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Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (Studies in the History of Sexuality) I Delitti Che Non Si Potevano Nominare Non Avevano Nome Letteralmente E Hanno Cos Lasciato Rare Tracce Nei Documenti Storici Furono Le Idee Contraddittorie Degli Europei Occidentali Sulla Sessualit Femminile A Impedire Che Si Trattasse Apertamente Della Sessualit Lesbica, Al Punto Che Si Fin Per Seppellirla Sotto Una Coltre Di Silenzio Il Silenzio Aliment La Confusione E La Confusione Accrebbe La Paura Su Queste Basi La Societ Occidentale Ha Eretto Una Barriera Impenetrabile Durata Quasi Duemila Anni Sono Questi I Motivi Per Cui L Inchiesta Ecclesiastica Su Benedetta Carlini, Badessa Del Convento Della Madre Di Dio, Risulta Estremamente Importante.


10 thoughts on “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (Studies in the History of Sexuality)

  1. says:

    In the year 1600, at the tender age of nine, Benedetta Carlini was sent to a nunnery in the small city of Pescia in north central Italy What today might be considered cruel and highly unusual was then a way for Benedetta s somewhat well to do parents to provide their daughter with protection After several years at the nunnery which Brown describes as fairly unremarkable, Benedetta began to have a series of increasingly disturbing visions, including being sexually harassed by demons Sister Benedetta was eventually assigned a companion named Bartolomea Crivelli also a sister in the convent whose presence, as the subtitle hints at, would later become problematic for her Bartolomea s job was to assist Benedetta through her periods of ecstasy, and was present when she supposedly received the stigmata and exchanged mystical hearts with Christ.Naturally, this caught the attention of a Counter Reformation Catholic Church whose main goal was maintaining a sense of propriety Two separate people men, naturally were set out to Pescia to investigate what was happening Stefano Cecchi was the first to investigate Benedetta over a number of visits throughout late 1619 Cecchi s main purpose was to ensure that she was remaining within theologically accepted boundaries, which she was extremely conscious of doing, knowing that moving outside of them would have put her reputation, and importantly her life, in danger Cecchi, satisfied that Benedetta was not a heretic, left quietly to resume his position as the provost of Pescia At least for a while, things appeared to return to normal inside the convent At some time between August 1622 and March 1623, the papal nuncio sent several representatives, led by Alfonso Giglioli, to examine Benedetta s claims again In 1620, she had become an abbess at the incredibly young age of thirty, but had been deeply troubled by the recent death of her father The nuncio s representatives proceeded much in the same way as in the earlier set of visits Their final ruling on Benedetta s case isn t even given until the beginning of the epilogue The story of Benedetta Carlini is shrouded in mystery for the next forty years No records exist of the nuncio s pronouncements, and it is only the chance survival of one fragment of one nun s diary that allows us to know the outcome On August 7, 1661, that nun, whose name has not come down to us, wrote in her diary Benedetta Carlini died at age 71 of fever and colic pains after eighteen days of illness She died in penitence, having spent thirty five years in prison p 132.At this point, you might be wondering, And the lesbianism What about the lesbianism Its relevance and Brown s discussion of it are extraordinarily fleeting Bartolomea gave testimony that Benedetta sexually molested her and engaged in frottage with her while possessed by the spirit of a male demon known as Splenditello While Benedetta and Bartolomea s sexual behavior merits perhaps a few sentences in the book, in the Introduction and peppered throughout the text, Brown discusses how Benedetta used Splenditello s maleness as a foil to explain away her rape of Bartolomea and according to Bartolomea s testimony, that s exactly what it was The book remains ambiguous as to whether Benedetta deliberately used her male demon as an excuse, or whether she actually thought he possessed her, but the nuncio s representatives seem unconvinced as they accuse her of pretending to be a mystic, and being a woman of ill repute One wonders what Brown s motivation was in giving the book such a gratuitous title The content of the book, a scholarly interpretation of a set of documents couched deep in the State Archive of Florence entitled Papers relating to a trial against Sister Benedetta Carlini of Vellano, abbess of the Theatine nuns of Pescia, who pretended to be a mystic, but who was discovered to be a woman of ill repute, isn t really commensurate with the sensationalism of the title The book provides an intelligent analysis of a lot of topics, from early seventeenth century life to cultural assumptions of sex and gender I almost wished the publishers would have chosen one of those horribly academic titles to give a better impression of what it was all about I vote for Transgressing Normative Gender Identities Through Self Conscious Afflatus in Renaissance Italy But then someone s going to pick it up thinking that afflatus means something dirty Sometimes you just can t win.


