Zamora's Nuns in the Oven

Sexual improprieties and rows between religious orders - not 1990s scandal sheet headlines about the Catholic Church, but a tale from 13th-century Spain, unravelled here by Peter Linehan.

On a dry day it takes less than fifteen minutes to walk from the cathedral which stands at the highest point of the city of Zamora in western Spain, to cross the bridge over the Duero, and reach the gates of the convent of Las Dueñas, just to the south of it. Once the enchanting mist has lifted from the swirling river, the abode of the Dominican nuns is clearly visible from the hilltop. Indeed, from this vantage point all the areas of the city of Zamora with which this story is concerned are clearly visible. In the year 1279 that was part of the trouble.

That, and uproar and rumour:

Uproar and rumour of certain of the said nuns as well as of the local people having drawn to our attention the many quarrels and the discord dividing the said nuns, in accordance with the duty of our office.

In July 1279 the Bishop of Zamora paid the convent of Las Dueñas a visit which not all its inmates altogether welcomed.

One evening shortly before this there had been a disturbance at the great gate of the convent. Cervantes mentions Zamora for the sound of its bagpipes. But it was not the skirl of the pipes that was heard now, it was not even the sound of music that had roused the neighbourhood on that thirteenth-century evening. What had done so was later reported to the bishop by one of the nuns, who claimed to have witness the scene. 'In defiance of the bishop's instructions', according to Sol Martínez:

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