Taking in the last of those Jean Verdon articles I mentioned in my recent and apparently misjudged post about the range of female monasticism, I find a reference to an article by Michel Rouche about famine.1 In it he apparently refers to a forged charter of Charles the Bald for the nunnery of Notre-Dame de Soissons, which specified the food that the various estates it claimed should render and the size of the community.2 That size was 260 nuns and 200 servants and domestics of various kinds, which would have made the place far and away the largest Carolingian-period nunnery known and seems unlikely to be true.3 But, since the claims were presumably intended to be plausible whenever they date from, Rouche thought, and Verdon agreed, that they were reasonable evidence for the dietary allowances of an early medieval nun. So, dividing the daily allowance by the number of nuns, we get per inmate:
- 1,440 g of bread
- 1.38 l of wine
- 70 g of cheese
- 133 g of dry vegetables
- 16 g of salt
- 0.6 g of honey (which I guess was used in accumulated dollops)
Verdon (or perhaps Rouche) calculates that this is 4,727 calories and says that the required daily intake is 2,400. That was France in 1975, and a rapid websearch suggests that UK women are advised by the National Health Service to keep calories down to 2000 a day. Of course, there is a big difference in how many calories the nuns were burning in just not freezing for at least half the year, but Verdon is presumably still right when he observes that this diet was seriously lacking in protein and vitamins. I assume (without evidence) that they would have supplemented this with fruits and vegetables of the season when there were some, but it’s still not a rich diet despite the supposedly rich nunnery. All of this mainly leaves me wondering what the motives of the forgers were and how much information they had about food use from the house’s refectory, but since we like medieval factoids, there’s one for you, with suitable cautions about how the fields of both diplomatic and nutrition have moved on a bit since 1973 and how I haven’t checked in with at least one of them while writing this post.
1. Jean Verdon, “Notes sur le rôle économique des monastères féminins en France dans la seconde moitié du IXe et au début du Xe siècle” in Revue Mabillon Vol. 58 (Ligugé 1975), pp. 329-344, at p. 332 where he cites Michel Rouche, “La faim à l’époque carolingienne : essai sur quelques types de rations alimentaires” in Revue Historique no. 508 (Paris 1973), pp. 295-320 (some details supplied by me; non vidi).
2. The charter is †A. Giry, †M. Prou & G. Tessier (edd.), Recueil des Actes de Charles II Le Chauve, Roi de France (Paris 1927-1947), 3 vols, II no. 494, discussed by Rouche at “Faim”, p. 299 (cit. Verdon).
3. Comparators listed by Jean Verdon, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du nord aux IXe-XIe siècles” in Revue Mabillon Vol. 59 (Ligugé 1976), pp. 49-96 and idem, “Recherches sur les monastères féminins dans la France du Sud aux IXe-XIe siècles” in Annales du Midi Vol. 88 (Toulouse 1976), pp. 117-138. The largest known to Verdon otherwise (though figures are rare) is Ste-Croix de Poitiers, which boasted a hundred nuns in the time of Louis the Pious (idem, “Monastères féminins dans la France du Sud”, pp. 133-134); congregations of 10 or 12 were much more usual (and in the former case, strictly speaking uncanonical).