Rome: ex Typographia Cameræ Apostolicæ, 1602.
Quarto: 22 x 16 cm.  pp. Collation: A8
Disbound. With a woodcut of Saint Mary Magdalene holding a crucifix, with a vessel beside her (holding the aromatic oil with which she anointed Jesus’ feet). A crisp copy with good margins, moderate damp-staining to four leaves.
Papal bulls concerning the erection of the monastery of the Convertite; with its rules, privileges, and indulgences. The two bulls are Leo X’s “Salvator Noster Iesus Christus” (19 May 1520), Clement VII’s “Cum ex corpore” (13 August 1525), both here re-confirmed by Paul III (“Provisionis nostrae debet” 24 April 1537). In 1602, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini (1571-1621) assumed the position of Cardinal Protector of the Convertite’s church. It is likely that Aldobrandini, who had the Rule and Constitution of the Convertite re-published, also requested that the bulls be re-printed at this time.
All printings of these bulls are rare outside of Italy. I have located four copies of this 1602 printing, only one of them in North America (UC Berkeley); two are in the BL and the fourth is held by the National Library of Scotland. A single copy of the original 1520 printing of Leo X’s bull is held at Thüringer Univ. und Landsbibliothek (Jena). I have not located any copies of 1525 re-issue of Leo’s bull, or of the 1525 printing of Clement VII’s. The 1537 edition is held at the BL (2) and BNF.
The history of the Convent of Santa Maria Maddalena delle Convertite at Rome began with the establishment of the Compagnia della Carità, founded in 1518 by Cardinal Giulio de 'Medici (the future Clement VII). On 28 January 1520, Pope Leo X elevated the Compagnia to the level of an archconfraternity, and gave it permission to sponsor a new convent for repentant prostitutes who wished to take up the cloistered life.
The monastery, built next to the church of S. Lucia alla Colonna al Corso (which for the occasion changed its name to S. Maria Maddalena, the first redeemed prostitute), was established by Pope Leo X on 19 May 1520 with the bull "Salvator Noster Jesus". The bull specified that the spiritual and financial regulation of the convent was to be administered by the Arcoconfraternita della Carità.
Once elevated to the papacy (as Pope Clement VII), Giulio de ‘Medici reconfirmed the monastery with the bull "Cum ex corpore"(13 August 1525), which granted the convent 50 scudi a month as alms and assigned 20 percent of the incomes from the estates of the penitents for the convent’s upkeep. In the event of a total bequest, the monastery would take care of the woman’s children. From some registers of the time it appears that in 1553 the Confraternita della Carità had spent 60,000 scudi, thanks to the help of wealthy benefactors and public alms that could be deposited in a box, placed under a Marian aedicule on the Milvian bridge (still visible on the parapet of the bridge in the 19th c.) on which there was written “Per le povere Convertite”.
The nuns were carefully selected by the Archconfraternity, which took pains to ensure that the women who sought entrance were truly repentant and sought Christ, lest the monastery become simply the last refuge for women who did not truly renounce their sinful ways, but were forced to give up prostitution by such circumstances as old age, disability, or fading beauty. The convent was for converts, not retired professionals.
Spiritually guided by the Minimi of San Francesco da Paola, the penitent nuns conducted their lives in observance of the rule of St. Augustine.
“The nuns could own nothing individually, only in common. They had to pray at the canonical hours, eat only at the appointed times, fast frequently, and obey the Mother Prioress and especially the 'Prelate who has care of you,' that is, the Cardinal Protector… [Their Regola] stated that nuns must dress modestly with a veil that is not sheer and covers all of their hair. Much attention was paid to the need for modest eyes, for, the Regola added, immodest ones were an index of an immodest heart, which lead to sins of the flesh. The nuns were told they should not want to see their sisters nor be seen by them, so they should keep their eyes lowered. Moreover, the nuns were admonished to regard God as 'that supernal inspector,' who sees everything and must not be offended. All transgressors of regulations would be punished and special penances assigned; nuns who persisted in breaking the rules could even be imprisoned… The nuns' clothing could be washed only when the Mother Prioress deemed it necessary, and although for health reasons the nuns had to bathe, they were not to do so for the sake of delight…
“[A]ny penitent prostitute who wanted to become a nun had to be examined thoroughly by the Lord Deputies of the monastery (that is, members of the Arciconfraternita della Carita) regarding her life and habits. In making their decision, the Deputies were obliged to consider such matters as the woman's age and marital status, and determine whether or not she really wanted to pursue the religious life; was healthy, had syphilis or another contagious or incurable disease, or was pregnant; was or had been a servant; had debts, and what they amounted to; had ever caused a scandal; was literate; how many relatives she had and who they were. Only after having passed this examination would a woman's case would be put to a vote. If the nuns agreed to admit her and the Cardinal Protector gave his approval, the aspiring woman would be submitted to a medical examination in private to ensure she was healthy.
“After successfully completing this examination process, the aspirant would be sent to live with a gentlewoman for a training period of at least a month, during which she was not allowed to speak, write, or otherwise communicate with anyone from the outside world. She was to spend her time mastering a list of things she had to accomplish in order to become a nun, to which end she would be visited by the nuns' Father Confessor and a Deputy of the Congregation (that is, of the Carità), who had to be either elderly or a priest. The Father Confessor would help the aspirant make a general confession, and would give her communion when he deemed her ready.
