In monasticism, the participation of women started very early and apart from the hermits who lived in the desert, there were women in Rome who were living like in a monastic manner. One of the first such instances was Paula who founded with Jerome a double monastery in Bethlehem, as also Macrina in Cappadocia at nearly the same time. Even in recorded history, there are the records from Palladius from the 5th century saying that in the desert he encountered women in monastic lives. He had met a convent of 400 women led by a remarkable individual, Amma Talis which had been going on for 80 years. His records clearly state the freedom that these women seemed to have as also their generous hospitality. Another famous personality, Pachomius, who has founded the cenobitic monastery, had written down rules in the 3rd century BC, which were applicable for the monks in the monastery that he controlled as also for the other monastery controlled by his sister, Mary and her nuns. In this system, the monks took up the responsibility for the manual labor, and also built up the monastery for the women. The nuns took up the responsibility for making the clothes for the monks. This system was quite common in the first few hundred years of Christianity. (The beginning of Female Monasticism)
One of the earliest women in monastic life was Macrina. She was given the name by her parents after a famous Macrina who had been in the family of her father's mother, who had confessed to Christ, meaning the Church. From the very early stages, Macrina had shown great interest in parts of Scripture which were generally not understandable to young children. She was interested in particular in the Wisdom of Solomon, and especially those parts of the Scripture which have an ethical nature. She was not ignorant of any part of the Psalter but at stated times she recited almost all the parts of it. When she got up from bed, or was involved in household chores or was resting, or at mealtimes, or retired from table, or going to bed or rose in the night for prayer, the Psalter was her close and constant friend. Her father was a shrewd man known for making correct decisions had picked up a young man who was related to their family and who was about to leave the school, who was of good birth and had great steadiness, and decided to marry off his daughter to him, as soon as she became old. Macrina was able to know about her father's schemes. (Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-d.c.395): Life of Macrina)
Then the plan formulated for her was disrupted due to the young man's death. Then she said her father's idea was equal to a marriage having been completed, and decided to remain single thereafter. After the responsibility of having to take care of her brothers were being completed, she then took over the charge of taking care of her mother, stopped attaining all accustomed luxuries and Macrina made her mother also to accept her own level of humility. There after they started to spend the rest of their lives living on an equal footing along with the staff of the maids, and sharing with them the same food that they ate, shared the same kind of bed with them, and also shared all the necessities of life, without bringing about any differences of rank. She thus continued her life in this manner till death approached her. At her death she completed her usual prayers and then closed her eyes and her mouth and heart with that of the cross. Then her tongue was being dried up due to the scorching fever, and she could not speak anything further, and her voice stopped. Only by seeing her lips which were trembling and the slow shaking of her hands was that anybody was able to understand that she was still praying. (Medieval Sourcebook: Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-d.c.395): Life of Macrina) Such a holy spirit is rarely seen.
Melanie the Younger led a life basically of the same pattern as the other women. Born in the fourth century, of patrician birth and wealthy, she married at fourteen. Her general pattern of living was regular till the death of their second child, when she made her husband promise to live a life of chastity along with her. They then started on their ascetic journey. (The beginning of Female Monasticism) St. Scholastica was the sister of St. Benedict, and had consecrated her life to God from her days of early youth. After her brother had gone to Monte Cassino, she shifted in the neighborhood at Plombariola, where she created and governed a monastery of nuns. This is about five miles from that of St. Benedict, and it appears, St. Benedict also directed his sister and her nuns. Near the end of her life, St. Scholastica begged her brother to remain till the next day after a discussion which was regularly taking place, but, St. Benedict did not agree to spend the night outside his monastery. Then she started praying and a furious thunderstorm burst so that St. Benedict and his companions could not return home. The night was also spent in spiritual conferences. After 3 days St. Scholastica passed away, and her holy brother beheld her soul in a vision as it was being ascended into heaven. She died around the year 543, and St. Benedict also died soon after. Her feast day is being celebrated on February 10th. (Catholic Online Saints: St. Scholastica)
Hildegard was born as the tenth child of a noble German family in the year 1098. When she was 8 years old, she was sent to live with Jutta, the sister of a count whom Hildegard's father was serving as a knight. When Hildegard was 14, she and a few others, were enclosed as anchorites. Then, somehow this anchor hold grew into a Benedictine monastery, and linked to the adjacent male monastery of St. Disibod. The number of nuns grew slowly to about 10 in th year 1136 and to about 20, after 12 years. (Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)) Christina of Markyate is also known as Saint Theodora, Christina the Recluse. She was born with the name of Theodora and her family tried to get her married to a man named Burthred, and this was after an attempt to seduce her by the Chief Justice of England. Before all this, Christina had taken a vow to remain a virgin and had decided to be a nun. She was forced into a betrothal, but did not permit consummation of the marriage, though her husband would have liked the marriage to have been consummated. This sent her out of the common surroundings, till her community house was built in Markyate in 1145. (Christina of Markyate)
The contributions of these women to Christianity
. We shall analyze the contributions about which we have significant knowledge. At first Melanie and her husband helped the poor and imprisoned and persons in debts, which they continued by giving away their Roman belongings and endowing monasteries for men and women. The peaceful situation changed with the invasion of Rome during AD 410, and along with her mother, Albina, they settled near Thagaste, in order to be near Alypius, the local bishop, who was a friend of Augustine. There they began to live an ascetic life after building a double monastery. Along with being in control of the nuns, Melanie copied the Old and New Testament, which were recited the Offices by their whole heart, and read all books which she could get, whether it was in Greek or Latin. After 7 years, they shifted to Jerusalem, and toured the Egyptian desert, and settled permanently in Jerusalem. Here she lived the ascetic life for 14 years till her mother's death. The remains of her mother's body were brought to the monastery which was on Mt. Olives, and she had also another monastery being built for her own residence, virgins, and "women from places of ill-repute" in AD 432. (The beginning of Female Monasticism)
This monastery had 90 women, and after her husband's death she built a chapel, a church and a monastery for the men during 436. The women chanted the Office during the third, sixth, and ninth hours, and also during evening and the middle of the night. During the time of the feasts and on Sundays they would take up chanting of extra verses and the women had also attended Mass during Fridays as well as on Sundays in the Oratory. Fasting was left to the discretion of each individual, and of all the virtues, this was regarded as the least significant. On the other side, obedience was felt to be "the greatest possession," and it was given not only to the Superior but also among them. Melanie's monasteries were famous and they attracted many because of their…