Book Review: Nuns Behaving Badly



Initially, the cover struck me as a bit too tabloid-like—a busy collage that borders on sensory overload, plus a sexy, eye-catching, imagination-sparking title. However, it wasn’t enough to put me off thanks to the subtitle, which compelled me to read an entire book about sixteenth and seventeenth century Catholic nuns gone astray (published by University of Chicago Press).

In effect it opened up a complex world of which I had only a passing understanding, an aspect of convent life and Church history that too often gets suppressed, pushed into the shadows.

And while the narrative woven by author Charles Monson is based on detailed historic account, thanks to excellent records held at a number of Italian (and Vatican) archives and his Holmesian ability to wade through what must have been thousands of documents, it could also easily come off as a work of fiction.

But it’s not fiction.

The various “tales” of nuns invoking magic, running away, attempting to burn the convent down, submitting to lustful desires, and inciting mutiny, as well as the Church’s response, really happened. Convent life was not as pristine as you’d imagine.

Monson gives a compelling and highly-focused snapshot that brings to life a handful of stories of long-forgotten women who rebelled against the status quo, often attracting the ire of their superiors and bringing punishment onto themselves.

It’s up to us to decide whether we should admire or pity their efforts. (Or both.)


Learn More: Who is Craig A. Monson?

weren’t based on historic account,

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