Benedetta Carlini

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Sister Benedetta Carlini was well on her way to becoming a saint when her canonization was derailed by an affair with either Jesus or a fellow nun. She had all the signs of sainthood going for her: stigmata, visions, even an alleged death and resurrection, all diligently inspected by Church officials. The various internet accounts of her downfall vary widely, but a New York Times book review gives the most complete summary, adapted from Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy.

As an extension of the traditional view of nuns as brides of Christ, Carlini staged an elaborate wedding between her and the Son of God, with one of her fellow Sisters as a stand-in. During the ceremony she allegedly spoke with Jesus’s voice, proclaiming herself “empress of all the nuns.” Her hubris, combined with the sexual relations she had with aforementioned fellow nun, were enough for the Church to declare her visions the work of the Devil rather than God, and to have her detained in her convent for the remaining 35 years of her life.

How Carlini’s story is interpreted depends on the religious beliefs of the reader as well as historical fact. From a Christian viewpoint it is not necessarily impossible for Carlini’s miracles to have been authentic, which puts a very different spin on her affair with the other nun. She is listed here as a lesbian because it is the closest term available, though the term defies the historical context that encouraged elaborate miracles and legitimized sexual relationships with Christ.

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