Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art & Arson in the Convents of Italy by Craig A Monson - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

Sister Act

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

By

University of Chicago Press 241pp £22.50 order from our bookshop
 

How do you solve a problem like Maria? The naughty nuns in this book are not simply flibbertigibbets, will-o’-the-wisps and clowns, they are unsung – and often loudly singing – heroines, protesting against their incarceration. Today when women behave badly in the Catholic Church it is because they get themselves ordained as priests; in the seventeenth century, their bad behaviour ranged from rebellious embroidery to harmonising their voices, dabbling with the devil, and burning down the convent. Disappointing perhaps for those looking for a little nun-on-nun body-surfing but enough to make the rest of us feel that we have, in this gem of a book, entered an otherwise unknown and thoroughly weird world.

Craig Monson is a musicologist and his research for Nuns Behaving Badly began as an investigation into the contested area of music in convents. Nuns have always sung, of course, but not usually songs with lyrics like ‘You’ve got that little trinket,/So delightful and so pleasing/Might I take

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