Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Marj Charlier’s The Rebel Nun is based on the true story of Clotild, the daughter of a sixth-century king and his concubine, who leads a rebellion of nuns against the rising misogyny and patriarchy of the medieval church.
At that time, women are afforded few choices in life: prostitution, motherhood, or the cloister. Only the latter offers them any kind of independence. By the end of the sixth century, even this is eroding as the church begins to eject women from the clergy and declares them too unclean to touch sacramental objects or even their priest-husbands.
Craving the legitimacy thwarted by her bastard status, Clotild seeks to become the next abbess of the female Monastery of the Holy Cross, the most famous of the women’s cloisters of the early Middle Ages. When the bishop of Poitiers blocks her appointment and seeks to control the nunnery himself, Clotild masterminds an escape, leading a group of nuns on a dangerous pilgrimage to beg her royal relatives to intercede on their behalf. But the bishop refuses to back down, and a bloody battle ensues. Will Clotild and her sisters succeed with their quest, or will they face ex-communication, possibly even death?
In the only historical novel written about the incident, The Rebel Nun is a richly imagined story about a truly remarkable heroine.
A rebellion at a monastery in the late sixth century brings to mind a number of images. Still, nothing prepared me for Clotild and the other brave women featured in Marj Charlier’s book titled The Rebel Nun.
It was certainly strange to put the words “rebel” and “nun” together because my perception of nuns evokes a sense of serenity and quiet dignity. However, it soon became apparent that even in the late sixth century, women had to fight for their place in the world.
While the author admits that the book is a work of fiction, it starts with the accepted fact that 40 nuns rebelled against the new abbess of the Monastery of the Holy Cross. The author includes a note at the end of the book outlining her research. Of particular note is a concise breakdown of fact vs. fiction incorporated in the story. As a reader unfamiliar with this time period, I found the information greatly enhanced my understanding of the subject matter.
In the prologue, Clotild rereads the accounts of the rebellion as told by Gregory, the late Bishop of Tours. As one of the few people still alive to provide a first-hand account of what really happened, Clotild starts at the beginning when Christianity took hold in Gaul. It was a time of great turmoil as pagan traditions were eliminated and women were removed from the roles they had held.
The storyline itself took a bit for me to get into, but once I was able to distinguish the characters, I felt a connection with Clotild. The author provided ample description to show how the nuns chafed under the governance of the new abbess. The rebellion itself was well detailed enough that I pictured myself there fighting alongside the nuns.
I found The Rebel Nun to be a well-crafted approach to educate readers like myself about a little-known piece of history.
Marj Charlier began her writing career at daily and mid-size newspapers before joining the Wall Street Journal as a staff reporter. After twenty years in journalism, she pursued her MBA and began a second career in corporate finance. The Rebel Nun is her first historical novel, and her eleventh published novel.
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