“Once the aspirant had completed her training period at the gentlewoman's house, she would reside in the monastery for ten to fifteen days as a conversa (convert), separated from the novices and nuns. As a conversa she would speak to no one but the Father Confessor and other officials. After receiving the Cardinal Protector's blessing, she would don the habit. A conversa became a novice upon taking the three vows, at which point she was entrusted to the Maestra di Novitie (Mistress of Novices), and lived apart from professed nuns in a separate section of the monastery. There she would stay for a year or more. Novices were expected to learn to read well and understand the order of the office. After a year, novices who had mastered reading would don the black veil, gain a voice in the chapter, and perform the same activities as professed nuns. Novices who could not read well after the probationary year continued to wear the white veil of a conversa and live separately from professed nuns.
“[There was] a strong emphasis on literacy at the monastery of S. Maria Maddalena delle Convertite, which was tied to the Carita's goal of rehabilitating members of an underclass perceived as undesirable… Because women admitted to the monastery of S. Maria Maddalena were poor charity cases, virtually all of whom were surely illiterate, their need to be taught to read was addressed explicitly. At S. Maria Maddalena, women who failed to learn to read were excluded from the ranks of professed nuns. This exclusion was certainly due to their inability to read the liturgical texts. The male governing body of the convertite considered their literacy an urgent issue…
“The lives of nuns at S. Maria Maddalena, like those of other cloistered religious, were strictly regulated according to the canonical hours, during which they recited designated offices, prayers, and psalms. They were required to confess and receive communion frequently, that is, at least once a month and on a long list of feast days. The better part of their lives were to be spent in silence, so as to avoid offending God with 'vain, lazy, ... or dirty and dishonest' words. Every day after matins the nuns had to spend one hour in mental prayer (that is, in silent meditation), followed by another half hour every evening.
In keeping with both their vow of poverty and the denial of earthly pleasures the convertite wore a simple habit, which was not their own property but that of the monastery. As described in the Constitutioni, the habit consisted of a black underdress, a white scapular, a black veil, and simple shoes. No ornamentation, complicated tailoring, or elaborate fabrics - such as silk - were allowed. Seasonally appropriate cloth was used, wool during cold months, linen during warm ones. In the Rego/a it was stated that clothing could be washed only when the Mother Prioress deemed it necessary; in the Constitutioni it was decreed 'they [the habits] may be washed two times a year, and not more.' For women who in their previous lives had relied on flashy personal adornment in order to attract paying sexual partners, nothing could have signified their change of life better than their new habit, which was not merely plain and dark, but in the terminology of the Rule of Saint Augustine, as reported in their Constitutioni, 'inconspicuous.'
Discussions of how to overcome sins of the flesh were standard features of the rules and constitutions of all religious orders, for as we saw in Chapter 1, sexual desire was assumed to afflict all human beings; the ability to overcome it was even equated with facing martyrdom. Given the cloistered situation of the convertite, it is not surprising that their Constitutioni, like the Rego/a of the Cistercian nuns of S. Susanna, addressed the sin of lesbian sex, and detailed punishments for it. The convertite, for example, were explicitly warned against '[l]ooking fixedly at one another, and finding yourselves alone anywhere with only one other nun, or in bed with the curtains drawn. And you must avoid touching each other's hands or other parts of the body ... '
“Predictably, the convertite's Constitutioni placed more than usual emphasis on sins of the flesh, admonishing the women to avoid thinking about their former sexual experiences. The Constitutioni quoted Saint Augustine's statement that prayer and fasting conquered ‘diabolical stimulation, and that of the flesh.’ To that end, nuns were required to flagellate themselves three times per week in the choir under the direction of the Mother Prioress.
“The Constitutioni stated unequivocally: ‘[W]e order and command you [convertite] to avoid all occasions which may invite you and excite you to give offense to God. You must be continually vigilant concerning your heart, eyes, tongue, and all your senses ... , You must avoid singing, or remembering secular songs ... In order to conquer this vice [of the flesh], the following are helpful: fasts, vigils, mortifications, little food, lack of particular friendships and affection for any Nun, withdrawing within your own heart, recommending yourself to the Lord, and meditating on Death and the Last Judgment. Thus we command that when you talk among yourselves, or with your relatives and others, you keep your eyes lowered; that you avoid the curiosity of understanding vain things and all those things that could stain your chastity- chiefly [you must avoid] remembering things past, in which the devil will force you to take delight and morose pleasure, so that you will commit a mortal sin. Because it is necessary that you remain vigilant and with humility occupy yourselves always with good works according to your holy vocation.’”(Jones, Altarpieces and Their Viewers in the Churches of Rome from Caravaggio to Guido Reni, p. 212 ff.)
In 1628, some of the more religiously committed nuns moved to the convent of San Giacomo alla Lungara, where the others also flocked in 1798, the year of the suppression of the Monastero al Corso.
Mary Magdalene as Patron Saint of Prostitutes:
Saint Mary Magdalene’s evolving identity and her eventual role as patron saint of prostitutes can be traced back to Gregory the Great’s Homily 33 (ca. 1591), in which the Pope identified Mary Magdalene as Luke’s female sinner (Luke 7:37), “the woman John calls Mary, and that Mary from whom Mark says seven demons were cast out.” He then says that the ointment used by Luke’s sinner to anoint Christ’s feet had previously been used by Mary "to perfume her flesh in forbidden acts."(See Witcombe) By the ninth century, this image of Mary became conflated with Saint Mary of Egypt, a repentant prostitute who died as a hermit in the Judaean Desert about the year 420 and who is the patron of prostitutes in the East. After the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), Mary Magdalene’s identity as a penitent prostitute was firmly established. The etiology of Mary’s more peculiar attributes, her unusually long hair, which often completely covers her body, is found in the Mary of Egypt legend. In the woodcut on this publication’s title page, she is shown clothed, her hair a bit wild but of a more sensible length. Here the tell-tale attributes are the Crucifix and the vessel of ointment.