“‘Perhaps you should think less and pray more.’ I shook my head and dropped back down on the bench. Was even this champion of the Holy Cross now adopting the church’s new attitude toward women? ‘What would you say if I suggested you think less and pray more.’ I asked. ‘But I’m a m-… poet.’ He was about to say ‘man’ but caught himself just in time.”
“You will find few clergy these days who would support this monastery’s continued independence. Especially since the councils have declared your sex and its weaknesses make you incapable of judgment in these matters.”
The Rebel Nun is the story of women in the 6th century. These women may be in a monastery but we learn quite quickly that many of these women did not willingly join the order because they were devoted to the Lord but due to their circumstances. Living as a nun was often a refuge from the life that may have been thrust upon them or that they may have had to result to, due to poverty or lack of options. In the case of our main character Clotild, she was the bastard daughter of a king and simply put, a threat to his legitimate children. So she joined an order where her aunt was the abbess, when her aunt dies, she expects to be elected in her place. When she surprisingly is not, she is hurt and jealous. Quickly the order begins to run in a way that focuses on suffering inordinately ‘for Jesus’ but the truth may be more sinister. As she begins to discover the truth about the abbess and the religious leaders in charge of the order, she realizes that it is simply about power and control. She begins to try to rally her fellow sisters and use her connections to set things to right and the story follows their suffering and their journey to re-set the monastery to its proper place.
The pace of the story is slow but thorough and you really see just how little women’s thoughts and opinions were valued. As a Catholic, I struggled with the point of view the church had during this period with a focus on suffering and fasting of those at the bottom while the top revel in riches (not sure that that much has actually changed there… but I digress…). I was also surprised at how many of the women still believed in their pagan gods and just thought of the Christian god “another one.” You’d have thought women in a monastery would be there to be so devoted to the Lord but that seemed to be quite the afterthought. I also found it quite frustrating how little the women supported each other and how often they jumped to jealousy and accusation of one another.
This was a well written piece of historical fiction about a time period I wasn’t familiar with before.
Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this novel. All opinions above are my own.
Do you have a historical era you like reading about but find it hard at times?