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Bad habit

14th-century nun faked her own death to pursue ‘carnal lust,’ archive reveals

By WITW Staff on February 15, 2019

Medieval historians have uncovered a lost account of a 14th century nun who crafted a lookalike body and had a public burial for it in order to fake her own death, escape her convent and pursue, as the local archbishop put it, “the way of carnal lust.” According to Professor Sarah Rees Jones from the University of York, the story of the nun’s dramatic escape was hidden in a note written in Latin in the margin of one of 16 registers that recorded the business of York’s archbishops between 1304 and 1405.

In a note dated to the year 1318, archbishop William Melton wrote to the Dean of Beverly about a “scandalous rumor” he had overheard about a Benedictine nun named Joan who had “impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex.”

“Out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place,” Melton claimed.

“Having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency,” Melton continued, “she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.”

Jones, who discovered the story with her team of researchers last week, described the account as “extraordinary — like a Monty Python sketch.”

“Unfortunately, and this is really frustrating, we don’t know the outcome of the case,” she said. “There are quite a lot of cases of monks and nuns who left their religious house. We don’t always get the full detail or know what the outcome was.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.


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