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Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) published a decree in 1298 that transformed long-standing attitudes toward nuns into universal Church law. Referred to as Periculoso, the first word of the Latin text, this decree announced that all nuns, no matter what rule they observed and no matter where their monasteries were located, were to be perpetually cloistered. With the exception of those who were contagiously ill, nuns were under no circumstances to break the law of enclosure, either by leaving their monasteries or by inviting unauthorized persons into them. Ultimately, the decree altered the lives of nuns, while indirectly abetting the move toward alternatives to the cloister. Although historians of women religious have frequently cited Periculoso as a milestone, the text of the law and the legal comment that its publication occasioned have never before been exhaustively studied.
Canon Law and Cloistered Women provides the most thorough examination to date of the landmark decree. Elizabeth Makowski surveys precedents for Periculoso as well as some of the problems Boniface VIII hoped to solve with his legislation. She further analyzes the commentary on Periculoso, much of it written by practicing lawyers, which unveils late medieval attitudes toward nuns and their male counterparts. Finally, she concludes with a discussion of the attempts to enforce the legislation.
Makowski's analysis illustrates not only the contribution that similar investigations of local efforts on the Continent might make to our understanding of conventual life, but also the difficulties--so often alluded to by medieval canonists--of making the "ideal" real.