Monday, September 1, 2008

A return to nuns

The last few entries, I note, have concentrated on matters personal-professional. They've brought a few new commenters out of the woodwork--welcome! and thanks for reading!

But now how about some nuns? Here's an anecdote I encountered in my research some time ago:

Once upon a time a young lady named Geralda wished to enter a particular nunnery. Now, there are some questions we can't answer here: for one thing, we can't be completely certain whether Geralda herself had a burning desire for the monastic life, or whether her parents thought the monastery would be the best place for her. She and her family were noble, but not titled nobility: her father likely held a castle or two in the countryside. 

Regardless of whose idea it was, she was certainly a socially acceptable candidate, and the nunnery she sought to enter was eminently respectable: a few hundred years old, well established, regularly accepting young women from the area. They claimed, however, that they could not take Geralda. They were too poor, they said, and could not possibly support another nun. It was expensive, after all, to take in a young woman and provide her with food, clothing, and so forth for her entire life.  

Geralda's father may not have been count of anything, but he apparently had some pull somewhere, because Geralda and her family filed complaints all the way up to the pope. Having been turned away from one nunnery, it might have been sensible to seek entrance into another. But for Geralda and her family, apparently only this nunnery would do. Why? This is another point on which we don't have much information. This particular nunnery was not too far away from the family's residence, for one thing; trying to enter another nunnery would probably require her either to join a much smaller community, or to join a community much farther from home. Or maybe Geralda was particularly fond of the saint that this nunnery was dedicated to. Or maybe she had an aunt already a nun there, although if that were so, it ought to have been easier for her to be accepted there.

Now, the pope was a busy man, and not about to trek down from Avignon himself to investigate, but he did appoint a delegate to look into the matter. Before the delegate, Geralda presented her complaints, and the nunnery in turn sent an official who laid out all the debts and other difficulties that made it just impossible, sorry, for them to take in another nun. And the delegate agreed with the nuns' official. And that should have been the end of it.

But it clearly was not. Because, lo and behold, some years later Geralda shows up in the list of nuns signing on to a charter at that nunnery, so clearly they had let her in after all. One suspects that she and her father had been induced to make some sizable donation to the community, to make up for the terrible expense of her upkeep. Yet, evidently, a happy ending for Geralda, who had fought hard to be admitted to the monastery of her choice. One hopes she lived a long and contented life there.

No comments: