Penitent sinners
in Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue
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Missionaries and moralists compensated for the tolerance of magistrates by attempting to rescue some female ‘sinners’ from the ‘evil life [mala vita]’ through penance or marriage. Chapter 5 discusses, with examples, the concept of the prostitute saint, a latter-day Magdalen, who redeems herself by repentance and retreat from the world. It focuses on penitential convents, often called Convertite, and on the redemptive methods employed by conversionists, from sermons to personal appeals. Examined here are the qualifications for entry, the novitiates, the rules and disciplinary systems of the Convertite, and their financial arrangements. The chapter shows how and why they began to forsake their original principles and, rather than accept only ex-prostitutes and former concubines, took to admitting virgins from families in straitened circumstances, who, rather than atoning for supposed depravity, were really seeking to enter inexpensive nunneries.

Tolerance, Regulation and Rescue

Dishonoured women and abandoned children in Italy, 1300–1800


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