(A pre-scheduled post. Follow me on the Chartres Pilgrimage on Twitter: @LMSChairman )
Thanks to interactions on Twitter and in the comments of this blog, I've learnt a bit more on the history of seating in Catholic churches being segregated by sex. (For my previous post, see here.)
One of the things which has puzzled me about it is that, although recommended in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1262.1), I've come across no literary references to segregated seating in churches. But I think that the practice was never re-established in Catholic churches in England after the Reformation; the disruption of having to worship in secret and so on caused the custom to disappear, and it was never something which people felt strongly enough about to make a special effort to restore. (I read in Archer's Two Catholic Churches that eyebrows were raised by some English Catholics at the restoration of such 'Italian' practices as the Asperges before Sunday Mass, in the early 19th century.)
As I've already mentioned, I myself have seen segregated congregations: in 1990, in the Cathedral of Tabora in Tanzania. At that time it wasn't practiced in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.
I've now heard from several people in Ireland who can vouch for it surviving in rural districts up to the time of Vatican II, and even later: the 1980s and 1990s. It is worth noting, as several did, that it wasn't enforced: like mantillas today, it just happened, where it was a custom, with the odd person in the wrong part of the church either through ignorance or out of conscious defiance.
Here's a blog post talking about segregation in a church in Nova Scotia, Canada, up to the time of the Council.
I've also heard of churches in the Netherlands with pews featuring hooks for men's hats - only on the 'men's' side.
Finally, it is not surprising to hear that the medieval practice continued in the Church of England for some time after the Reformation. What is rather fun is to hear of an Anglican church where they still maintain it:
He [a guide] explained that two services a month are held in the church using the 1662 prayer book. There is a big congregation. The congregation is still segregated with the men on the right and the women on the left. Even the family sat on separate sides in the front pew. This is slightly larger with more elaborately carved woodwork and a metal latch on the door which could be locked. The cushions are the originals from the 17thC and the family pew has a gold edging round the deep blue cushions.
Unmarried girls and lads sat in the side aisles, and were kept well apart. The back corner of the south aisle was were the stable lads sat and is called 'graffiti corner' as a result of boredom during the service.
This in part reflects the customs which grew up with the installation of pews: family pews and the like. Until the 16th century, when pews began to appear, the location of members of the congregation must have been more fluid.
In the Middle Ages it would seem local customs varied a good deal: there are sometimes separate doors for men and women, and occasionally we hear of women sitting behind the men rather than to one side. In antiquity women were sometimes given a gallery, a 'matronea', and we also hear of physical screens dividing churches lengthways.
The practice is connected with the development of the kiss of peace: actually, in the West, an embrace (amplexio). This could not, obviously, be given between the sexes, unless they were getting married to each other, and this was one reason for it being restricted to those in choir, or being replaced by the Pax Brede, a object kissed by each member of the congregation in turn. (See the Position Paper on the Kiss of Peace.)
|Hans von Tübingen, 15th century|
The painting in fact fits in very neatly with something else: that it was widely believed in the Middle Ages that women were more pious than men, and more likely to be saved. This fact is a little inconvenient for Shulenburg's analysis.
I don't know if there is a connection with the Last Judgement - I suspect Shulenburn just made that up - but I do know that when the celebrant at High Mass turns to face the people, he has the deacon on his right, the Gospel side, and the subdeacon on his left. By the same logic, when I am presenting candidates for their degrees in Oxford University's gloriously medieval degree ceremony, I (and my candidates) bow to the Vice Chancellor seated between two Proctors, then to the Proctor on his right (my left), and then to the Proctor on his left (my right).
|Deacon on the Gospel side, subdeacon on the Epistle Side.|
The eagerness to present any differences between men and women in Christianity as evidence of the oppression of women is seen equally in the debate about alter servers and, of course, about ordination.
|Deacon on the Epistle side, Subdeacon on the Gospel side.|
Making this concession also allows the alleged stupidity of our Christian predecessors to be rolled together with cheap shots at Orthodox Judaism and Islam by people who dislike them, in the last analysis, simply because they are religions. To develop a point I have made before on this blog, we should never let our worries about Islam betray us into a mode of criticism of it which says that Catholics are only slightly less bad. Islam is certainly open to criticism, including in what it has to say about women. At any rate, unlike Medieval Catholics, Muhammad claimed (as recorded in the most authoritative Hadith, Sahih Bukhari) that more women are in Hell than men. But separating men and women in worship is simply a tradition Islam has in common with the other Abrahamic religions.