Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Chronicle of le Murate

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Chronicle of le Murate

Article excerpt

The Chronicle of Le Murate. By Sister Giustina Niccolini. Edited and translated by Saundra Weddle. [The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe: The Toronto Series, 12.] (Toronto: Iter, Inc., and the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. 2011. Pp. xiv, 361. $32.00 paperback. ISBN 978-07727-2108-2.)

The chronicle of the Florentine convent of Le Murate, composed in 1 598 by the Benedictine nun Giustina Niccolini and still unpublished in Italian, has now been translated by Saundra Weddle into English as part of the outstanding series The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. It will allow students and scholars who do not read Italian access to a text of great importance, not only to the history of female convents but also to the history of the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation Church. Using sources ranging from older chronicles to the convent archive and the memories of other nuns, Niccolini retells the history of her institution over a period of 200 years from its foundation around 1400. The single most striking facet of the chronicle is Niccolini's urge to communicate innumerable, disparate pieces of information about Renaissance convent life, thereby leaving a treasure trove for historians. From the point of view of possible subject matter, chronicles in this respect resemble private letters. No topic is considered too mundane-or, indeed, too secular- to be included, so written ex-votos and references to vomiting blood are mentioned alongside donations by secular women patrons and visits by ecclesiastics enforcing the Tridentine decrees. The importance of visual and material culture in convent life is readily apparent from the nun's narrative. The simple style of the chronicle, unfailingly enfolded within a religious outer coating, betrays its origin in the spoken language, as it was composed as a dictation. Given the emphasis on obedience and self-effacement of nuns, being a nun chronicler (especially during the Counter-Reformation years) was a risky choice of occupation, which is why Niccolini feels obliged to describe herself as "an ignorant and coarse woman" (p. …

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