History explores key time in religious life development

Silvia Evangelisti, a lecturer in history at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, is a specialist in women’s religious life of the early modern period, and in this masterful study she identifies and explains the impact of secular and ecclesiastical history on female monastic communities.

Her concise analysis of these broad issues is coupled with precise details that afford a glimpse into the richness of convent life. “Nuns: A History of Convent Life” is a tapestry that succeeds in combining serious scholarship with a writing style that is accessible to the lay reader.

“Enclosure” was the most important defining factor of convent life in the period Evangelisti explores, 1450-1700, and appropriately it is the cohesive theme of this study. Cloister was an early feature of monastic communities and especially stressed for women, who were “radically exhorted never to leave their convent and to practice full, unbroken enclosure.” These practices “relied on a long-standing Christian tradition that associated female chastity with the protection of a closed environment, whether this was a domestic one or a monastic one.”

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