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ACCOUNT OF A CONVENT OF URSULINE NUNS.
(From Mrs. Stothard's Letters, written during a late Tour through Normandy.)
received us both in her parlour, where,
accepted her polite offer, and returned to the parlour. The abbess, after some conversation, expressed a wish to conduct me over the house, and to introduce me both to her nuns, and pretty novices, as she termed them. I could not help contrasting the manners of this amiable woman with those of the mother of Rennes; her conversation, entirely free from presumption or severity, evinced the pure and calm sentiments of a sincerely pious mind; her attention to the sisters appeared kind and parental, while their extreme respect and solicitude to obey her, proved how great an influence she had acquired by her benevolent and amiable manners; for there are no services so devoted, no rules so implicitly obeyed, as those to which the heart subscribes a willing and entire assent. I found the novices employed, some in teaching the boarders of the convent, assisted by a few of the nuns, and others embroidering muslins or silks. The novices wear the black dress, with a thick white cloth veil that hangs over
The court-yard of the convent appeared in a miserable and ruinous state; the chapel and building still exhibiting the marks of revolutionary destruction. The little grating at the door was concealed by a piece of tin, pierced with small holes, through which a sister demanded what I wanted. Upon expressing a desire to speak with the superior, the tin disappeared, and through the grating I perceived a dismal figure all in black, her face concealed by her veil, who directed me in what manner to proceed. Accordingly ly I found my way into a small room; there a pretty girl, attired in the dress of a novice, was teaching several dirty children to read. I was immediately conducted into another apartment, where an elderly female stood within the large iron grating to receive me. Her mild and agreeable countenance, united to a most pleasing address, relieved me from all embarrassment. I apologised for my intrusion, and explained the motives that induced it. She listened to me with politeness, and assured me, although it was against the rules of the house, that both myself and Mr. S. should be welcome to see the remains of the tombs that were now preserved within the cloisters of the convent. She extended her hand to me through the grating, and said that the English had given such a kind reception to the French during their distressing emigration, that she felt happy in the opportunity of obliging any in-, dividual of that nation.
I returned for Mr. S. and the mother
the head as low as the eye-brows; their hair is entirely concealed; and the white chin cloth, that is suspended round the ears, falls over the bosom. This costume is by no means becoming; a woman must be bordering on beautiful to look even tolerably well in it. The novices still retain their hair, although it is not seen; but on making profession, or taking the black veil, it is entirely cut off.
ries relative to my own country, what was doing in the world; they were extremely anxious to know if Bonaparte lived secure, and feared his returning to France: they made me describe St. Helena, and the manner in which the ex-emperor lived. They expressed themselves pleased with the accounts I gave, and were anxious to show me civilities. An elderly nun requested I would allow the boarders of the convent to pay their respects to the English lady, as they had never seen any one of that nation in Ploermel. Accordingly, several country girls came into the room, and all pressed round me; some seated themselves upon the floor, the better to gaze at so strange a being, and seemed as much struck with wonder, as if I had fallen from the moon; while their extreme simplicity and ignorance equally amused me.
The sight of these young girls excited my compassion. At an age when the mind acts more from impulse than reflection, while they yet scarcely know in what situation their future happiness might be established or subverted, they were preparing an endless and cheerless imprisonment for the remainder of their days. One young woman particularly attracted my observation; she was so handsome and fair, that her complexion seemed almost as delicate as the veil she wore; her manner seemed simply engaging, and she was altogether so superior to her companions, that I could not resist begging the abbess to inform me the occasion of her being there. The superior told me she was the child of most respectable parents, who carefully superintended her education, with the assistance of the family director or priest; that the young lady for some time devoted her attention to the acquirements of literature and science, but being suddenly struck with a powerful conviction of the brevity of human life, and the importance of eternity, she determined, notwithstanding every opposition, to renounce th world. Her parents, greatly distressed by her resolution, for a considerable time endeavoured to combat it; but finding their efforts vain, at the age of seventeen, they had resigned their child to seclusion. We quitted the novices, and visited the cells; every nun had a little apartment to herself; a bed, a table, bearing a crucifix, and a chair, constituted the furniture of each. I was soon introduced to all the sisters, whose curiosity to see a being belonging to the world, and of a foreign country, brought them eagerly around me. I endeavoured to please them by satisfying their inqui3N ATHENEUM VOL. 10.
