A portrait of 16th and 17th century Italian convent life, set in the vibrant culture of late Renaissance Venice. Early 16th century Venice had 50 convents and about 3,000 nuns. In this book Mary Laven provides an insight into the nuns hidden world. Far from being places of religious devotion, the convents were often little more than dumping-grounds for unmarried women from the upper ranks of Venetian society. Often entering a convent at seven years old, these young women remained emotionally and socially attached to their families and to their way of life outside the convent. Supported by their private incomes, the nuns ate, dressed and behaved as gentlewomen. In contravention of their vows, they followed the latest fashions in hairstyles and footwear, kept lap dogs and threw parties for their relations. But in the 16th and 17th centuries the Counter Reformation was to change all that. Threatened by the advance of Protestantism, the Catholic Church set about reforming its own institutions. A new state magistracy rapidly turned its attentions to policing the nuns' behaviour relentlessly pursuing transgressors on both sides of the convent wall.
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Mary Laven is a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. This is her first book.Review:
"Venice was unique in its attitude to nuns and convents. . . . Here, at last, is the most interesting and informative book I have ever read on the subject."
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