2 Choosing religious life As you go on you will learn to understand religious life, how it means doing God’s will and not your own. We don’t become nuns because we like it – because the life attracts us – but solely because ‘The Master has come and called us’.1 The persistent myth of the Victorian woman, idle and innocent, performing domestic duties in the private sphere, protected from and unaware of the political world around her, has been rejected by many historians.2 Victorian women’s activities in the public and the private spheres are the centre of a

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The social world of early modern Westminster Chapter 9 Religious life and religious politics c.1558–1640 E ARLIER chapters have charted the many long-term changes to the social and cultural life of Westminster. Many of these changes, however, were played out against a background of substantial religious change, especially during the successive Tudor ‘reformations’. The Elizabethan settlement marked the end of this series of revolutions in religious legislation, but the working out of its implications for the religious life of the area was to be a drawn

in The social world of early modern Westminster
Catholic women religious in nineteenth-century England and Wales

Roman Catholic women's congregations are an enigma of nineteenth century social history. Over 10,000 women, establishing and managing significant Catholic educational, health care and social welfare institutions in England and Wales, have virtually disappeared from history. In nineteenth-century England, representations of women religious were ambiguous and contested from both within and without the convent. This book places women religious in the centre of nineteenth-century social history and reveals how religious activism shaped the identity of Catholic women religious. It is devoted to evolution of religious life and the early monastic life of the women. Catholic women were not pushed into becoming women religious. On the basis of their available options, they chose a path that best suited their personal, spiritual, economic and vocational needs. The postulancy and novitiate period formed a rite of passage that tested the vocation of each aspirant. The book explores the religious activism of women religious through their missionary identity and professional identity. The labour of these women was linked to their role as evangelisers. The book deals with the development of a congregation's corporate identity which brought together a disparate group of women under the banner of religious life. It looks specifically at class and ethnicity and the women who entered religious life, and identifies the source of authority for the congregation and the individual sister.

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been no comprehensive work done to calculate the number of women who entered religious life in nineteenth-century England, although various studies exist, including this one, which include a calculation of the number of women religious who entered specific congregations. 2 Contested identities her will and now and again as an innocent led astray by the manipulative schemes of the Catholic clergy. The Catholic press and internal convent documents offered a different depiction of women religious. The Catholic press represented nuns as pious, obedient, subordinate

in Contested identities
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women who had ‘the same idea at the same time’. Yet this idea was not new; it had been evolving over the past eighteen hundred years.3 Women’s pursuit of religious life was not static despite Rome’s attempts to rigidly define monastic life for women. Women tested the boundaries of their enclosed existence. Sometimes they were thrust back into the cloister; at other times they found a space that allowed them to modify the prescribed monastic model. By the nineteenth century, the dominance of simple-vowed congregations and religious life outside the cloister became the

in Contested identities
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Conclusion The hospital movement of the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries in northern Italy provides a lens through which to view the transformation of political power, religious life, and the social agency of urban citizens of the region. Traditional definitions of poverty and need, as well as suggestions of a Christian’s responsibility to such need, no longer satisfied city-dwellers who saw a much greater demand and variety of suffering in their community than ever before. In addition, they felt vulnerable in the face of such need. Security for their

in Hospitals and charity
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foundations’. The identity of women religious was carefully crafted from their first entry into the convent as postulants through to their years in the novitiate. They were trained in the spiritual, vocational and communal aspects of religious life. This training process was in many ways literal but also developed women religious through the power of the symbolic.8 The symbols of religious life – the habit, the new name and the ceremonies that marked their entrance into religious life – were as important as the texts that were read. The formation that occurred in a

in Contested identities
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looked at the developing identities of women entering religious life. Women’s religious congregations in England, as in other parts of the world, entered a period of dramatic growth in the nineteenth century. There were many women who had the ‘same idea at the same time’. In 1 Philippa Levine, Victorian Feminism 1850–1900 (London: Hutchinson, 1987), pp. 11–12. 236 Contested identities England, this expansion of religious life was set in a unique framework in a country that was just dismantling repressive penal laws against Catholics. Moreover, until the nineteenth

in Contested identities

were also years of religious revolution, when the established church underwent substantial changes before its effective dissolution in the 1650s. Church interiors and the public liturgy were transformed, the ritual life of parishes underwent significant alteration, and puritan values were writ large in the religious life of the nation. And yet, as we have seen, Westminster was a locality with its fair share of royalists and conservatives, while being on the doorstep of government did not necessarily mean that official directives were meticulously followed. This had

in Westminster 1640–60
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-century England. The introduction of active, simple-vowed religious congregations altered this hierarchy and widened the parameters of religious life by removing some of the class barriers that restricted some women’s entry into religious congregations. Next, the social composition of select congregations and congregation leadership will be examined analytically to discern further nuances to the relationship between class, ethnicity and leadership. The complicated lay-choir dichotomy is another important feature of this discussion.7 The division between lay and choir sisters

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