I was next conducted into the dininghall. The abbess's table stood alone at the upper end of the room; the nuns were seated at long tables on either side; and during their scanty and frugal repast, a nun, appointed for the duty by the lady abbess, preached an extempore sermon on the joys of the heavenly world.
After dinner, I attended the superior into her own cell, where she informed me the brief story of her life. At the age of eighteen she became disgusted with the world, from a very severe disappointment,that too frequently wounds a susceptible mind; and resolving to seek, in the hopes of futurity, that happiness she could no longer find in society, she devoted herself to a monastic life. When the revolution broke out, she was persecuted with the rest of her order; and having escaped the destruction that threatened her, she took refuge with her own family in a distant part of France. Tranquillity once more restored, her friends endeavoured to persuade her to remain with them; but time, that great physician to afflictions, had taught her to consider her sorrows as instrumental to her ultimate good: she returned to her seclusion, and those few nuns who had escaped the common danger, followed her example. They found their convent desolated, and exerted their utmost
the abbess entered, but the bell again sounding for orisons, she left us her hope that God would yet unfold to me the truth, and reclaim me from my errors. Maria explained to me the custom of orisons, or the assembling of the nuns, to think or pray whatever the Divine Power suggests: she also informed me that the sisters rise at four in the morning to say matins, and perform divine service. Several times during the day Maria endeavoured to entertain, by shewing me some large folios, containing the lives and miracles of several score of modern saints, the only books besides those of prayer which the sisters are allowed to read. She related to me the history of a nun living in a convent near Vannes, in the south of France, who is called a saint elect, but whose adventures appeared very melancholy to me. She was the daughter of a noble family, who con sented to give her in marriage to a young gentleman greatly attached to her. A short time before the appointed nuptials, her father died, and her mother survived his decease but a few days. The young lady, considering this as a warning from heaven,that her marriage was averse to the will of God, became melancholy, and believing herself chosen as a spouse of Christ, determined upon taking the veil. Her lover, disappointed in all his hopes, declared, that if the lady became a nun, he would not survive her loss. She persisted in her design, notwithstanding her own affection, and his melancholy state of mind, and the unfortunate man, in a fit of despondency, put a period to his existence. The nun, far from feeling any regret on the subject, gloried in having resigned all her hopes by devoting herself to God, and at present bears the reputation of a saint, from wearing the hair shirt to fret her skin, and practising every kind of austerity.
The abbess very freely permitted Mr. S. to converse with any of the old or superannuated nuns, but the good lady was too cautious to extend this kind privilege to the younger sisters, or to the novices, fearing, I imagine, the very sight of a young man might make them dream of the world again; a caution they would willingly have dispensed with, as they did not fail gratifying
means in repairing it; but poverty prevented their doing much towards rendering their habitation either handsome or comfortable. The abbess well de-, scribed their distressed condition, but remarked such sufferings were nothing for the espoused of Christ.
We then walked towards the chapel. It was not the hour of general prayer, but several nuns were kneeling on the ground absorbed in deep meditation, before an image of our Saviour upon the cross, that hung suspended from the roof. The abbess devoutly crossed herself with holy water; and having prayed for a few minutes before the figure of the Virgin, quitted the chapel. Whilst we were proceeding to the par-. lour, I offered the mother some fine flowers I had in my bosom; but she declined them, saying, with a serious air, "We never take such things:" and I found they were considered by devotees as one of the vanities of this world, although the beautiful productions of that Almighty Being to whom they themselves dedicate their lives. We returned to the parlour, where the abbess apologised for leaving me, but expressed her hopes that I should find an agreeable companion in Maria The resa, whose turn it was to act as portress, an office that prevented her attendance in the chapel.
Maria Theresa I found a very intelligent,good-natured young woman. We had no sort of reserve, and soon entered into familiar conversation. As a gossip with a nun is by no means common in England, you may feel some curiosity to hear a little of our discourse; and as the religious opinions of Maria are, I believe, like those received in all convents, I need not detail them at length. I begged Maria to permit me to sketch her costume. She consented if the mother would allow it. The good-natured nun gained the necessary leave, on condition I would draw only the dress, without copying her face. To this I consented, and, after adjusting her drapery, commenced my work.
