Charming 12th Century Nuns

There’s this widespread misconception that Medieval people are boring. Add to that the idea that monks and nuns are boring (especially Medieval monks and nuns). If you currently hold this belief, I am going to have to swat you with my proverbial gloves and insist on a duel. Or maybe just fisticuffs, as I’ve never really been fond of getting up before dawn.

Medieval people are fun, especially monks and nuns (seriously, if you were cooped up all day, everyday for the better part of your life, you’d have to find ways to entertain yourself, wouldn’t you?). Evidence of this can be seen in various marginalia in manuscripts- there are the ever-amusing “I’m cold” or “this seat is very uncomfortable”, all the way to the more raucous sketches of steaming piles of poo and “I miss women”-style commentary.

In s similar vein (“nuns are fun”), I recently ran across a poem, written by a nun from Auxerre on a roll meant to honor the recently deceased Abbess of the Holy Trinity in Caen. The Abbess was no less than the daughter of William the Conqueror, Matilda, who died in 1113. Amongst the somber and respectful messages that I’m sure were written on the roll came this lively bit of poetry from a nun:

All Abbesses deserve to die

Who order subject nuns to lie

In dire distress and lonely bed

Only for giving love its head.

I speak who know, for I’ve been fed,

For loving, long on stony bread.

Charming. And this was on the Medieval equivalent of a public sympathy card. I don’t want to get into too much speculation, but I would guess that this particular nun had some problems with the strictness with the rule (or with authority, or just with “visitors”). I’ll just let you think on that.

(Poem was borrowed from Southern, R. W. The Making of the Middle Ages. London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1953. 24.)


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