Veiled Desires. Lives and Loves of Nuns in the Middle Ages
Nonnenliebe und Nonnenleben im Mittelalter / ensemble Peregrina (songtexts)
Raum Klang RK 3109

Castitas — Chastity

01 - Virgines egregie  [3:04]
sequence, Paris, 14th c.
Agnieszka, Kelly, Lorenza, Hanna, vielle, gittern

02 - Virgines caste  [8:08]
sequence, Western Switzerland (Lausanne ?), before 1250
Lorenza, Hanna, Agnieszka, Kelly

03 - Virgines egregie  [2:23]
sequence, Las Huelgas, 14th c.
Agnieszka, Lorenza, Hanna

Hildegard von BINGEN
04 - O dulcissime amator  [6:26]
Symphonia virginum, Rheinland, 12th c.
Kelly, Agnieszka

05 - Casta catholica ~ Da dulcis domina  [1:57]
2vv conductus, Las Huelgas, 14th c.
Lorenza, Hanna

Temptatio — Temptation

06 - Te mihi meque  [2:39]
Clericus et nonna dialogue, Switzerland, 15th c.
Marc, Agnieszka, gusli

07 - Nonne sanz amour! ~ Moine ~ ET SUPER  [0:59]
3vv motet, Paris, 13th c.
Kelly, Lorenza, Hanna

08 - Ain beispel von amer eptissin  [4:13]
song, Germany, 15th c.
Kelly, plectrum lute

09 - Cil bruns ~ IN SECULUM  [0:46]
2vv motet, Paris, 13th c.
Lorenza, vielle, gittern

10 - In seculum viellatoris ~ IN SECULUM  [1:38]
textless motet, Paris, 13th c.
vielle, gittern

11 - Suavissima nunna  [5:30]
Clericus et nonna dialogue,  Rheinland, 11th c.
Marc, Hanna, gusli

Hermana Defuncta — Deceased Sister

12 - Salve Regina ~ Virgo mater clemens  [4:11]
troped antiphon (trope 2vv), Southern Germany, 14th c.
Kelly, Agnieszka (tropes), Lorenza, Hanna

13 - O monialis concio  [1:46]
planctus on the death of Doña Maria González de Agüero, abbess of Las Huelgas (d. ca. 1340), 14th c.

14 - Kyrie ~ lesu parce ei  [5:44]
litany, Palma de Mallorca, 14th c.
Lorenza, Hanna (soli), Agnieszka, Kelly

En Prison — Nonnenklage

15 - Awe meiner iungen tage  [5:16]
anonymous Minnesänger, Germany, 13th c.
Agnieszka, vielle

16 - Nus ne mi ~ Nonne sui ~ APTATUR  [0:57]
3vv motet, Paris, 13th c.
Kelly, Lorenza, Hanna

17 - Joliement ~ Quant voi ~ Je sui joliete ~ APTATUR  [3:06]
4vv motet, Paris, 13th c.
Agnieszka, Kelly, Lorenza, Hanna

18 - Li debonnaires Dieus  [4:47]
chanson pieuse, France, 13th c.
Hanna, Lorenza, Kelly, vielle

19 - Plangit nonna fletibus  [4:55]
planctus monialis, Northern Italy, 11th c.

20 - In virgulto gracie  [2:37]
2vv sequence, Las Huelgas, 14th c.
Agnieszka, Kelly, Lorenza, Hanna, vielle, gittern

ensemble Peregrina (Basle)
Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett

Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett, voice
Kelly Landerkin, voice
Lorenza Donadini, voice
Hanna Järveläinen, voice
Baptiste Romain, vielle
Marc Lewon, plectrum lute, gittern, gusli, voice

This recording is dedicated to our friend Kinga who chose the veil.

