Get Me To a Nunnery


Hold on. Does this mean all those nativist tracts were right after all? (*)

By poring over contemporary letters, diaries, and legal documents, historians have established that Venetian nunneries were the most liberated in Europe. In the 1400s, the skyrocketing cost of dowries meant that many of the city's noblest families were obliged to place their teenage daughters, regardless of their wishes, in convents. Few of these developed a spiritual calling. It was openly accepted that the top convents were a "safety valve" for Venice's surplus of well-born single women, who could go on to enjoy a level of sexual freedom unique for the time.

The nunneries were run like luxury boutique hotels. Novices were given duplicate keys so they could come and go as they pleased from their palatial apartments, which were filled with artwork and overlooked the Grand Canal. Wearing the most fashionable, low-cut dresses, they would entertain male visitors with wine-fuelled banquets, then invite their beaux to spend the night in their rooms. They took romantic gondola rides with admirers to private picnics on the islands of the Venice Lagoon, and went on poetic moonlit walks in the secluded gardens. The most passionate eloped—presumably with men who were not obsessed with dowries. The mature-age abbesses rode the city in luxury carriages with their pet dogs and oversaw their girls' activities with a maternal eye. If a nun fell pregnant, she would simply give birth in the privacy of the convent and pass the child off as an orphan abandoned on the doorstep.

Via Andrew Sullivan. On a related note, here's Chris Fujiwara on nunsploitation movies.

(* I am aware that it doesn't.)