This article uses evidence from Cistercian abbeys in Flanders and Hainaut during the thirteenth century to reconsider the role of enclosure policies in shaping the experience of religious women. The frequency with which nuns appear in the charters outside of their cloisters, when combined with the developments in medieval spirituality that produced an array of lay religious groups during this period, suggests that Cistercian policy considered enclosure to be important symbolically more than pragmatically. Unlike Periculoso, the aim was never unilaterally to confine women to their cloisters. Revising our understanding of this legislation results in repositioning monastic women within the spiritual landscape of medieval Europe, and indicates that nuns in the high Middle Ages were not nearly as disadvantaged by gender expectations as previously believed. Further, it encourages us to question the presumed relationship between enclosure and the decline and eventual dissolution of so many nunneries in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

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