Renegade nuns on wheels
Okay, this isn't about renegade nuns on wheels (that's a reference to a game so obscure that I will be seriously impressed if any of my readers recognize it). This is actually about the extremely sexy history of nunneries:
Italian nuns have left quite a subversive legacy. This is thanks largely to the literary labors of Pietro Aretino, a Venetian author who is today hailed as the father of modern pornography. In addition to his ground-breaking book of sonnets The Sixteen Postures, which described a string of athletic sexual positions with handy engravings Aretino penned the classic Secret Life of Nuns, whose panting prose would not be out of place on nerve.com today. It depicts lonely young novices in ritualized jousts with monks and priests (First tilt went to the trumpeterspurring himself on with his fingers, he ran his lance right into his lady-friends target right up to the hilt) and devoted to the pastinaca muranese, crystal turnip, a state-of-the-art dildo made of fine Venetian glass and filled with warm water. The nuns kept erotic manuals hidden in their prayer books and always offered their charity to male pilgrims (Well try every which way, declares one nun as the penitents arrive, theres bound to be one that suits us!)
Overheated? Certainly in the details. But while Aretinos work is hardly a documentary of convent life, its roots lie in reality. By poring over contemporary letters, diaries, and legal documents, historians have established that Venetian nunneries were the most liberated in Europe. In the 1400s, the skyrocketing cost of dowries meant that many of the citys noblest families were obliged to place their teenage daughters, regardless of their wishes, in convents. Few of these developed a spiritual calling. It was openly accepted that the top convents were a safety valve for Venices surplus of well-born single women, who could go on to enjoy a level of sexual freedom unique for the time.
The nunneries were run like luxury boutique hotels. Novices were given duplicate keys so they could come and go as they pleased from their palatial apartments, which were filled with artwork and overlooked the Grand Canal. Wearing the most fashionable, low-cut dresses, they would entertain male visitors with wine-fuelled banquets, then invite their beaux to spend the night in their rooms. They took romantic gondola rides with admirers to private picnics on the islands of the Venice Lagoon, and went on poetic moonlit walks in the secluded gardens. The most passionate eloped presumably with men who were not obsessed with dowries. The mature-age abbesses rode the city in luxury carriages with their pet dogs and oversaw their girls activities with a maternal eye. If a nun fell pregnant, she would simply give birth in the privacy of the convent and the pass the child off as an orphan abandoned on the doorstep.
I've read hints of this stuff before, but, I mean, dang. Romantic gondola rides?
[Hat tip to Border Thinking, which really does have the best links]