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The Gatekeeper by Terry EagletonThe convent was a squat ramshackle building its roof more corrugated iron than Gothic pinnacle It was set among high walls spiked with shards of glass forbidding enough to repel voyeurs religious obsessives nun-stalkers sex offenders militant Protestants enraged atheists But the walls were also there to keep the occupants in For this was a convent of enclosed Carmelite nuns who once the gate had slammed behind them would see nobody but their fellow nuns and a few priests and altar boys for the rest of their livesI was the gatekeeper As a ten-year-old altar server in the convent chapel I had to be on hand when a novice perhaps nineteen or twenty-one years old took the veil and disappeared into the place for good She would first be dressed as a bride to symbolize her marriage to Christ her hair cropped almost to a crew-cut beneath the white lacy veil In some cases no doubt the honeymoon would prove something of a disappointment Then she would be ushered away by her fellow nuns to return decked in the black veil and rough brown habit of the Carmelite order I heard later of a young woman who had turned down the Carmelites and opted instead for a religious order which allowed you to wear Marks Spencer knickers Though I myself had no personal acquaintance with the knickers of Carmelite nuns I feel sure that they were forbidding skin-chafing affairs slid into place with steel bolts as the order never missed even the mildest chance for mortificationThe bishop an old codger from Kildare with the walk of a navvy and the face of a wino would arrive to officiate at the ceremony One of us altar boys would be appointed to carry his mitre the high plush hat he wore on such occasions while another boy would bear his crosier or symbolic golden staff We would hold these props through white
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