GHDI logo

Defending Women’s Communal Life – Dominican Nuns at Strasbourg (1526)

page 5 of 6    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Around this time Doctor Bucer staged a major suit before the honorable magistracy against the prioress and nuns of St. Margaret’s. Thereupon the City Council selected eight knowledgeable, well-educated members, to whom the supervision of the convent was entrusted. They were to act according to their own best judgment and were to inform the nuns of their written orders and the ammeister’s will (25). On the same day, these eight men first came to us. They were accompanied by workmen who breached the convent’s claustration (26) and destroyed the altars in the churches. After the eight members left, Ursula Bock called the nuns together, all forty-six of them. The senior magistrate then read the City Council’s orders:

First, they shall acknowledge no superior, for the city would admit them to its protection. Otherwise, they would be in danger from the Peasants’ War. But this was only an excuse.

Second, in the future they will have no prioress but will all be of equal rank, and they will be free to change their status and to leave the convent. Each and every one shall be free from all her vows and the rules she has promised to obey. The magistrates order this so that they may live an easier life without burdens.

Third, they shall let no foreign friar or other [9r] priest enter their convent. Mass shall no longer be said, nor shall bells be rung. All choir duties shall be abolished, and the seven Hours shall be neither sung nor prayed (27). These are the magistrates’ order, violation of which will incur severe punishment.

Then five of the magistrates left, while the other three remained: Sir Bernhard Wurmser (28), a stettmeister; Sir Caspar Hoffmeister of the large council (29), and Dr. [Caspar] Baldung (30). They announced a visitation. The entire convent objected but had to bow to it against their will. From the youngest to the eldest, each nun was questioned separately. The magistrates said they should no longer obey the prioress, for she burdened them with her desire to preserve her order. Further, marriage is a paradisiacal state. Also, the city gives all the nuns their liberty to leave the convent and to be free in all things. But the nuns said with one voice that they were content with the Mother-Prioress and with one another; they want nothing more from the Gracious Lords than to be permitted to remain in their convent and to live there together and die in love and good peace.

The magistrates marveled at but rejected the nuns’ unanimity, and before leaving said that the nuns should accept the preacher appointed by the ammeister and regard him as their pastor, and that they should not allow any other [clergyman] to enter on pain of the city’s utmost disfavor and severe punishment.

[9v] “We should thank God,” the prioress consoled her sisters, “that this time they didn’t get what they wanted; you should not thank me, nor I you, for the fact that we have [at the moment] little to shed tears about. We see with our eyes and hear with our ears the terrible damage that awaits our beloved convent. May God have mercy! It is unjust that authority should be taken from the rightful shepherd and the sheep be given over to the hireling, who will allow the wolves to have them. Then all the nuns joined in to say, “Dear Mother-Prioress, is there none who can advise or help us? Our superiors have written that they cannot help us, because they can do nothing against the great power of the civic regime.” The prioress said, “Therefore, dear children, we must beg God to strengthen us and protect our convent from all evil.”

A few days later, two of the magistrate-custodians came again. They asked whether the nuns remained stubborn in their wicked position that none would leave the convent. Once they were liberated, however, they could marry without scruples or injury to their consciences, for this holy estate is the right way to heaven. Thereupon followed the severe warning that if they would not willingly leave the convent, all the nuns would be driven out. The magistrates would not tolerate these mouse holes at all but would have then torn down.

(25) The ammeister was the highest officer in Strasbourg’s regime, equivalent to a mayor – trans.
(26) Here, interestingly, called its “Reformation,” which refers to its adherence to the Observant reform – trans.
(27) The seven hours of the Divine Office, which was sung daily – trans.
(28) Bernhard Wurmser von Vendenheim (d. 1540), a patrician, a moderate evangelical, and ruling stettmeister six times. The stettmeister was the highest patrician officer in Strasbourg’s regime – trans.
(29) Caspar Hoffmeister (1466-1532), a native of Weil der Stadt in Swabia; magistrate (1510-32), founder of the civic hospital for syphilitics. He served as custodian of the convents of St. Margaret (1524-26) and St. Nicholas in Undis (1524-25) – trans.
(30) Dr. Caspar Baldung (d. 1540), city attorney (1521-32), convent administrator (1526-31), and custodian of the convent St. Mark (1524-25). He was the brother of the artist Hans Baldung Grien (d. 1545) – trans.

first page < previous   |   next > last page