Virgins of Venice, by Mary Laven
More prisoners than brides
Kate Chisholm reviews Virgins of Venice by Mary Laven
The Liz Hurleys and Britney Spears of this world are missing a vital trick: long, rippling skirts and demure veils have an allure that no expanse of thigh or bosom can match. That is why the image of the nun has always fascinated and intrigued.
The 16th-century satirist Pietro Aretino, quoted by Mary Laven in her study of the Venetian convents, mocked those "who believe that girls who become nuns do not have teeth to gnaw with like those who marry. They should realise that nuns too are made of flesh and bone, and that there is nothing which stimulates desire more than denial."
The first convent to be established within the Serenissima and its islands was on Torcello in 640. By the mid-17th century there were 50 nunneries. For centuries their existence was encouraged by the city authorities as bastions of chastity and prayer; "a precious spiritual resource", as Mary Laven explains, "which served to counterbalance the worldliness of the laity".
But by 1521 it seems that celibacy was proving an unlikely, if not impossible, virtue and the provveditori sopra monasteri was established: a group of magistrates appointed by the city authorities with the specific task of cleaning up the convents. The reforming zeal of this mini-Inquisition was reinforced by the papal decrees of the 1560s, which also sought to stamp out worldly practices within monastic life.
From the records of the provveditori, Mary Laven has created a portrait of life behind the blind windows, concealed corridors and forbidding walls of the post-Reformation convent. As she points out, while the investigation was intended as a curb on the nuns' independence (behind those walls, no men could rule), ironically its records have ensured that the nuns' voices have been preserved for us to read.
The problem - in Venice especially, because of the claustrophobic nature of its geography and the in-breeding of its aristocratic families - was that three-quarters of the suors were daughters of the nobility, incarcerated not by choice but because there was either no one suitable for them to marry, or not enough money for an attractive dowry. Hence the high levels of insubordination - and worse.
In 1596, at the convent of Sant' Andrea de Zirada, for example, the campanile was sealed up after accusations that the nuns had climbed to the top of the bell tower and flaunted themselves before the neighbourhood.
Other salacious stories recounted by Mary Laven include the sad tale of Suor Laura Querini. Laura, incarcerated unwillingly from the age of six, is recorded as having in her late thirties be come so frustrated that she wrenched an iron bar from the grille in her cell and knocked a hole in a wall overlooking a canal. Thus a man 20 years her junior could gain access to more than her aura of sanctity.
Misdemeanours of the flesh were not the only crimes brought about by the rigours of monastic life: malicious gossip and internecine warfare were also perennial problems, especially in those convents where rival aristocratic families established networks of sisters, cousins and aunts.
Fascinating though these glimpses into convent life are, there is something crucial missing from this book. One has only to visit Venice now and attend Mass in convent churches filled with incense and spirituality to be aware that there must have been quite another dimension to the monastic life; a dimension that we find increasingly difficult to comprehend.
Many women entered convent life because they believed that here was a way of life that was meaningful and, in its own way, free; free at least of a demanding husband or tyrannical parent; free, too, of the need to negotiate their way through the troubled business of sexuality.
On the crumbling wall of a former convent in the Castello district can still be seen, Mary Laven tells us, a plaque dating from 1557 which reads "Hope and love keep us in this pleasant prison." Such sentiments are now beyond our understanding, but to ignore their implications is to present a curiously one-dimensional and unsatisfying portrait.
Kate Chisholm is the author of 'Fanny Burney: Her Life' (Vintage).
Virgins in a vacuum
Artemis Cooper reviews Virgins of Venice by Mary Laven
Above the church entrance to Santa Maria delle Vergine, one of the grandest of Venetian convents, was a plaque that read "Hope and love keep us in this pleasant prison". The convents were prisons for women who had committed no crime beyond that of being born. Their lives, and how they coped with their imprisonment, is the subject of this fascinating study.
For girls born to noble Venetian families in the 16th and 17th centuries, there were two options in life. The first was marriage. It was inconceivable to marry outside the nobility, and impossible without a large dowry. Yet because the great families of Venice did not want their wealth dissipated among a superfluity of heirs, few sons were allowed to marry.
The remaining bachelors lived in fratellanza, brotherhood: all-male households whose members pursued their careers as merchants, soldiers, politicians or diplomats. But if a noble girl was not married off, the convent was inescapable.
