LGBTQ History

These love letters between 12th century nuns are hauntingly beautiful

BRISTOW, VIRGINIA - APRIL 26, 2015: Stained glass window depicting five Benedictine female saints, Saints Hildegard, Walburga, Scholastica, Mechtild, and Gertrude, located at St. Benedict MonasteryPhoto: Shutterstock

A Doctoral processor at the University of Bonn posted a pair of letters exchanged between medieval nuns, and their passions have transcended the ages.

Twitter user Erik Wade shared the two letters, which were initially published in the second edition of “Medieval Latin and the Rise of the European Love-Lyric,” second edition, as compiled by Peter Dronke back in 1968. Dronke is an expert on the subject.

Wade initially shared the first of two letters, taken from an article by Jacqueline Murray, “Twice Marginal and Twice Visible: Lesbians in the Middle Ages,” in his class.

Related: Vatican rebukes ‘radical’ U.S. nuns for ‘promoting issues of social justice’

The original letter, as translated by Dronke, reads as follows.

To C-–, sweeter than honey or honeycomb, B-— sends all the love there is to her love. You who are unique and special, why do you make delay so long, so far away? Why do you want your only one to die, who as you know, loves you with soul and body, who sighs for you at every hour, at every moment, like a hungry little bird.

Since I’ve had to be without your sweetest presence, I have not wished to hear or see any other human being, but as the turtle-dove, having lost its mate, perches forever on its little dried up branch, so I lament endlessly till I shall enjoy your trust again. I look about and do not find my lover — she does not comfort me even with a single word. Indeed when I reflect on the loveliness of your most joyful speech and aspect, I am utterly depressed, for I find nothing now that I could compare with your love, sweet beyond honey and honeycomb, compared with which the brightness of gold and silver is tarnished. What more?

In you is all gentleness, all perfection, so my spirit languishes perpetually by your absence. You are devoid of the gall of any faithlessness, you are sweeter than milk and honey, you are peerless among thousands, I love you more than any. You alone are my love and longing, you the sweet cooling of my mind, no joy for me anywhere without you. All that was delightful with you is wearisome and heavy without you.

So I truly do want to tell you, if I could buy your life for the price of mine, [I’d do it] instantly, for you are the only woman I have chosen according to my heart. Therefore I beseech God that bitter death may not come to me before I enjoy the dearly desired sight of you again.

Farewell. Have of me all the faith and love there is. Accept the writing I send, and with it my constant mind.

The letter was written by a nun in the twelfth century according to Wade, who followed it up with a second letter from another nun presented in Dronke’s book.

To G–, her one-and-only rose, from A– the bond of precious love. What strength have I, that I may bear it, that I may have patience while you are gone? Is my strength that of stones that I should wait for your return, I who do not cease to ache night and day, like one who lacks both hand and foot?

Without you all that’s joyous and delightful becomes like mud trodden underfoot, instead of rejoicing I shed tears, my spirit never appears joyful. When I remember the kissed you gave, and with what words of joy you caressed my little breasts, I want to die as I am not allowed to see you. What shall I, unhappiest, do? Where shall I, the poorest, turn?

Oh if my body had been consigned to the earth till your longed-for return, or if Habakkuk’s trance-journey came upon me, that I might once come to see my lover’s face — then I’d not care if that hour I should die! For in the world there is no woman born so lovable, so dear, one who loves me without feigning, with such deep love.

So I shall not cease to feel the endless pain till I win the sight of you again. Indeed, as a certain wise man says, it is a great misery for a man not to be with him without whom he cannot be. while the world lasts, you’ll never be effaced form the center of my heart.

Why say more? Return sweet love! Do not delay your journey longer, know that I cannot bear your absence longer.

Farewell, remember me.

These nuns weren’t the first same-sex religious figures in the church, with a pair of early saints professing their love for each other in what may have been the first same-sex marriage ceremony in the church.

Still, the passions of these nuns have reached out over the ages. The replies show that the deep feelings remain adored today, even if the flowery language is replaced with the brevity of a tweet.

 

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