We’ve all tried to get out of something before, whether it’s trouble or plans we didn’t mean to make. Usually, we go about as far as a ‘sorry, can’t come!’ A recent discovery led to a story even bigger than the hilariously large historical tome where it was found.
Image Via The Guardian
Historians recently discovered a handwritten note in the margins of a heavy business register, a reminder from archbishop William Melton to “warn Joan of Leeds, lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house.” Seems like William Meltdown should have minded his own business instead of minding Joan’s. But people were a little repressed in 1318, and so he wrote another: according to the archbishop, Joan had “impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex” to pursue the sin of carnal lust. Since we assume she’ll be joined by plenty of others this upcoming Valentine’s Day, that doesn’t sound so bad. But it gets worse—also cooler.
Our new hero Joan cast aside the modesty of her sex and hurled it into an empty grave, along with a fake corpse that would ensure nobody asked any questions. Of course, we have plenty of questions: how did you become so iconic, Joan!?
Melton, as you might have expected, was not quite so impressed:
Out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place.
We wish we knew exactly what she’d used to make the dummy corpse—it could be useful next time we have a rough day at work or a particularly nasty term paper (so, any term paper at all). Unfortunately, since many records did not survive, we’ll never know whether or not our beloved Sister Joan ever got some. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more to this story.
Many understandably suspect that most people leaving the clergy did so because of the whole celibacy issue. Historians note that many took the cloth in their teen years (so, their Medieval thirties?) and, later in their brief, shower-less lives, didn’t retain the same beliefs and motivations. But there were other, graver reasons.
IMAGE VIA hISTORY tODAY
While it is entirely possible that Sister Joan did leave the abbey to pursue her carnal lust, celibacy wasn’t the only turn-off when it came to a religious existence. Though the Black Death reached its devastating peak from 1347 – 1351, life with the Church had always been a relatively dangerous one—and not just in the metaphoric, spiritual sense. Since the priesthood was responsible for visiting the sick and offering last rites (and since doctors mostly existed to tell you just how dead you were), nuns were at risk of contracting incurable infections.
Whatever Joan’s reasons, we’re glad to know what we have to assume are the most exciting parts of her story.
Featured Image Via Pictame