  2. says:

    Immodest Acts is subtitled The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy which, while intriguing and liable to make you pick it up in the bookstore, is unfortunately rather misleading The majority of this slim book is focused not on the sexuality of Sister Benedetta Carlini, a seventeenth century abbess and mystic from the Tuscan town of Pescia, but rather on her quest for power and recognition as a mystic and her subsequent fall from grace Her alleged lesbian affair is discussed in about ten pages Carlini s story is undoubtedly an interesting and unusual one, and the records of the contemporary inquests into her visions Carlini claimed to have visions of Christ and of angels, to have contracted a mystical marriage with Christ and to suffer the stigmata are fascinating with what they show us about how power worked in the Catholic Church of this time and place While at first Carlini s claims were believed, suspicions were eventually raised, and she spent the last 35 years of her life imprisoned within the convent, not only because of her fraudulent mysticism but because she had used her claims of divine authority to force another nun to have sexual relations with her.Brown s analysis doesn t really live up to the interesting nature of her source material, though I think the use of the term lesbian to describe Carlini is too anachronistic to be useful, especially since she seems to have been of a sexual and emotional abuser than anything else Nothing about the relationship between Carlini and Sister Bartolomea appears to have been consensual Carlini s life tells us about the pursuit of power than about what it was like to be a woman who loved other women in Renaissance Italy indeed, there is remarkably little by way of contextualisation and comparison throughout Immodest Acts was written when the historiography of women s gender sexuality studies was in its comparative infancy, and it shows I can t help but think that if a historian had come across these documents recently, they d have done something much interesting with them.


  3. says:

    Just wrote an academic book review of this for class.To summarize that, the title of this book is very misleading because the book is mostly biographical starting from birth and ending in death, very little of it actually having to do with her sexuality I would also argue that taking into consideration some other evidence presented in the book and working within the fairly modern concept of sexuality as an identity as opposed to a behavior act , the nun may have been bisexual.Overall, it was well researched and written, but the title was basically academic clickbait.


  4. says:

