Friday, February 17, 2012

Speaking of nuns...

Walter Goffart said it long ago:  Gregory of Tours, despite all his assumed modesty about his rustic style, was a heck of a subtle writer.  Teaching Gregory in a fourth-year seminar this year, I am more than ever impressed by his skillful touches.

See, for instance Book 9 chapter 40 in Gregory's Histories.  Gregory is writing an account of the nuns' revolt at Poitiers.  After a detailed discussion of the rebels' defiance of their abbess, their withdrawal from the convent, and their preparations for gang warfare against the abbess, he throws in an anecdote about an anonymous recluse at the same convent:

At this time there lived in the nunnery a certain recluse who, a few years before, had lowered herself from the wall and fled to St. Hilary's church, accusing her Mother Superior of many transgressions, all of which I found to be false.  Later on she had herself pulled up into the nunnery again by ropes at the very spot from which she  had previously lowered herself down. She asked permission to shut herself up in a secret cell, saying:  "I have greatly sinned [etc.]." As she said this she entered the cell.  When the revolt started, she broke down the door of her cell in the middle of the night, escaped from the nunnery, found her way to Clotild [the chief rebel nun] and, as she had done on the previous occasion, made a series of allegations against her Mother Superior.
Gregory here is giving his reader a quick analysis of the rebellion -- which among other things is a case of nuns getting tired of the cloistered life that they have committed themselves to and falling into a crazy, unstable way of life.  This recluse stands in for all the other giddy nuns who have fled the nunnery and are now returning to their families, getting married, getting pregnant or hanging out with  Clotild and her gang of murderers.  (Yes indeed, exciting times!)  But what really strikes me in this small parallel account of the evils of nuns on the loose is the humorous or sarcastic touch of the rope hanging over the wall.  You've just got to wonder if it was there all the time...

Image:  Here's one.

1 comment:

  1. That's kind of funny. Either you have an eternal rope or nun-fishing was a popular local pasttime and whenever you wanted a little time away from Holy Cross you just grabbed onto a line.