Spotless Lilies and Foul Smelling Weeds: Architecture and Moral Cleanliness in Victorian Magdalen Convents

Jordan, K. 2017. Spotless Lilies and Foul Smelling Weeds: Architecture and Moral Cleanliness in Victorian Magdalen Convents. RIBA.

TitleSpotless Lilies and Foul Smelling Weeds: Architecture and Moral Cleanliness in Victorian Magdalen Convents
AuthorsJordan, K.
Description

I have undertaken a detailed analysis of the architecture of Victorian magdalen convents as part of my broader research into religious houses in Britain, built between the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 and the present day. This is a building type that has been overlooked by architectural historians at a heavy cost - as communities have dwindled, unlisted houses have been redeveloped and demolished at a rapid pace. A root cause of this research gap has been the failure by historians to interrogate assumptions about this complex architecture and look beneath the skin. My own experience of researching religious houses has required considerable self-reflection as I continue to encounter and step beyond the frontiers of my thought processes and imagination. I began my doctoral research on the role of women in convent building with the intention of highlighting women’s historical role in the built environment and with a view to constructing a feminist account of nuns as designers and builders. I embarked on the research with a set of pre-conceptions about convent architecture - buildings that were created by women and for the exclusive use of women under largely autonomous conditions. These assumptions were quickly challenged by the primary sources - what I had taken to be evidence of empowerment was revealed to be a paradoxical picture of women frequently using their authority to etch oppressive ideologies into their architecture. My work on magdalen convents in particular has revealed the extraordinary ways that women shaped their buildings - seeking inspiration in unexpected places and appropriating secular philosophies. The cornerstone of my research has been the voices, both contemporary and historical, of the women who made these sites - their words have provided rich ways of understanding the theology and culture of women’s religious communities and cast new light on their unique architecture.

KeywordsConvent; Feminist; Victorian; Theology
Year2017
Web address (URL)https://www.architecture.com/-/media/gathercontent/riba-presidents-awards-for-research/additional-documents/106898spotlessliliesddpdf.pdf
PublisherRIBA
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