Such was the power of family pressure and coercion that few nuns rebelled against the life sentence. They took their vows and became the brides of Christ, which meant in theory that they renounced all the pleasures and comforts of family, property and individuality. In reality, they tried, with considerable ingenuity, to maintain a measure of independence, status and links with the outside world.
The outside world was, to some extent, sympathetic to this paradox. Patriarch Giovanni Tiepolo, who advocated a measure of leniency in aristocratic convents, pointed out that it was already difficult to persuade young ladies to take the veil. It should not be made any harder, for the women might refuse altogether and try to live their own lives - a prospect that did not bear thinking about.
With their incontinent emotions and ungovernable desires, women had to be controlled or all hell would break loose. "If the 2,000 or more noblewomen, who in this City live locked up in convents as if in a public storehouse, had been able or had wanted to dispose of themselves differently, what confusion! What damage! What dangers! What scandals, and what terrible consequences . . . for their families and the City!"
For many years, this pragmatic approach prevailed. Nuns were able to keep in touch through the iron grille of the convent parlour. Their families brought them money and news from home, and the nuns kept their visitors supplied with endless quantities of homemade biscuits and sweetmeats. But there were also scandals: loud laughter, fine clothes, gambling, gossip, illicit letters…
Serious sexual misdemeanours were rare, and quickly hushed up by the families involved. Convents were supposed to be holy and inviolate, yet the perception grew that they incubated a culture of lust, luxury and indiscipline.
Fearing that the disreputable state of its convents might turn the wrath of the Almighty on the city, Venice decided to act. In 1521 a magistrature was established to supervise the nuns, and the rules that governed them were tightened. All convents, regardless of their foundation, were to be strictly enclosed. No more pets, no more finery. All windows looking on to busy streets or canals were bricked up.
In one convent, the authorities even demanded that the ventilation holes in the latrine be blocked up, since they overlooked a public space. As Laven says: "The absolute insistence on enclosure and the zealous attention paid to implementing it sought to place nuns in a vacuum, sealed off from human relations."
This was, of course, impossible - both the nuns and their families were determined not to be severed from each other by these cruel and unenforceable laws. When hauled up before the magistrates, one spirited woman refused to see anything wrong in her behaviour towards her nieces in the convent. She said that she had been moved "by natural reason and love for these four young girls, destined by me at a tender age to the service of God . . . in order to amuse the girls, and console [them], I brought them some sweetmeats and some cream".
Of course, there were still scandals. There were cases of "significant love-affairs" between nuns and boarding-girls at Santa Marta, and "sensual practices" were exposed at Santa Croce. In San Zaccaria, two nuns actually bashed a hole through the canal-side wall of one of the convent storerooms in order to admit their lovers.
Mary Laven is a meticulous researcher and a scrupulously honest historian. She does not believe, as do some feminists, that convents gave nuns a measure of authority and independence that married women never enjoyed. To her, they remain prisons. But in the written proceedings of the magistracy, and in the way she writes with such profound empathy about their lives, Laven has released the voices of the nuns of Renaissance Venice. It is a tremendous achievement, and makes compelling reading.
Within those walls
Lisa Jardine is fascinated by Mary Laven's detailed portrait of 16th and 17th century Italian convent life, Virgins of Venice
Saturday July 20, 2002
Virgins of Venice: Enclosed Lives and Broken Vows in the Renaissance Convent
by Mary Laven
284pp, Viking, £20
In 1623, Galileo published his ground-breaking scientific work, Il Saggiatore (The Assayer) - the book in which he controversially announced that philosophy is written in the language of mathematics. Shortly after it appeared, his daughter, a cloistered nun in the convent of San Matteo in Florence, wrote to him: "Please send me your book, the one that has just been published, as I am longing to see what it says. Here are some cakes I made a few days ago." In the same package, she made him a gift of some fine linen cloths with fringes she had sewn herself; a few weeks earlier she had sent a bundle of hand-stitched shirts, and a little composition of her own.
Sister Maria Celeste's correspondence with her famous father - discovered for general readers by Dava Sobel, in her best-selling book, Galileo's Daughter - reveals an enclosed nun's life as one not simply dedicated to life-long service to God, but also taken up with a set of surprisingly worldly preoccupations, including intellectual debate, sewing and lace-making, laundering of delicate garments, cooking, baking and preparation of candied fruits, sweets and herbal remedies for those beyond the convent walls.
