Virgins of Venice: Broken Vows and Cloistered Lives in the Renaissance Convent

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Viking, 2003 - Religion - 282 pages
2 Reviews
Venice in the late Renaissance was a city of fabulous wealth, reckless creativity, and growing social unrest as its maritime empire crumbled. It was also a city of walls and secrets, ghettos, and cloisters-including fifty convents housing three thousand nuns, many of them refined, upper-class women who had been immured against their will. In this utterly fascinating book, Cambridge historian Mary Laven uncovers the long-hidden stories of the "virgins of Venice" and the secret, and often surprising, lives they led.

Sifting through records kept during the Counter-Reformation, Laven has pieced together a detailed and dramatic tapestry of resourceful, determined, and passionate women who managed to lead fulfilling lives despite their virtual imprisonment. Far from being precincts of piety and silence, the convents of Venice were hotbeds of political scheming, colorful pageantry, gorgeous decoration, and illicit love affairs. One nun was so determined to sleep with her lover that she painstakingly chipped a hole in a stone wall so he could climb through under cover of night. Another expressed her individuality through obsessive gift giving while keeping records of the dangerous flirtations going on around her. Still others exercised considerable clandestine power in the dangerous game of Venetian politics.

Rich in intrigue and gossip, eye opening in its historic revelations, and written with drama and compassion, Virgins of Venicebrings to life a culturally vibrant period in Venice and the hidden residents who dwelled behind its walls.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - KayCliff - LibraryThing

Not, as the title suggests, racy fiction, but a scholarly account of the many enclosed convents of Renaissance Venice, with maps, illustrations, bibliography and index. Many of the nuns felt `no ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - dougwood57 - LibraryThing

Laven's scholarly study (originally her doctoral's thesis) is nonetheless a readable account of nunnery life in early Renaissance Venice. She describes a fascinating slice of 16th century life. What ... Read full review

Contents

Behind Closed Doors
1
Becoming a
23
Blood of the Republic
45
Sacred and Profane
67
The Boundaries of Reform
82
Sustaining Networks
102
The Conversation of Women
118
Carnival in the Cloister
137
Crimes of Sacrilege
145
Between Celibates
167
Chastity and Desire
186
Copyright

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About the author (2003)

Mary Laven is a lecturer in history at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Jesus College.

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