    In Judith Brown s Immodest Acts The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, we are introduced to an early seventeenth century nun named Benedetta Carlini As revealed in a review by Sofia Boesch Gajano, Brown first became familiar with Carlini while researching Tuscan society, inadvertently coming upon a file dated 1619 1623 in the State Archives that described a woman who had supposedly been affected by supernatural divine spiritual events The case spanned several years and two official investigations by ecclesiastical authorities, ending in a charge of false divine interventions and homosexual behavior on the part of Carlini, precipitating the loss of her position as abbess In Immodest Acts, Brown places the events of Benedetta s life, gleaned from the state files, in historic and socioeconomic contexts.Carlini was considered a blessed child at birth She was supposed to have died in birth, but miraculously survived Her entire life was centered on religion Soon after entering the convent at Pescia at age nine, she became the focus of supernatural events that singled her out from the other nuns in her cloister After fasting and being in a state of intense pain, she claimed to have favor with the Madonna and to have received visions Men, beautiful but cruel men, angels, and even Christ himself occupied these visions The visions brought Carlini local fame Upon receiving this attention, Carlini then claimed to be stricken with stigmata The evidence of stigmata propelled her into the position of the abbess of the convent After gaining the power of the position of the abbess, Carlini performed a marriage ceremony with the adult Christ, in front of the entire abbey, closely mirroring but not exactly imitating Saint Catherine of Siena who married the infant Christ Carlini then claimed to have been given Christ s heart and to have temporarily died and been resurrected by him Such fantastic claims eventually led to the two official investigations a local investigation and a papal nuncio During the course of the investigations it was determined that the divine signs had been faked and that Carlini had committed immodest acts with another nun.Brown has written a solid piece of microhistory that puts the story of a socioeconomically challenged character in the context of her world, while at the same time investigating some important gender issues She proceeds in a Foucaultian manner, pointing out scenarios of turmoil and conflict that result in exchanges of power, such as the stigmata leading to her position of abbess Brown, 57 59 or the probing of the investigators into the actions of the nun s special companions that lead to the exposition of Carlini s sexual behavior Brown, 117 The biggest failings of the book in many ways are the title and introduction, reviewer Lillian Faderman supports this stating, Such a title may alienate the serious reader Faderman, 576 Its titillating subtitle, The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, and the introduction unnecessarily focus the reader on sexual exploits, when the book has so much interesting scholarship to offer The title was meant to sell books, but the introduction concentrates on implied homosexuality, when that does not seem to be the main drive of the rest of the text sexual behavior occupies only a small place at the end of the second investigation Brown herself, quoting the ideas of Foucault and others, even questions the use of the nomenclature homosexuality before the nineteenth century, given the ideas of the time about sexuality introduction, notes The reaction of Carlini s investigators seem to support this although shocked at her behavior, they did not seem to put as much importance on sexual actions as they did on her other indiscretions involving falsified divine interventions.The value of the book is well beyond finding seventeenth century nuns in a compromising lesbian position A far interesting subject is the socio psychological idea that Brown puts forth about the heteronormative conditions into which the actions of Carlini and her companion Bartolomea fell during their sexual exploits According to Brown, Western tradition permeated the actions of the two nuns when one assumed a male role the assumption of that role revealed a paradox that such relations tended to reaffirm, rather than subvert, the assumed biological hierarchy Brown, 12 This passage demonstrates the presumption, even by the nuns involved in these actions, that males occupied a superior biological level compared to females it was believed at the time that, in order to perform such sexual acts, at least one of the women involved must ascend to a phallocentric male persona The discussion as to whether Carlini assumed a male persona to ascend to a perfect state of nature Brown, 12 or to obtain and exercise power usually out of reach for a Renaissance Early Modern European woman is one of the book s strongest argument Religious beliefs aside, the position of an abbess was the most powerful position that a woman could gain, next to becoming a queen and from what we know of the struggles of Elizabeth I, the abbess may have been in a far superior day to day power position Moreover, as evidenced by Carlini s rise, it was the only available power position for a woman in her socioeconomic standing to aspire to at the time Throughout the book, one of the most fascinating characteristics of Carlini, exposed by Brown, is the sense one gets of her sincere drive to achieve a powerful position and to bring her abbey to a standing above the norm, thus achieving a better life for herself even if briefly and in general, the women of her abbey, despite the ideas of the day regarding women s, and specifically nun s roles.Immodest Acts is a valuable historical text, forwarding the body of scholarship on women in early modern Europe while simultaneously advancing historical scholarship that concentrates on defining the microcosm and placing it to a larger macrocosm Although Brown quotes such male authored works as Eric Midelfort s Witch hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562 1684 and Fernand Braudel s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, she is able to achieve a much fresher and interesting intimate study by upending their and other earlier authors larger scale, tables and maps, sociological type of study by concentrating on a single individual s life and including gender issues into her argument It is a shame that it takes a titillating cover title to sell a book and to appeal to the voyeuristic attitudes of the masses, when Judith Brown s book is a far deeper and interesting intellectual exercise.


  5. says:

    I read this kind of hoping for some picaresque escapades of a lesbian nun going on adventures around Renaissance Italy, but instead it wound up being a very sad story about a failed mystic who was accused by papal investigators of faking all of her visions and repeatedly raping her cell mate in her convent Bummer Judith Brown s microhistory is a very interesting read on one hand, and it shines some interesting light on a woman who attempted to follow in the mystic tradition of celebrated saints like Birgitte of Sweden or Catherine of Siena but wound up failing dramatically By following the life of Benedetta Carlini, Brown can venture off and talk about issues ranging from the prospects of women in 17th century Italy, contemporary attitudes towards lesbianism, and how female mystics could use their visions to attain public influence or public notoriety Also interesting is how those around Benedetta viewed her visions potentially problematic, but also a potential boon for the convent The problem is that the title and the introductory chapter doesn t particularly match with the book that Brown has written It s not really a book about sexuality Brown herself admits that Benedetta s eventual imprisonment had to do with her fabrications than her sexual activities Also, it s a bit misleading to refer to Benedetta as a lesbian there is evidence that she was involved in a same sex relationship of some sort, but there s no evidence that she self identified as a lesbian or was even aware of such a conceptualization She certainly had some interesting gender things going on when sleeping with her cellmate Bartolomea she often pretended to be channeling a male guardian angel or Christ himself she had frequent semi erotic dreams about men but Brown doesn t have enough information to properly explore what was going on in Benedetta s head She tries to, but the attempt to label her a lesbian that used an alternative male persona to fulfill her desire seems like an anachronistic projection.In any case, Brown can t really explore what any of this would mean, anyways while Benedetta s alleged actions caused some shock in the trial, the lack of articulated response to the accusations means that Brown can t really say anything substantial about public responses to 17th century lesbianism besides that it was mute The substantial part of this work is Benedetta s mysticism, and the degree to which it was faked or genuine This part of the work is genuinely interesting, and making the whole work about Benedetta s sexuality instead seems forced While the chance to explore a nun s sexuality in this period would be fascinating, Brown s sources don t really offer the opportunity Because of this, the work gets bogged down in the attempt to make this a book about lesbianism, when it s really a story about the failed attempt to utilize spiritual power.I feel like this review wound up being a bit harsher than I d intended It s a really interesting book, and well worth reading I just feel like the lesbianism angle is a bit sensationalist, and would have been much effectively explored if it hadn t tried to support the center of the book.


