Witchcraft. Arson. Going AWOL. Some nuns in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy strayed far from the paradigms of monastic life. Cloistered in convents, subjected to stifling hierarchy, repressed, and occasionally persecuted by their male superiors, these women circumvented authority in sometimes extraordinary ways. But tales of their transgressions have long been buried in the Vatican Secret Archive. That is, until now. In "Nuns Behaving Badly", Craig A. Monson resurrects forgotten tales and restores to life the long-silent voices of these cloistered heroines. Here we meet nuns who dared to speak out about physical assault and sexual impropriety (some real, some imagined). Others were guilty only of misjudgment or of defacing valuable artwork that offended their sensibilities. But what unites the women and their stories is the challenge they faced: these were women trying to find their way within the Catholicism of their day and through the strict limits it imposed on them.
In resurrecting these long-forgotten tales and trials, Monson also draws attention to the predicament of modern religious women, whose "misbehavior" - seeking ordination as priests or refusing to give up their endowments to pay for priestly wrongdoing in their own archdioceses - continues even today. The nuns of early modern Italy, Monson shows, set the standard for religious transgression in their own age - and beyond.
"Monson, a... self-proclaimed 'archive mouse,' happily scurries into this forgotten repository, retrieving tales of sororal transgressions, which range from affairs to arson." (New Yorker) "Nuns Behaving Badly wears its learning with a smile, but it throws a sharp light into dark Roman Catholic corners." (Economist) "A gem of a book.... Monson writes with wry humour and a novelist's eye for detail, but the stories he uncovers would be extraordinary even without his narrative skill." (Literary Review)"