The nuns of Sant'Ambrogio The true story of a convent in scandal

Hubert Wolf

Book - 2015

In 1858, a German princess, recently inducted into the convent of Sant'Ambrogio in Rome, wrote a frantic letter to her cousin, a confidant of the Pope, claiming that she was being abused and feared for her life. The subsequent investigation by the Church's Inquisition uncovered illicit behavior of the convent's beautiful young mistress, Maria Luisa. Having convinced those under her charge that she was having regular visions and heavenly visitations, Maria Luisa began to lead and c...oerce her novices into lesbian initiation rites and heresies. What emerges through the fog of centuries is a sex scandal of ecclesiastical significance.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2015.
Edition
First United States Edition
Language
English
German
Item Description
"Originally published in Germany as Die Nonnen von Sant'Ambrogio, 3rd ed. by Hubert Wolf, Munchen, in 2013"--Title page verso.
Physical Description
xii, 476 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 449-466) and index.
ISBN
9780385351904
0385351909
Main Author
Hubert Wolf (author)
  • "Such turpitudes"
  • "The 'delicatezza' of the matter as such"
  • "I am the little lion of my reformed sisters"
  • "Wash me well, for the Padre is coming"
  • "An act of divine splendor"
  • "It is a heavenly liquor"
  • "That good Padre has spoiled the work of God"
  • "During these acts I never ceased my inner prayer"
  • "Sorrowful and contrite".
Review by Booklist Reviews

As if the current controversies brewing in the Roman Catholic Church aren't enough, a church historian reaches back in time, unearthing a religious scandal of epic proportions. When German princess Katharina Von Hohenzollern joined the convent of Sant'Ambrogio in Rome in the mid-nineteenth century, she became privy to the convent's salacious secrets, including heresy, sexual abuse, and bizarre lesbian initiation rituals. Eventually perceived as a threat by other convent members, especially Maria Luisa, the convent's beautiful but deranged mistress of novices, she became a target for murder. After surviving several poisoning attempts, she made her escape with the assistance of her cousin, the bishop of Edessa and a confidant of Pope Pius IX. In this meticulously researched account, Wolf unravels the case, the ecclesiastical inquiry, and the aftermath of this disgraceful episode. Religion, sex, and politics—reader interest should be high. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

A priest and an accomplished ecclesiastical historian, Wolf (Univ. of Münster, Germany) had the appropriate credentials to gain access to records of the Holy Office (or Inquisition) in the Vatican Archives when they were opened for research in 1998.  Wolf located the extensive records of the case on which his book is based in a hallway, where they were unexpectedly shelved.  He carefully analyzed the records and then incorporated them in this insightful, remarkable cultural history of 19th-century Catholicism.  The convent scandal that serves as the pivot and point of departure for the book involved both heretical beliefs and immoral activities.  What makes the book significant and of lasting importance, however, is Wolf's contextualization of the scandal.  He carefully describes the lines of authority in the church hierarchy, the institutional structure and juridical practices of the Inquisition, popular Catholic beliefs that involved mysticism and the Virgin Mary, and the politics generated by competing individuals who were close to the pope and by various religious orders—with special attention to the Jesuits and Dominicans—in the context of the Napoleonic wars and rise of modern European nation-states.  This is a brilliant piece of work! Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers. --G. R. Thursby, emeritus, University of Florida Gene R. Thursby emeritus, University of Florida http://dx.doi.org/10.5860/CHOICE.189918 Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In 1862, following an accusation of criminal acts and an extensive trial, an enclosed religious community located in Rome was quietly dissolved; its inhabitants dispersed and disgraced, its memory effectively erased from church history. The events leading up to this damnatio memoriae were extreme and included deception, heresy, wayward nuns, tainted priests, theft, and murder. Hidden deep in the Inquisition files of the Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until found by the author, the scandal of Sant'Ambrogio has all the ingredients of lurid sensationalism. Wolf (church theology, Univ. of Münster; Pope and Devil) thoughtfully does not take the "erotic adventures behind convent walls" route. Instead he draws from primary source documents to present a meticulously researched and documented history that provides an explanation for how and why the myriad abuses occurred. Wolf's background information and discussions of the intricacies of 19th-century religious, political, and judicial Roman Catholicism are, somewhat surprisingly, as intriguing as the scandal itself. The result is an unusual volume that is both scholarly and readable. VERDICT An astonishing piece of forgotten history, told from a research-intensive point of view. Recommended for academic and public library collections. [See Prepub Alert, 7/21/14.]—Linda Frederiksen, Washington State Univ. Lib., Vancouver [Page 111]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This sordid tale of sexual indecency, false saints, and murder within a 19th-century convent in Rome has all the trappings of a good thriller. What begins with a 1859 complaint by a German noblewoman against Sant'Ambrogio (specifically, against the corrupt practices of novice mistress Maria Luisa) soon becomes a full-blown scandal: the subsequent investigation implicates prominent clergy in practices that blur the line between mysticism and the carnality. Behind the lurid story, however, are deeper historical conflicts. Both the rise of Romanticism—and its attendant fascination with the supernatural—and struggles over the direction of the modern Church explain the extent of the scandal and the passion with it was investigated. Wolf (Pope and Devil), a professor of ecclesiastical history at the University of Münster, adds detailed historical context and careful explanations to elevate this tale beyond sensationalism into a more serious study of a fascinating real-life melodrama. (Jan.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Looks at the ecclesiastical sex scandal that shook the Church to its foundations in 1858, when Maria Luisa, the young mistress in charge of the convent of SantAmbrogio in Rome, led her charges into erotic heresy.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A true, never-before-told story—discovered in a secret Vatican archive—of sex, poison, and lesbian initiation rites in a nineteenth-century convent.In 1858, a German princess, recently inducted into the convent of Sant’Ambrogio in Rome, wrote a frantic letter to her cousin, a confidant of the Pope, claiming that she was being abused and feared for her life. What the subsequent investigation by the Church’s Inquisition uncovered were the extraordinary secrets of Sant’Ambrogio and the illicit behavior of the convent’s beautiful young mistress, Maria Luisa. Having convinced those under her charge that she was having regular visions and heavenly visitations, Maria Luisa began to lead and coerce her novices into lesbian initiation rites and heresies. She entered into a highly eroticized relationship with a young theologian known as Padre Peters—urging him to dispense upon her, in the privacy and sanctity of the confessional box, what the two of them referred to as the “special blessing.”What emerges through the fog of centuries is a sex scandal of ecclesiastical significance, skillfully brought to light and vividly reconstructed in scholarly detail. Offering a broad historical background on female mystics and the cult of the Virgin Mary, and drawing on written testimony and original documents, Professor Wolf—Germany’s leading scholar of the Catholic Church, and among the very first scholars to be granted access to the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the office of the Inquisition—tells the incredible story of how one woman was able to perpetrate deception, heresy, seduction, and murder in the heart of the Church itself.