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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

I found Benedetta Carlim by chance, while leafing through an inventory of nearly forgotten documents in the State Archive of Florence. The entry in the inventory read: "Papers relating to a trial against Sister Benedetta Carlini of Vellano, abbess of the Theatine nuns of Pescia, who pretended to be a mystic, but who was discovered to be a woman of ill repute." What prompted me to look at that book of entries is something I shall never know for certain. Perhaps it was the title that intrigued me more than anything else: Miscellanea Medicea -- what odd and fascinating documents might be found there? The State Archive, I knew, was filled with some of the richest historical treasures in all of Europe and a collection of miscellaneous documents belonging to the Medici period was sure to contain interesting materials, especially for a historian about to embark on a study of the first Medici grand duke. My curiosity was piqued further because no one in the archive or in the books I consulted seemed to know who had gathered these particular documents into a collection or what purpose they might have had. I thought then that if I failed to look at what the Miscellanea contained, I would always wonder what I had missed.

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