Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Nun Who Stood Up to Henry VIII

From Nancy Bilyeau at The Medium:
Historical fiction set in the Tudor era, whether it’s a literary novel like Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, or a mystery such as Dissolution by C.J. Sansom, commonly depicts a Catholic kingdom rotted by monastic corruption, a system dying out and pleading for reform.

In my years of research into the Dissolution of the Monasteries while writing my trilogy of novels, I came to different conclusions. Yes, there were cases of fraud, such as a phial said to contain Christ’s blood kept at an abbey in Gloucestershire. But overall, I discovered a rich, vibrant world of people deeply committed to a spiritual life, some of whom wanted to withdraw from society to devote themselves to prayer and study. I focused on the nunneries, since I’d decided on a protagonist who was a Dominican novice.

Approximately 1,800 nuns existed at the time of the destruction of the priories, out of 9,300 monastics total. We know of the fates of a handful of women, those considered of enough interest for the ambassadors or politicians to write about. The sisters left behind a few letters and wills, that’s it. The priories themselves are rubble or, at most, fragmented walls and spires of ghostly beauty. “In lone magnificence, a ruin stands,” sighs the poem by George Keate, “The Ruins of Netley Abbey.” (Read more.)

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