing in women and schoolboys, priests and laymen, and spreading outward toward Münster, Flanders, and Cologne.

The Devout were arguably more culturally significant than the Lollards and Beguines, yet they have commanded far less scholarly attention in English. John Van Engen's magisterial book keeps the Modern Devout at its center and thinks through their story anew. Few interpreters have read the Devout so insistently within their own time and space by looking to the social and religious conditions that marked towns and parishes in northern Europe during the fifteenth century and examining the widespread upheavals in cultural and religious life between the 1370s and the 1440s. In Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life, Van Engen grasps the Devout in their humanity, communities, and beliefs, and places them firmly within the urban societies of the Low Countries and the cultures we call late medieval.

John Van Engen is Andrew V. Tackes Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and author of Rupert of Deutz, among other works.

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