My recent favorite genre of book has been non-fiction. Now that I’m done with school, learning is more of a “fun” endeavor than a “necessary” one. Sometimes, though, these novels can be a huge undertaking. Tedious, chronologically difficult to understand, and highly complex characters are all immense hurtles to overcome when approaching a non-fiction work. All of these hurtles were ones that I had to approach when starting and reading The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogia. This book was a labor of love, that’s how I’m going to star this post.
The Vatican’s approach to dealing with scandal is of interest to many, regardless of the time era. With the film “Spotlight” just winning the Oscar for Best Picture, this is a topic of current concern. This novel presents an historical perspective of another scandal that rocked the Church in the 19th century, one in which the proof that this scandal even existed wasn’t released until the late 1990s. In this alone was intrigue that this novel presented an interesting perspective on the Church’s stance on scandal and how they overcome such atrocities.
There was once a convent in Italy called Sant’Ambrogia. It was run by nuns who revered a nun who was thought to be a saint. The church did not grant her Sainthood, for there was not enough evidence, but the nuns of her same convent 50+ years after her death thought that she was a Saint so they could not be convinced otherwise. Their leader was a fanatic who believed that she had messages from God, Mary, and the Holy Ghost. Not only was she a heretic, but she also was deceptive and a murderess. But, that’s not the worse of it.
A German princess came to stay with the nuns to see if their convent was a suitable fit for her. She became ill and got sicker and sicker with time. After many months of not being able to eat anything but soup, she begged her cousin to rescue her. When she left the convent, she immediately got better and both her and her cousin knew she had been poisoned. This starts that scandal in which the nuns were accused.
The above two paragraphs are a very vague and superficial description of this novel. There is A LOT more to the story than this (especially some lesbian activities), but that is the general overview. The German Princess was the Whistle blower and she is the one that began the investigation(s) into the convent and the individuals who worked there. Priests, nuns, cardinals, and even the Pope were all affiliated with this convent and the issues that were transpiring within its walls. Yet, in the end, there was no real adjudication that happened. The nuns and priests got slapped on the wrist with a few months of service to the Church, but otherwise ended up back in their initial positions. The convent was closed and its membership disbanded to a wide variety of other convents, but that was the only thing that really was remedied.
The main takeaway message from this book that I could glean from it, was the highly complex and time consuming nature of the Vatican’s investigative branch. The process included: prelim investigation, approval to continue by the cardinals and pope, informative process, decision, offensive process, defensive process, and judgment, followed by notification. Do you realize how convoluted and time intensive this process is? No wonder scandal plagues the Church!
While this book was extremely tedious and took me a long time to finish, it was worth the read just in considering the basic process of investigation by the church. The congregation of cardinals and the pope are always well-apprised of the situation, which could be good or bad. Regardless, it’s very tedious and was a bit shocking to read about.