These latter activities allowed Galileo's daughter to stay closely connected to the world outside the convent, and particularly to her near family, her brother and her beloved father (for whom Sister Maria Celeste worked tirelessly to provide luxury items of clothing and delicious baked goods).
Now Mary Laven has produced a remarkable study of the convents of Venice in the 16th and 17th centuries, which reveals whole communities of nuns living enclosed lives strategically poised between the sacred and the profane. Basing her vividly told story on scrupulously scholarly study of the Venetian archives, Laven provides the reader with astonishingly fresh, immediate insights into the fascinating reality of day-to-day convent existence. Frequently quoting directly from the convent records, what she tells us is a revelation.
Convents, she shows, were structurally integral to the extended family life of the Venetian nobility. Girls of good pedigree took their religious vows as a matter of course - placed in convents by their nearest and dearest, who preferred to pay the relatively modest joining fees of the cloister rather than the steeply inflated dowries required under Venetian marriage law.
The girls themselves seem to have been largely compliant: the enclosed life offered a reasonably attractive lifestyle, combining a large measure of personal autonomy with a living environment at an agreeable level of comfort. If they had the means, they could even follow the latest fashions in their dress and domestic furnishings.
They joined aunts, cousins and sisters in close-knit, affectionate communities: lists of occupants for particular convents reveal clusters of nuns from the same noble families - seven Foscarinis, six Querinis, five Gradenigos at San Zaccaria, Moresinis at Spirito Santo, and no fewer than 14 Contarinis at Santa Caterina. Betrothed girls from these families, with no pretence of religious vocation, boarded with their cloistered female relations until their wedding day - a good way to keep them out of trouble. Convent life could, under these circumstances, resemble something like a long-running girls' reunion.
An inspection at Ogni Santi convent in 1594 recorded: "Above the large parlour, there is a big room furnished with beds where Suor Valeria Barbarigo sleeps along with certain of her nieces and other dependants. And here are to be found cupboards containing various commodities for cooking and a barrel of wine."
Convent parlours (where outside visitors might be entertained with the permission of the authorities) were centres for a rich and active social life. Contemporary accounts describe parties that went on all night, dances and puppet-show performances in the parlour on feast-days.
Families dropped in to visit, the nuns plied them with good things to eat, and showered them with gifts to take home. The gifts established mutual indebtedness between interned members of families and their relations, ensuring continued contact with the outside world.
Sometimes this got out of hand. At San Zaccaria convent in 1596, it was reported that the nuns' enthusiasm for gift-giving was undermining the community's domestic economy: "The nuns keep for themselves those gifts which they receive from their homes... Likewise, when they send presents to their relations, they do not inform the Abbess... and this accounts for half the food which the convent is squandering, because the nuns are continually making biscuits, cakes, doughnuts and pastries in great quantities - with the result that they consume five hundred stara of grain a year, two hundred stara more than they should reasonably expect to use."
Inevitably there were those within the convents who went beyond mere socialising and parlour flirtation, and found ways of entering into full sexual relations with outsiders. Some of Laven's stories from the archives are hilarious, rivalling any of Boccaccio's fictional tales from the Decameron.
My favourite is Laura Querini, confined by her family to the convent of San Zaccaria from the age of six, who, aged 40, fell passionately in love with a man from the Foscarini family 20 years her junior, who had attended occasional parties in the convent parlour. Pursuing him with absolute determination, Laura and another nun worked for more than a month with a crowbar to create a hole in the outer wall of the convent, leading into a small basement storeroom. Then (Laura testified at her trial), "the two men came in a boat, and put a plank across. We unblocked the hole, and they entered through it, and they stayed with us for two or three hours, while they had intercourse with us".
Becoming ever bolder in their exploits, they were eventually discovered, and the men were condemned to permanent exile from Venice. Lifelong enclosure under the severest restrictions was deemed punishment enough for the two unfortunate women.
Laura Querini's passion for young Foscarini led to fornication on a grand scale, and had serious consequences. She was by no means alone, however, in fastening with something close to desperation upon someone from outside the convent with whom she might form an emotional attachment. There is Sister Deodata, sewing surplices, handkerchiefs, collars and embroidered hats for members of the clergy, with obsessive determination, neglecting her communal convent duties, so as to make herself indispensable to her priest visitors. Or there are the nuns and priests who engage in long-running exchanges of erotic poems and love-letters.
