London, June 18 (ANI): A book of advice issued to nuns in the 7th century and set to go on sale next month has revealed that even then the church had concerns about their conduct.
The book shows a senior cleric's disgust at the amount of flesh the nuns of Barking Abbey put on show and their relationship with the opposite sex.
It warns the congregation to dress appropriately and to avoid garments that 'set off' the body before giving a series of pointers to the girls on the benefits of virginity and how to avoid the sin of pride.
The author of De Laude Virginitatis [In Praise of Virginity] is the Anglo-Saxon cleric Aldhelm, who goes on to say he is ashamed of the nuns' 'bold impudence' and 'stupidity'.
He tells the nuns that abstinence from sex is not enough - their 'stainlessness of bodily virginity' must be accompanied by a 'chastity of the spirit' if they are to avoid the 'untamed impulses of bodily wantonness'.
Addressing the issue of clothing, he writes: "If you dress yourself sumptuously and go out in public so as to attract notice, if you rivet the eyes of young men to you and draw the sighs of adolescents after you, and nourish the fires of sexual anticipation ... you cannot be excused as if you were of a chaste and modest mind."
Warning that both nuns and clergymen are dressing inappropriately, he adds: "It shames me to speak of the bold impudence of conceit and the fine insolence of stupidity which are found both among nuns who abide under the rule of a settlement, and among the men of the Church ... With many-coloured vestments and with elegant adornments, the body is set off and the external form decked out limb by limb."
As well as lifestyle advice, Aldhelm includes biographies of female saints famed for their virginity who he holds up as role models, including Scholastica, the patron saint of nuns and twin sister of St Benedict; Christina, tortured to death for her faith by her pagan father; and Dorothy, executed for her Christianity after turning down a marriage proposal.
The book, written in Latin and inscribed on vellum - high quality parchment made from sheep skin or calf hide, is the first known text from England to be aimed at a female readership.
Four pages of the book are up for auction at Sotheby's next month and expected to fetch 500,000 pounds.
"Aldhelm's work is remarkable because there simply aren't any texts by English authors addressed to women before this," Timothy Bolton, a specialist in western medieval manuscripts at Sotheby's, told The Sunday Telegraph.
"He expects the nuns to study and understand his sophisticated writings, raising the bar of education for women to the same level of men, becoming the first English feminist author," Bolton added. (ANI)