Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

Fosbroke points out that the medieval ceremony for the consecration of nuns was in several respects like a wedding A ring was put on the candidate’s finger and a wedding crown on her head. one of the responses which she had to make ran:

“I love Christ into whose bed I have entered.”

After the kiss of peace had been bestowed, she was urged to

“forget there all the world, and there be entirely out of the body; there in glowing love embrace your beloved (Saviour) who is comes down from heaven into your breast’s bower, and hold Him fast until He shall have granted whatsoever you wish for.”

It may be added that the Church received the sum of money which had been put aside by the parents for their daughter’s dowry if and when she married.

Is it remarkable to learn that nuns filled with such thoughts frequently developed phantom pregnancies?

The official explanation seems hardly adequate to explain the ardent longing of La Bonne Armelle and St. Elizabeth to mother the infant Jesus; or the action of Veronica Giuliani beatified by Pius II, who, in memory of the lamb of God, took a real lamb to bed with her, kissing it and suckling it on her breasts. The desperate frustration of natural instincts is also shown by such incidents as that of St. Catherine of Genoa, who often suffered from such internal fires that, to cool herself, she lay upon the ground, saying “Love, love, I can do no more”. In doing this she felt a peculiar inclination for her confessor.(86) Again, it seems rather naive to absolve of erotic feeling the nun Blaubekin, who became obsessed by the thought of what had happened to the part of Jesus’s body removed by circumcision. (In point of fact, she need not have distressed herself: no fewer than twelve churches possess, among their sacred relics, the prepuce of Jesus Christ — notably St. John Lateran, Coulombs, Charroux, Hildesheim, Puy-en-Velay and Antwerp, the last imported at great expense by Godefroy de Bouillon in an attempt to discourage the worship of Priapus. (110)(165) There is also an equal number of umbilici. (71))

Psychoanalysts have shown how a sense of sexual guilt leads to the in turning of Thanatos, in an attempt to relieve the guilt by continual self punishment, while flagellation, specifically, which is a kind of assault, may be a substitute for sexual intercourse. It is therefore in no way surprising to find that the celibates often indulged in prodigies of masochism, and especially in flagellation, and we find cases of confessors making use of their power of absolution to force their female parishioners to beat them.

The early Christian fathers delighted in such simple self tortures as hair shirts, and failing to wash. Others proceeded to more desperate extremes, such as Ammonius who tortured his body with a red-hot iron until it was covered with burns. In the Middle Ages, these excesses became ever more frantic. Christine of St. Trond (1150-1224) laid herself in a hot oven, fastened herself on a wheel, had herself racked, and hung on the gallows beside a corpse; not content with this, she had herself partly buried in a grave. Fielding observes:

“She suffered from obsessions which are now generally recognized as transparent sexual hallucinations.”