Nuns are hardly associated in the popular mind with rebellion and turmoil. In fact, convents have often been the scenes of conflict, but what went on behind the walls of convents was meant by the church to be mysterious. Margaret Chowning has had good fortune to discover a treasure-trove of documents that allow an intimate look at two crises that wracked and ultimately destroyed the convent of La Purisma Concepcion in San Miguel el Grande, New Spain (Mexico). At the heart of both rebellions were attempts by some nuns to impose a regimen of strict observance of their vows on the others, and the resistance mounted by those who had a different view of the convent and their own role in it. Drawing on an abundance of sources, including numerous letters written by the bishop and local vicar as well as nuns of both factions, Chowning is able to give us not just the voices but the personalities of the nuns and other actors. In this way she makes it possible for us to empathise with all of them and to appreciate the complicated dynamics of having committed your life not only to God, but to your community.

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