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Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy

Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy

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Published by University of Chicago Press an imprint of UChicagoPress

Witchcraft. Arson. Going AWOL. Some nuns in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy strayed far from the paradigms of monastic life. Cloistered in convents, subjected to stifling hierarchy, repressed, and occasionally persecuted by their male superiors, these women circumvented authority in sometimes extraordinary ways. But tales of their transgressions have long been buried in the Vatican Secret Archive. That is, until now.

In Nuns Behaving Badly, Craig A. Monson resurrects forgotten tales and restores to life the long-silent voices of these cloistered heroines. Here we meet nuns who dared speak out about physical assault and sexual impropriety (some real, some imagined). Others were only guilty of misjudgment or defacing valuable artwork that offended their sensibilities. But what unites the women and their stories is the challenges they faced: these were women trying to find their way within the Catholicism of their day and through the strict limits it imposed on them. Monson introduces us to women who were occasionally desperate to flee cloistered life, as when an entire community conspired to torch their convent and be set free. But more often, he shows us nuns just trying to live their lives. When they were crossed—by powerful priests who claimed to know what was best for them—bad behavior could escalate from mere troublemaking to open confrontation.

In resurrecting these long-forgotten tales and trials, Monson also draws attention to the predicament of modern religious women, whose “misbehavior”—seeking ordination as priests or refusing to give up their endowments to pay for priestly wrongdoing in their own archdioceses—continues even today. The nuns of early modern Italy, Monson shows, set the standard for religious transgression in their own age—and beyond.

Witchcraft. Arson. Going AWOL. Some nuns in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy strayed far from the paradigms of monastic life. Cloistered in convents, subjected to stifling hierarchy, repressed, and occasionally persecuted by their male superiors, these women circumvented authority in sometimes extraordinary ways. But tales of their transgressions have long been buried in the Vatican Secret Archive. That is, until now.

In Nuns Behaving Badly, Craig A. Monson resurrects forgotten tales and restores to life the long-silent voices of these cloistered heroines. Here we meet nuns who dared speak out about physical assault and sexual impropriety (some real, some imagined). Others were only guilty of misjudgment or defacing valuable artwork that offended their sensibilities. But what unites the women and their stories is the challenges they faced: these were women trying to find their way within the Catholicism of their day and through the strict limits it imposed on them. Monson introduces us to women who were occasionally desperate to flee cloistered life, as when an entire community conspired to torch their convent and be set free. But more often, he shows us nuns just trying to live their lives. When they were crossed—by powerful priests who claimed to know what was best for them—bad behavior could escalate from mere troublemaking to open confrontation.

In resurrecting these long-forgotten tales and trials, Monson also draws attention to the predicament of modern religious women, whose “misbehavior”—seeking ordination as priests or refusing to give up their endowments to pay for priestly wrongdoing in their own archdioceses—continues even today. The nuns of early modern Italy, Monson shows, set the standard for religious transgression in their own age—and beyond.

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Publish date: Nov 15, 2010
Added to Scribd: Nov 22, 2010
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reservedISBN:9780226534626
List Price: $18.00

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12/20/2014

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9780226534626

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quantum_flapdoodle reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Anyone reading just the title of this book could be forgiven for assuming it might be about sexual adventures in the convent. This couldn't be further from the case. In fact, it's a delightful book about nun misadventures that says more about the church and its attitudes towards women than it does about the bad behavior of nuns. One particularly enjoyable episode involves a nun who decided to attend the opera. This isn't exactly something we would consider badly behaved in modern times, but it created a scandal that rocked the entire town, and reverberated throughout the region. A couple of the stories actually do report behavior that could be considered questionable even in today's society, such as the arsonist nuns, but for the most part, the quivering outrage and indignation over the misbehavior of these nuns, and the constant worries about the future of the church seem almost farcical. The author readily acknowledges that his main source is the Vatican archives, which also can be perceived as somewhat biased, but in many cases, there are letters and petitions from others that have been involved, including townspeople and the nuns themselves, so the voice here is not monolithically that of the church. Overall, it's a great read for someone who wants to learn more about the role of women in the church during the middle of the last millennium, the view of people at that time about women, and the strong minded, independent women who were locked away in a cloister when they really would rather have been part of society. The language is not particularly scholarly, so the book is accessible to a wide range of lay readers.
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