Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy

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by Judith C. Brown, Brown
     
 

The discovery of the fascinating and richly documented story of Sister Benedetta Carlini, Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God, by Judith C. Brown was an event of major historical importance. Not only is the story revealed in Immodest Acts that of the rise and fall of a powerful woman in a church community and a record of the life of a religious visionary, it

Overview

The discovery of the fascinating and richly documented story of Sister Benedetta Carlini, Abbess of the Convent of the Mother of God, by Judith C. Brown was an event of major historical importance. Not only is the story revealed in Immodest Acts that of the rise and fall of a powerful woman in a church community and a record of the life of a religious visionary, it is also the earliest documentation of lesbianism in modern Western history.
Born of well-to-do parents, Benedetta Carlini entered the convent at the age of nine. At twenty-three, she began to have visions of both a religious and erotic nature. Benedetta was elected abbess due largely to these visions, but later aroused suspicions by claiming to have had supernatural contacts with Christ. During the course of an investigation, church authorities not only found that she had faked her visions and stigmata, but uncovered evidence of a lesbian affair with another nun, Bartolomeo. The story of the relationship between the two nuns and of Benedetta's fall from an abbess to an outcast is revealed in surprisingly candid archival documents and retold here with a fine sense of drama.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Discovered in the State Archive of Florence, ecclesiastical papers concerning a homosexual nun shed interesting light on a subject for which there is seldom documentation. Benedetta Carlini was elected abbess of a northern Italian convent in 1620, an achievement for a woman only 30 years old. This honor was largely due to the mystical visions that had made her famous: visitations from the Virgin Mary, a guardian angel and Christ himself, who ``married'' Carlini in a ceremony that caused much talk in the convent and prompted the investigations that led to her downfall. Not only did the authorities discover that the abbess had faked the stigmata she claimed were miraculously induced, they uncovered evidence of her lesbian affair with another nun. Carlini lost her position and was imprisoned for 35 years, but this was light punishment for what were considered serious crimes; apparently it was decided that she had been deluded by the devil and hence was not entirely responsible for her sins. The author, a Stanford historian, provides the historical background necessary to fully understand Carlini's story; Brown has written a book for the general reader rather than the scholar, a book already making news. November 14
Library Journal
Brown (History, Stanford University), has written a scholarly but highly read able account of the life of a 16th-centu ry Italian nun. Benedetta Carlini was born in 1590 in the countryside around Pescia, became Abbess of the Theatine Convent of the Mother of God, was tried and sentenced to imprisonment within the convent for various theologi cal as well as sexual infractions, but was finally given not only a Christian but also a quasi-saintly burial. The nar rative reveals much about medieval sexual views; patriarchal society; and religious power, including the popular power of so-called visionaries. Brown skillfully uses the effects of hierarchy within church, society, and convent as illustrations of the functioning of ambi tion and pride. Highly recommended for religious and feminist collections as well as for those of medieval history. Carolyn M. Craft, English, Philosophy & Foreign Languages Dept., Long wood Coll., Farmville, Va.
From the Publisher
"A rare example of the life of a nonaristocratic woman of the period and...a vivid picture of convent life and the Roman Catholic Church during the upheavals of the Counter-Reformation. Fascinating and highly readable."—The New York Times Book Review "Brown is a wonderful storyteller...[She] delivers a scholarly work that is also a story of tragedy and intrigue."—San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195036756
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
11/01/1985
Series:
Studies in the History of Sexuality Series
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.35(h) x 0.80(d)

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