Frances Wilson

Sister Act

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


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.

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