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

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These words saddened the prioress and all the nuns almost to death. They asked how they could bear the suffering without consolation for their souls from a priest. The prioress told them they should not be so despairing, for they put their hope in God’s aid. One evening, a few days later, as the nuns were together, there arrived someone in disguise, though the porter recognized him by his speech and took him into the refectory where they were gathered (31). Joyfully they came to greet him [10r], eyes red with weeping, fell at his feet and begged to have mercy on them and by their spiritual father. He blessed them and spoke to each individually, giving each his hand and promising that he would not abandon them but care for them as his spiritual children forever. They humbly thanked him for this great grace, told him of the their deep misery and desperation, so much that they might die of despair and broken hearts, asked for his advice and help.

He said, “Dear spiritual children, stop your weeping. Blessed are those who suffer persecution for dear Jesus’s sake. Rejoice in this, and if you remain confidently stalwart in faith, hope, and love, Christ the Lord, your heavenly bridegroom, will not abandon you. He will, on the contrary, be your helper and reward all the death and pains of the heart pangs that you daily receive and suffer. They will be recorded in the book of the living and remain therein until His time, when God will wash away the tears from his servants’ eyes and transform all their troubles into eternal peace.” Then the priest took leave of them and promised either to return soon or to send another, who would secretly nourish and console them with the precious good [of the Eucharist]. This gladdened the hearts of all the nuns, who did not want to abandon their spiritual devotions. For seven days they sang the Divine Office in the cellar, where they could sing unheard.

After several weeks of relative peace, the custodians came again. They brought the nuns from the honorable council a sad notice: the magistrates had decided that in five days they must be out of the convent – the sooner the better. It must be this way and no other. They should pack together their household gear, and their friends would then fetch them. The custodians would support those who had no such friends. All must wear lay clothing. The prioress said, “We have nothing, also no money, to pay for this.” The magistrates then took silver from the sexton’s chamber, and whatever they took was carried to the Penny Tower by the treasurer (32). This amounted to a mere four hundred gulden for the nuns’ lay clothing, which the magistrates had them make for themselves.

Oh, the great yells and cries from the entire convent were indescribable! They stretched up their arms to heaven with sighs and tears. They claimed it was impossible for them to leave the convent and to wear lay clothing. They begged and pleaded with the magistrates, all in vain. Some became senseless; others cried that they might as well be beheaded. They begged highly and humbly for a few days’ respite in order to reflect, for the pain hindered them from giving the Gracious Lords an immediate reply. The nuns all knew well that this affair had been plotted by some who had already abandoned their convents. The prioress turned to comfort her nuns. “Dear children,” she said “we should pray for mercy to the highest Refuge of those in need. Oh God, who understands the hearts of everyone, You alone know how deeply your poor servants’ hearts have been wounded, and in what anxiety and danger they have been placed. Oh dear Lord, have mercy on us and hear the pleas of Your troubled children. For we stand in peril for our lives, our goods, and our honor.”

(31) The context makes clear that this man was priest, perhaps a prelate, well known to them – trans.
(32) The Penny Tower [Pfennigturm] in the city’s center housed the civic treasury – trans.

Source: Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire de Strasbourg, call number: MS.1.392

English translation by Amy E. Leonard, revised by Thomas A. Brady Jr.

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