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The Nun of Watton

In the twelfth-century a nun of the Gilbertine priory of Watton (who had been there since a girl, but was said to have had no vocation for the religious life) fell in love with a lay-brother of the community -or perhaps a canon - who had been sent to work in the nuns’ quarters. The girl soon fell pregnant and was, as a consequence, beaten up and imprisoned by the other nuns. She was then forced to castrate her lover and once the drastic deed had been done one of the other nuns thrust the severed parts, ‘befouled with blood’ , into her mouth. The nun was returned to her fetters. A miracle was then reported, and it was said that Henry Murdac (who had placed the girl in the community in the first place) appeared to the nun in a vision along with two women who cleansed her of any traces of her pregnancy, leaving her once again pure; one of her fetters then fell away. Aelred of Rievaulx was called to assess the authenticity of these reports and concluded that they were indeed, miraculous.

[See G. Constable, ‘Aelred of Rievaulx and the nun of Watton: an episode in the early history of the Gilbertine Order’, in ed. D. Baker, Medieval Women (Oxford, 1978), pp. 205-26; also see B. Golding, Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertine Order (Oxford, 1995), pp. 33-8.]