Nuns Behaving Badly

Sarah Dunant reviews a book about religious corruption by Craig A. Monson

Nuns Behaving Badly

Best to declare an interest immediately: for me as a novelist, the work of musicologist Craig Monson has been revelatory. Over the last 20 years he has uncovered a rich and complex musical subculture inside Italian Renaissance convents, giving voice to the creativity – and frustrations – of generations of nuns who sang, arranged and even composed music, often bringing them into conflict with Counter- Reformation Church hierarchy. Without his research, it is fair to say, I could never have written my novel Sacred Hearts.

With Nuns Behaving Badly it would seem that Monson himself has got the itch to reach a wider audience. Certainly the cover is as cheeky as the title: comic-strip graphics over a woodcut of a nun distracted from prayer by a handsome visitor. Inside, the book delivers largely what it promises: tales of scandal and mayhem, edited and occasionally dramatised from long-winded records of Church investigations unearthed in the Vatican archives.

Nuns Behaving Badly Tales of Music, Magic, Art and Arson in the Convents of Italy Craig A. Monson * * * * * University of Chicago Press 264pp £22.50 ISBN 978 0 226 53461 9

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