Accused by the magistrates of indecorous conduct with a nun called Barbara on the strength of such letters, the priest Gerolemo Grandi from Santa Trinit¿ protested that he had never even seen Sister Barbara, but only heard her voice through the convent grille. The relationship, he maintained, was a harmless flirtation, confined solely to the written word.
What we hear, behind such protestations of innocence, is individual nuns' attempts to build an emotional attachment as some kind of bridge from the tedium of enclosure to the wide world beyond the convent walls. In the end, the fact remained that a girl, once she had taken her vows and been admitted to a convent, would never see that outside world again. However imaginatively nuns worked around the rules, banding together to create a tolerable life together, combining their duties with occasional diversions and parlour parties, the simple pleasures of normal, everyday life were forever beyond their reach.
Mary Laven has produced an utterly engrossing narrative account of both the ordinary and extraordinary enclosed lives of Venetian women in the Renaissance. Her commanding scholarship never gets in the way of the engaging tale she has to tell. Beautifully readable, compassionate and humorous, her book is an important, serious study of a group of women hitherto largely hidden from history.
Lisa Jardine's biography of Christopher Wren, On a Grander Scale, is published in September by HarperCollins
Locking up your daughters
VIRGINS OF VENICE: ENCLOSED LIVES AND BROKEN VOWS IN THE RENAISSANCE CONVENT
By Mary Laven
Penguin, £20, pp.198, ISBN:0670896357
Readers seduced by the title into expecting salacious tales are in for a disappointment. This scholarly study of Venetian convents highlights one of the more unpleasant aspects of that glorious but introspective and claustrophobic city: the increasing control freakery of its governments. After the disastrous defeat at Agnadello in 1509, the once omnipotent Serene Republic found itself pushed back within the confines of its lagoon, its energies turned in upon itself. Decadence and lax discipline were blamed for the city’s fall from grace; Venice was ahead of its time in the severity with which it imposed iron rules of enclosure on its numerous convents, preceding by some 50 years the new austerity of the Counter-Reformation. A state magistracy was set up to supervise the city’s convents: ‘it fell to them,’ Laven writes, ‘to enforce the new laws that aspired to obliterate all contact — from the most innocent and inconspicuous to the flagrantly sexual — between the city’s nuns and the outside world.’
Feminists have seen the convent as a laudable space in which women could operate independently: the quasi-Stalinist efforts by the Venetian authorities to reduce convents to compulsory, often exaggerated, enclosure undermines this view. Yet ironically, as Mary Laven says, embedded in the records forged by male officials, acting on behalf of the institutions of church and state, are the lost voices of women in convents. One of the most heart-rending was that of Sister Arcangela Tarabotti, aged 50, lamenting her ‘enforced vocation’ after 30 years of unhappy seclusion. Economics were a defining factor in these women’s incarceration. Aristocratic families regarded convents as convenient dumping-grounds for their supernumerary daughters (Tarabotti, one of six sisters, was born lame and therefore unlikely to find a husband), a solution which would enable them to avoid not only the crippling expense of providing the girls with marriage dowries but also the lifelong costs of supporting spinsters who had no respectable means of earning their own living. The males of the Venetian aristocracy (it was unthinkable to marry outside the closed patrician circle) left the costs and responsibilities of marriage to their oldest brother, preferring the cheaper and more pleasurable alternative of sharing all-male households, thus further reducing the marriage options for Venetian girls for whom the stark future was ‘maritar’ or ‘monacar’.
Strenuous attempts were made not only to prevent men going in or nuns going out but even to prevent them catching a glimpse of the world outside. Windows were walled up, doors sealed, gardens put out of bounds. Religious women were to be not only physically but emotionally cut off from the world. Even innocent affection was condemned as ‘the occasion and the root … [of] all disorders’. Naturally women — and men — broke the rules; there was dancing in the nuns’ parlours and during carnival masked men visited the convents for music and refreshments. Occasionally priest-confessors abused their privileged position; in 1561 one Padre Lion was publicly beheaded for ‘living like a great Turk in his seraglio’ surrounded by subservient nuns who looked after him and gratified his sexual desires. He even held nude beauty parades to pick the best of his flock.
Napoleon finished off the convents with his decree of 1810; their treasures were ransacked, the nuns expelled, the buildings turned to secular use as military barracks and, in one case, ironically, a women’s prison. Mary Laven has provided a fascinating glimpse into the life which once existed behind those empty walls.
