University of Leicester
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Venetian Nunneries in the Counter-Reformation, 1550-1630

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posted on 2010-08-10, 13:22 authored by Mary Rachel Laven
In the period following the Council of Trent there were over fifty convents in Venice and its surrounding islands, at times housing more than 3000 nuns. This thesis treats these institutions as an integrated feature of Venetian society, and seeks to illuminate the interactions between nunneries and the outside world at a time when ecclesiastical and state authorities were united in their determination to isolate female religious both physically and emotionally. The five chapters of the thesis explore the following themes: Chapter I examines the web of authorities which governed the nuns of Venice. It analyses the interest which the local church and state displayed in controlling the city's convents, and assesses the degree of self-rule exercised by female religious communities. Chapter II reappraises the circumstances in which so many women entered religion. An analysis of conventual dowries and other payments made by nuns' families casts doubt on the view that monacazione was a cheap way of disposing of superfluous daughters. Chapter III looks at the post-Tridentine drive to enclose all nunneries. Enclosure was often a disruptive and unwelcome innovation, which was inevitably compromised by the practical and emotional demands of female religious. This tension provides a focal-point for this thesis as a case-study in the reception and negotiation of religious reform. Chapter IV details the friendships and recreational pursuits of nuns. These women craved gossip from the outside world and tempted family and friends to visit by means of hospitality, gifts, and offers of practical help. Chapter V extends the discussion of nuns' social interactions to take into account the motives behind their sexual exploits. Trial records provide abundant evidence of men loitering on the edge of enclosure, talking, laughing and flirting with nuns. Here the motivation behind these heterosocial exchanges is considered.



Davidson, Nick

Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD


Figures 1, 2 and 3 have been removed from the electronic version of this thesis due to copyright restrictions. The full version can be viewed at the David Wilson Library.



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