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Henriette von Harnier, M.A.

Doctoral Researcher

Henriette von Harnier

University of Bonn
Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
Research Group Structures of Dependency in the Late Antique and Early Medieval Western Church
Niebuhrstraße 5
D-53113 Bonn




Dependent Groups in Late Antique and Early Medieval Penitentials

My PhD project focusses on dependent groups in the late antique and early medieval church as they appear in sources pertaining to the Church's system of penance and ecclesiastical judiciary. The aim of the project is to uncover the societal and religious structures of dependency concerning these socially deprived (or dependent) groups and, thus, to find out more about them: How are they perceived? Which sins are typically connected to them? Are they punished harder or more leniently? In what sense do all dependents share the same experiences/fate/treatment, and what divides them? To answer these questions the research draws on Irish, Frankish and Anglo-Saxon penitentials as its primary sources as well as on church and secular law collections, sermons and hagiography.

The idea for this project stems from the observation that the early medieval penitentials mention (while not necessarily address) a surprising range of different personae which allows us to infer certain things about these individual status groups and their interactions as well as the overall composition of the surrounding societies. For example, slaves (servi/ancillae) or slavery are mentioned in various contexts within the early medieval penitentials: enslavement can be assigned as a punishment for sins like perjury (see P. Columbani cn. 20), but forms of voluntary enslavement (to a monastery or the family of the injured party, e.g. P. Vinniani cn. 23) could also be decreed as a means to avoid further secular punishments or revenge. At the same time, the obligation to free a slave could be assigned as a penance for mistreating him/her (e.g. P. Vinniani cn. 40) but also seemingly random for swearing a false oath (e.g. P. Vinniani cn. 22). Similar interesting observations can be made with regard to the poor/poverty, women, and children. From a theological perspective, one may, for example, consider whether the order of the surrounding societies is simply mirrored or confirmed in the system of penance or whether we can actually discern a bottom-up movement akin to the ethics of Jesus (e.g. a particular concern to protect the rights of women and children).


  • 2020–2023        Ph.D. in Protestant Theology, Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2018–2020        M.A. in Teaching Profession: Protestant Theology, Spanish, Educational Sciences, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2015–2018        B.A. in Teaching Profession in Protestant Theology, Spanish, Educational Sciences, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2013–2015        Spanish Studies and Art History, University of Bonn, Germany

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