Our conferences were exclusively confined to the discussion of doctrinal points of faith, on which the nun displayed more acuteness than might have been expected in the enslaved state of her mind. During our conversation
their curiosity 'by taking a peep from behind the columns of the cloister during the time he was employed.
We visited the convent again yesterday, and I requested the abbess to permit me to accompany her to the chapel; she seemed both pleased and surprised at my request. The abbess conducted me into the chapel, where we found the nuns already assembled. She placed me near her in the choir, and whispered in my ear, as she knelt down, "May God touch your heart, and make you like one of us."
The large black curtain that covered the grating and concealed the nuns from the view of the congregation in the church, was then drawn back. The altar, where the priest officiated, stood without the grating. The nuns seated themselves in richly carved oaken stalls, on either side of the choir; and the novices, covered with their long white veils, sat on low benches in front of the sisters. Two of these young girls, accompanied by an elderly nun, slowly advanced into the centre of the aisle, and after humbly prostrating themselves before the suspended crucifix, they turned towards the tar, and commen
The Society of Natives of Scotland recently formed in Sheffield, for celebrating the memory of Burns, have presented Mrs. Burns with a pair of silver candlesticks, tray and snuffers, of the newest patterns, and best workmanship. The tray is remarkably elegant, and is enhanced in value, by being adorned with an inscription from the pen of the poet Montgomery, a native of Ayrshire.
October 23, a tragical catastrophe occurred at Carville colliery, near Newcastle. The workmen employed in it had been selected as the prime, from the whole of the extensive works, and the ventilation was considered as complete as that of any mine on the river. There is a band (i. e. a stratum of stone) in the coal, and it was necessary to use candles in blasting it. At the time above-mentioned, when fifty-five persons were in the mine, an explosion of hydrogen gas took place, which killed fiftytwo of them, dreadfully burnt two others, one of whom is since dead, and only one miraculously escaped unhurt. The explosion shook the ground like an earthquake. The body of one boy was blown high out of the shaft, and fell again to the bottom. By this lamentable event twenty-six widows,
ced the service, chaunting, in notes of pathetic melody, a hymn to the Virgin. During the office they frequently bent their bodies towards the earth, and sometimes remained several minutes in that position. The sound of a bell proclaimed the elevation of the host, when the whole sisterhood fell upon their knees, with every token of the deepest reverence and humiliation. Several even threw themselves upon the ground, as if overpowered by the splendour of some mental vision of divinity. Whenever any of the sisterhod crossed the choir, they invariably fell upon their knees, before the image of the crucifixion. I have seen mass performed with more pageantry, but never,I think,wi th so much solemnity, as at this convent of Ursuline nuns. The whole ceremony was characterised by a grandeur and awful dignity, very imposing, and calculated to inspire a serious feeling in the most unthinking mind; while the youth and beauty of several of the novices awakened a sense of compassion for their melancholy life, whose innocence and purity thus prostrated before the throne of mercy, gave an additional interest to the solemnity of their devotion
and between eighty and ninety children have been deprived of their support. Forty of the sufferers were under forty years of age. One of them told his wife on the fatal morning, that he had dreamt the pit was blown up, and she affectionately entreated him not to go, but he waved her advice. The man who escaped, in the course of an hour bravely ventured down again to the mine, to assist in bringing up his companions. An inquest was held on the bodies, and the verdict was, that "the sufferers accidentally came by their deaths by an explosion of hydrogen gas in the workings of the colliery."
There is at present, at a place called Caw, in the county of Londonderry, a sycamore tree, which contains a well of excellent fresh spring water. At the height of five feet, the trunk is about 18 inches in diameter; at seven feet, it seems to have separated into two branches of equal thickness, one of which is 20 or 25 feet in height; from that part of the trunk from which a corresponding branch is supposed once to have grown, issues a stream of excellent water, perfectly cool and clear, which never fails, even in the hottest weather, or longest drought. The tree seems perfectly healthy, and in luxuriant leaf.