24 July 2002 15:24 BDST
Virgins of Venice, by Mary Laven
"Get thee to a nunnery!" had alternative meanings if you happened to be a young woman in Renaissance Venice. It might confirm that you had discovered in yourself a truly sacred vocation. It might promise you a chance of a more comfortable life. It might mean that your patrician family, unable to pay the crippling marriage dowries that were current then, thought it more economical to wed you to Christ. It might even mean that you were being sent to one of the neo-convents (the Convertite, the Soccorso) whose function was to convert or succour fallen women.
There was plenty of choice, Heaven knows. There were said to be more convents per square foot than any other city in Europe. They were nearly all shut when Napoleon seized Venice, but you may still see the remains of them scattered around the place, generally forlornly transmuted into prisons, barracks or schools.
Mary Laven neatly describes them as part of the Serenissima's "spiritual economy". They could almost be defined as an Estate of the Realm, so powerfully symbolic was their place in the structure of the Republic. Resilient, too, is their reputation for salacious and scandalous goings-on. My guess is that this book's title was wished upon it by its publishers, well aware of the erotic allure that attends any nunneries, especially those of Venice. It is really, though, a skilfully extended doctoral thesis: scholarly, diligent, with frequent moments of fun and only a modicum of libidinous detail – a much more profound exercise than its trashy title might imply.
The ideal of virginity had special force in Venice. The city was famously virginal itself – Wordsworth's "maiden city, bright and free" – and its communities of theoretical female celibates like vestals round the civic hearth. Once a year the Doge "married" the Abbess of Santa Maria delle Vergini, but he certainly did not consummate the union, any more than he slept with his other ritual bride, the Adriatic. The sacred maidens of Venice were hypothetical hostages to the God who had given the city its surrogate divinity, and preserved it involate.
Their nunneries were also tokens of Venetian order. This was a city of segregations. The nobility were tightly bonded in social unity and political power. The gentry frequented their own societies. The working classes knew their patriotic place. The courtesans were catalogued. The Jews were in their ghetto. The innumerable clergy moved through the city on a plane of their own. And the thousands of nuns were immured in their 30-odd convents, many forbidden by law to move outside them, or have any but the most rigidly supervised contact with the world outside.
Laven makes it plain that nunnery conditions did vary from century to century – eddying, as it were, around the affronted fundamentalism of the Counter-Reformation. However, the picture she paints, drawn largely from her researches among archival papers, is startling enough. Severely enclosed though they were, the convents were adept at networking. They varied in social clout, but the most aristocratic, the Roedeans of virginity, still maintained close contact with inmates' influential families, and could exert genuine pressures upon the affairs of state. At some periods their visitors' parlours were glitzy centres of social life, with dances and dinner parties at which the nuns were by no means always required to watch the gaiety through their protective grates.
So the boundaries were "smudged", as Laven puts it, "between the world of sin and these islands of sinlessness". Sometimes defiant nuns ran away. Often they consorted, against all the rules, with the women who clustered around convent doors, and were generically described by the authorities as "whores, bawds and witches". Prostitutes frequently sororised with nuns; Laven calls them "mirror-images" of each other, and in 1509 it was alleged that 15 convents were themselves really no more than whorehouses.
Men risked awful penalties by penetrating the virginal enclosures – sometimes just to flash their members, sometimes for a bit of kiss and cuddle, sometimes to go the whole hog in a nun's cell – and conniving with them was just as dangerous. In 1614 two nuns at the convent of San Zaccaria bashed a hole in the wall to enable their lovers to enter, and a married couple who gave them a hand felt the full scorching disapproval of the Virgin City: the husband got six years in the galleys, the wife was flogged from San Marco to Rialto and told that if she ever entered a nunnery again her nose and ears would be cut off.
Do not suppose, though, that Virgins of Venice is all sex and sensation. It is not that kind of book at all, and Mary Laven is not that kind of writer. On the contrary, it is essentially a work of analytic pathos and compassion, and of all its characters the one who will live longest in my memory is "a man named Santo who was found in the parlour passing a rose to a nun through the grate". Much true love and affection lay wasted behind those grim stone walls, and who can doubt that many a good woman, never to appear in the archives, lived out her life there in virgin Godliness?