Oval vielle — Ugo Casalonga, Pigna (F) 2004
Trecento vielle — Judith Kraft, Paris (F) 2007
Gusli — Roland Suits, Tartu (EE) 2001
Plectrum lute — Stephen Gottlieb, London (GB) 2001
Gittern — George (Philip) Stevens, Lydd (GB) 2004

Roma, Biblioteca Vaticana, Lat. 3251 [19]
Cambridge, University Library, Gg. V. 35 [11] (text only)
Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, 2 (Riesencodex)/Dendermonde, St.-Pieters & Paulusabadij, 9 [4]
Montpellier, Faculté de Médecine, H 196 (Codex Montpellier) [7, 9 & 17]
Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Lit. 115 (Codex Bamberg) [10 & 16]
St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. 383 [2]
Burgos, Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas, s. s. (Codex Las Huelgas) [3, 5, 13 & 20]
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, f. fr. 146 (Roman de Fauvel) [1]
Munchen, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 5539/London, British Museum, Add. 27 630 (LoD) [12]
Palma de Mallorca, Museu Diocesà, s. s. (Cantorale Palma de Mallorca) [14]
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, f. fr. 12483 [18]
Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cpg 312 &Cpg 334 [8]
Bern, Burgerbibliothek, 434 (text only) [6]
Munchen, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Doceniana 48 & 48a (text only) [15]

Transcriptions prepared by A. Budzinska-Bennett [2, 4, 12, 14 & 15], K. Landerkin [4& 13] & Marc Lewon [8 & 10]
Polyphonic version of [3] by A. Budzinska-Bennett
Musical reconstructions: A. Budzinska-Bennett [6, 15 & 19] and M. Lewon [11]
Language tuition and emendations: M. Lewon (DT), B. Romain (FR), P. Zimmermann (LAT)

Producer: Sebastian Pank (Raumklang)
Recorded: Katholische Kirche Seewen (SO), November, 21-26, 2011
Recording and editing: Sebastian Pank
Übersetzung: Marc Lewon, Lucas Bennett (introduction)
Translation: Lucas Bennett
Traduction: Baptiste Romain, Valérie Cordonier (introduction)
Booklet editing: Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett, Ute Lieschke
Picture credit: „Christus und die minnende Seele“, Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek, Codex 710 (322)
Photos: Sebastian Pank
Graphic Design: Anna Ihle
Raumklang Musikproduktion und Verlag

Veiled Desires

In the Middle Ages, the stages of all women's lives were classified according to their sexual experience. For young girls, maidenhood was something to cherish and protect. Once married, constancy was key; in widowhood, chastity was highly prized, and many older women chose to enter a convent for the final part of their lives. Virginity was the property of women themselves, but also that of their father and husband; rape was frequently considered not a crime of sexual violence but one of abduction and theft, where both the woman and her virginity were at risk of being stolen. Women choosing an enclosed life took a vow of chastity to be constant for Christ, enacting a spiritual marriage to Jesus as part of their initiation rites. For many commentators, monastic or in the wider world, the relationship between a woman and her body, in particular her virginity, was a site of intrigue. Many lyrics survive that explore the particular experience of nuns, whether they be written by women or - more often - by men imagining women's lives.

The songs on this album explore the full range of enclosed women's experience of chastity, love and life. Women were encouraged to measure themselves against the ideal role model of purity, the Virgin Mary, who conceived without sin and, in many accounts, was thought to have been conceived by a miracle. Mary was contrasted against Eve (Ave versus Eva); in the troped Antiphon Salve Regina [12], the singers compare themselves to Eve's banished children, the antithesis of their own ideal; this chant was performed at funerals for important people, so is grouped with other songs in honour of the dead. The conductus Casta catholica [5], found in the Las Huelgas codex — a manuscript that shows evidence of ownership and use by nuns during the 14th century — prays to Mary for strength in maintaining bodily purity through the performance of virtuous song. O monialis concio [13], a planctus on the death of Doña María González de Agüero, abbess of Las Huelgas (d. ca. 1340), preserved in the same manuscript, laments her death, though contrasting the loss of the community with the joy of the nun's entry to heaven. In comparison, the sensual imagery of Hildegard von Bingen's O dulcissime amator [4] invites comparison between Christ as divine and as spiritual lover. The extensive poetry of Kyrie/lesu parce ei [14] invokes the strength and support of Mary, and virgin martyrs Saints Catherine, Peter and Dominic, as part of a litany for a dead nun; this was sung by the Augustinian nuns in Palma before the body of the deceased.

