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Within those wallsVirgins of Venice Enclosed Lives and Broken Vows in the Renaissance Conventby Mary Laven284pp VikingIn 1623 Galileo published his ground-breaking scientific work Il Saggiatore The Assayer - the book in which he controversially announced that philosophy is written in the language of mathematics Shortly after it appeared his daughter a cloistered nun in the convent of San Matteo in Florence wrote to him Please send me your book the one that has just been published as I am longing to see what it says Here are some cakes I made a few days ago In the same package she made him a gift of some fine linen cloths with fringes she had sewn herself a few weeks earlier she had sent a bundle of hand-stitched shirts and a little composition of her ownSister Maria Celestes correspondence with her famous father - discovered for general readers by Dava Sobel in her best-selling book Galileos Daughter - reveals an enclosed nuns life as one not simply dedicated to life-long service to God but also taken up with a set of surprisingly worldly preoccupations including intellectual debate sewing and lace-making laundering of delicate garments cooking baking and preparation of candied fruits sweets and herbal remedies for those beyond the convent wallsThese latter activities allowed Galileos daughter to stay closely connected to the world outside the convent and particularly to her near family her brother and her beloved father for whom Sister Maria Celeste worked tirelessly to provide luxury items of clothing and delicious baked goodsNow Mary Laven has produced a remarkable study of the convents of Venice in the 16th and 17th centuries which reveals whole communities of nuns living enclosed lives strategically poised between the sacred and the profane Basing her vividly told story on scrupulously scholarly study of the Venetian archives Laven provides the reader with astonishingly fresh immediate insights into the fascinating reality of day-to-day convent existence Frequently quoting directly from the convent
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