Jan Morris's 'Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere' is now in Faber paperback
July 20, 2002
Nuns have fun
VIRGINS OF VENICE
By Mary Laven
Viking, £20, 320pp
ISBN 0 670 89635 7
IT IS a great title. Most people will agree that Venice — changeable and eternal, on show and yet secretive, beautiful and tawdry — is the quintessence of the feminine city, and is all things to all men.
“Virgins” and “Venice” sounds like a contradiction. But Mary Laven argues that this is no paradox. She lists some 63 convents founded in the Venetian lagoon from 640 to 1685, each one built not out of religious devotion but because of the need to have a place in which to keep women who had become inconvenient for one reason or another.
Cultural critics have tended to see nuns as victims, shut away by unscrupulous parents, exploited by scheming priests and prey to their own lusts. Feminist history undermined that view by presenting them as women who chose to exchange the requirements of family duty for a quiet life of power, education and self-government. Both, says Laven, are outsider’s views.
Drawing on a wealth of documents and stories, she shows us the convent as a social meeting place. Daughters of noble families, unable to find an appropriate match, were consigned to convents, but that did not mean that they were resigned to conventual life. They kept hens to provide eggs, bartered for flour, smuggled in sugar and fine wines, and held parties.
Laven relates dramatic tales of secret trysts, while prostitutes and puppet shows, prelates and pimps, could all be encountered in the parlours of these well-endowed convents.
Her scholarly and judicious account shows how these enclosed women could be both demurely virgin and extravagantly Venetian.
March 2, 2003
Venice - Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent
Viking: 304 pp., $24.95
”Virgins of Venice" opens in 1609 in Venice. It describes a city in which ghettos were popular ways of keeping blood and social relations "pure." Women had three career options: nun, wife or whore. Convents were places where girls from noble families who did not face a high possibility of marriage (a limp; homeliness; too many daughters and too little money for a sufficient dowry) were "dumped," as Mary Laven explains. Not "called" but "dumped."
For many of the young Venetians, raised amid low-cut finery, not exactly delighted to be "married to Jesus," this was a bit of a problem. As the government of Venice became increasingly insecure in the world and at odds with the Vatican (the Church of Venice often had its hands slapped for general immorality), its fear over what went on in these convents increased along with its attempts to control them. Nuns were prohibited from leaving the convents or fraternizing with outsiders. Sex "with a bride of Christ" was punishable by death ("Let his head be cut off so that it is separated from the body, and so that death ensues," Laven quotes a piece of legislation from 1605).
Arranging illicit rendezvous, Laven writes, became a kind of sport among noblemen. The most entertaining parts of this book -- though I am not sure this is exactly what Laven intended -- are the accounts of escapes and trysts and storage rooms where lovers stayed for 10 days of intense copulation. Laven has, in parts, struck a devil's bargain between scholarship and entertainment. Passages from a book written by a young woman in the 17th century called "A Nun's Hell" (a text the true devotee can look forward to) are cited.
Many of these convents still exist in Venice. The nuns are no longer prisoners but work in the community in schools and hospitals. Architectural details in the convents, like barred windows and retaining walls, serve as constant reminders of a less happy time.
Virgins of Venice
Mary Laven has
recently written a book called “Virgins of Venice.” The book tells the story of
Italian convent life. While doing research for the book, Laven studied numerous
documents about the lives of nuns in 50 Venice convents.
Inevitably some of these "virgins" got pregnant and on many occasions they gave
birth to wonderful children of Christ. At first it was considered a virginal
conception, later the Church came to the opinion that convents were turning into
abodes of evil and perversion. The Church finally decided to put an end to that
with the help of repressive measures.
The poor nuns had their hair cut, their lovely shoes were taken away from them, as well as cats and dogs and fancy furniture. The Church even ordered all locks be removed from cell doors to prevent any lesbian fun.
The nuns had to witness their convents turn into real prisons. Doors and windows were all barred. Nuns could be visited only by doctors, but even doctors had to consult with them through bars or in the presence of other nuns.
The new conditions were horrid, but these nuns did not give way to despair. They found other ways to enjoy life. Some girls managed to have love affairs with priests. They also enjoyed spending time looking out of their windows hoping to catch a glimpse of a nearby man. At times their patience would be rewarded. If a man noticed the nuns were gazing at him, he would come closer to the convent and drop his pants to their immense pleasure.