Rebellious Nuns
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Rebellious Nuns : The Troubled History of a Mexican Convent, 1752-1863

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Nuns are hardly associated in the popular mind with rebellion and turmoil. In fact, however, convents have often been the scenes of conflict. But what went on behind the walls of convents was meant by the church to be mysterious. Great care was taken to prevent the "scandal" of factionalism in the nunneries from becoming widely known. This has made it very difficult to reconstruct the battles fought, the issues debated, and the relationships tested in such convents. Margaret Chowning has had the good fortune to discover a treasure-trove of documents that allow an intimate look at two crises that wracked nd ultimately destroyed the convent of La Purisima Concepcion in San Miguel el Grande, New Spain (Mexico). At the heart of each rebellions was an attempt by some nuns to impose a regimen of strict observance of their vows on the others, and the resistance mounted by those who had a different view of the convent and their own role in it. Would the community adopt as austere a lifestyle as they could endure, doing manual labor, suffering hunger and physical discomfort, deprived of the society of family and friends? Or would these women (many of them illegitimate children who had entered the convent out of necessity rather than choice) be allowed to lead comfortable and private lives when not at prayer? Accusations and counter-accusations flew. First one side and then the other seemed to have the upper hand. For a time, a mysterious and dramatic illness broke out among the rebellious nuns, capturing the limelight. Were they faking? Were they unconsciously influenced by their ringleader, the charismatic and manipulative young woman who first experienced the "mal"? Drawing on an abundance of sources, including numerous letters written by the bishop and local vicar as well as nuns of both factions, Chowning is able to give us not just the voices but the personalities of the nuns and other actors. In this way she makes it possible for us to empathize with all of them and to appreciate the complicated dynamics of having committed your life not only to God but to your community.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 162.6 x 238.8 x 22.9mm | 589.68g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Numerous halftones and tables
  • 0195182219
  • 9780195182217

Review quote

This is a beautiful little piece of research ... Chowning has done an excellent job * Church Times * There are many inspiring propositions and conclusions in this book. * English Historical Review * Rebellious Nuns makes a major contribution...it provides a model study of the convent in society and of the lives and trials of the women who people it. It is to be hoped that it encourages closer scrutiny and a deeper probing of the context of similar crises. * Adrian Pearce, Latin American Studies * Chowning's work will allow historians of mexico to cross more freely the borders between economic, cultural and religious history in order to create nuanced work like her own. The book provides a model of meticulous archival research and attractive prose and should find a wide readership. * Pamela Voekel, Journal of Ecclesiastical History. * Although the nun's numerous letters to the church hierarchy provide a rare glimpse of the machinations of the women behind the walls, the real strength of the book lies elsewhere. Chowning is the rarest of academic polymaths, a cultural historian with a background in economic history.She links the cloister's changing world to shifting intellectual currents and cold economic realities and it is these linkages that give this work its lustre. * Pamela Voekel, Journal of Ecclesiastical History. * rich documentation... Chowning presents a more comprehensive view of La Purisima than is seen in many works on female religious institutions. * Victoria H. Cummins, Hispanic American Historical Review *show more

About Margaret Chowning

Margaret Chowning is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Wealth and Power in Provincial Mexico: Michoacan from the Late Colony to the Revolution (1999).show more

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