The life of a nun was equally held as a virtuous existence for women, especially young women. In many parts of Europe, fathers placed their unmarried daughters into nunneries to keep them free from potential gossip as they approached puberty, but were as yet unmarried. The temptation to escape from the control of the family must have been great for many girls, as it is today, and this is reflected in the motet Cil bruns/IN SECULUM [9], in which the young woman fully acknowledges that the handsome young man is not stealing her away for a religious life, but to capture her heart and, it is implied, her body. A remarkable song from 15th-century Germany, Ain beispel von einer eptissin [8], recounts the tale of an abbess who had fallen to temptations of the flesh. Hurriedly robing in what she thinks is her veil, she ends up wearing her lover's underwear on her head to the service, much to the amusement of the choir. The 13th-century motet Nonne sans amour/Moine/ET SUPER [7] explores a complex amorous relationship between a nun and a monk who seem to have quite given up on attaining happiness through sexual abstinence!

For those entering a religious life, temporarily or more permanently, what were the realities of their experience? The nuns in the final section of the songs on this recording are imprisoned, both within the nunnery and within their own bodies. They are unlikely to have matched up to the description in the sequence Virgines caste [2], in which the nuns are cradled by Christ himself in their slumber, and free to sleep for as long as they desire. For the poet of this song, spiritual marriage to Christ brought with it the satisfaction that there would be no painful childbirth, no annoying nursemaid, and no potential mistress to contend with. The daily grind of the enclosed life was one of repetitious observance. In Plangit nonna fletibus [19], the nun contemplates the drudgery of her lot: left in filthy conditions, pacing around and dreaming of what she's missing in the outside world. The reconstructed melody on this recording uses the melodic contours of the single surviving source of this piece in order to build a plausible version of the song. Repetition is a defining feature of Nus ne mi/Nonne sui/APTATUR [16], a motet in which the nun whose voice is found in the middle voice complains bitterly of her obligation to ring matins daily. There is some wordplay here, with the listener encouraged to infer that the enforced daily "ringing" of matins might represent a regular ritual of sexual encounters with a cleric.

The Minnesänger lyric Awe meiner iungen tage [15], some two centuries later than Plangit nonna fletibus, contains many of the same ideas, and has been entirely composed by the performers (as have Te mihi meque and Suavissima nunna [6 & 11], both dialogues between fictional nuns and clerics). In this song, the nun laments her lack of access to the verdant outside world, contrasting her own veil with the garlands of flowers that she might otherwise wear when carolling. The majority of women's voices in song express a sense of their being forced into a convent life. The spiritual song Li debonnaires Dieus [18] is built around a refrain that states that “The good Lord has put me in his prison”, though the love that the young girl feels is ambiguously depicted: is it for Jesus or for a secular beloved? Physical imprisonment could be reinforced by the vestments worn by nuns, not least the belt that was a reminder of her chastity. The refrain “I feel the sweet pains beneath my girdle: Damned be he who made me a nun!” crops up in the beautiful and complex motet Joliment/Quant voi/Ja sui joliete/APTATUR [17]. The motet setting reminds the listener constantly of the age of the nun - just 14 years old - and sets this within a context of burgeoning sexual maturity in which the young woman is desperate to escape her restricted experience.

For many young women, the religious life was not a punishment, but a vocation. In the sequence In virgulto gracie [20], the enclosed walls of the nunnery church are likened to a spiritual garden in which Christ is the divine gardener and the nuns are flowers in full bloom. Having chosen the flowers himself, Christ tends to them and nourishes them with the word of God. This song reminds us that although life was doubtless hard and full of challenges for nuns, for some women the religious life was one of nurture and opportunities for fulfilment through worship, education and communal living.

Lisa Colton