  6. says:

    Immodest Acts, Judith C Brown s study of Benedetta Carlini, a lesbian nun in 17th century Italy, is interesting and enlightening A lot of fascinating ideas and concepts come to light while reading the story of a nun who became Abbess of her convent, made claims of holy visions and, all the while, carried on a lesbian affair with fellow nun, Bartolomea Crivelli The peek into Church politics and the beliefs of the time is frightening but sometimes darkly humorous More interesting than that is the overview of sexuality in the Renaissance Women were thought to be lustful than men, the complete opposite of which seems to be the belief now.The investigations into Benedetta s claims to have been supernaturally visited by Christ, angels and Satan are documented thoroughly It was found that Benedetta faked the signs of visitation and even intimidated her fellow nuns into lying or, at the very least, not contradicting her claims However, instead of making her out to be a criminal and a liar, one is left wondering at the circumstances compelled her to lie so she could practice the sexuality that she preferred Some of the testimony was so disturbing to the investigators that the hand written record of the investigation becomes illegible when discussion turned to the sexual acts that took place between Benedetta and Bartolomea.While Immodest Acts isn t a titillating account of lesbian sex in a 17th century convent, it is a fascinating and disturbing expose on the narrow minded anti sexuality of the era s law and church one and the same in those days and what the people went ahead and did anyway because it felt good The ideas of what constituted illegal and immoral sex boggle the mind It seems male homosexuality was tolerated than female homosexuality, which comes as no surprise considering the only slightly less patriarchal society we live in today It s hard not to laugh when you read of two nice nuns defiling themselves with one another The introduction to this book alone is worth the price of admission.Brown s writing is a little dry at times but she does an outstanding job of laying out the facts as they stood That Brown found out about Benedetta Carlini by chance while researching the first Medici grand duke makes this tale all the awesome A very good and very interesting book


  7. says:

    One doesn t expect an academic treatise on an early 17th century nunnery to be a quick read I read Immodest Acts in three sittings, and the author, Judith Brown, doesn t even get around to the smutty parts until the last chapters The book is a fascinating portrait of Benedetta Carlini, an Italian girl whose backwoods parents pledge her to convent life before her birth and then raise her to believe that she is a gift from god After taking her vows, Benedetta begins to describe powerful and strange religious visions, rises to the position of abbess, and stages, elaborately, her own wedding to Jesus Brown creates cultural context to explore both Benedetta s visions and the way she was treated by church officials, who launched several investigations of the dramatic, potentially mad, potentially conniving abbess The author must be commended for the unusual depth of information she is able to provide about a hitherto unknown 17th century woman and for her ability to write in an academic style without leaching the story of its engrossing drama.


  8. says:

    This is the kind of book I went back to college to read it deals with the historical story of a lesbian nun in Renaissance Italy The story comes to us from the Church s legal investigation, or inquisition, of heresies the nun was accused of committing It is not a casual read, but for those willing to navigate the scholastic nature of the book it well worth the time.


  9. says:

    The lesbian angle is seriously oversold This is an ordinary, indeed typical, case of nun who saw visions but was later denounced as a fraud She had trances, stigmata and a yellow mark on her finger like a wedding ring She prophesied, spoke in tongues, channelled saints, angels and Christ himself, and was recalled from the dead.The book also contains a good description of small town convent life, petty ambition and church politics This is interesting precisely because it is so unremarkable Benedetta and women like her are a neglected chapter in the story of Christianity.


  10. says:

    Not as much lesbian content as I would ve liked especially for a book with the word lesbian in the subtitle , but a fascinating examination of mysticism in early modern culture nonetheless.Also, I want to read so much analysis on Benedetta and her lover because there is just so much to unpack there.