It was a women’s afternoon, balmy, fragrant. Four-part harmonies of sacred hymns hovered within the curlicue of stone arches rounding the circumference of the monastery church, St. Anselm’s. Listeners upon wooden pews grew still as intricate harmonies wove our hearts within the ineffable.

Nineteen members of the Missouri Women’s Chorus, inconspicuous in their black attire, gave full voice to eight Latin selections, recently discovered by musicologist Craig Monson (Nuns Behaving Badly – Tales of Music, Magic, and Arson in the Convents of Italy, 2010). Organ and cello enhanced the sonorous tones of the singers.

It felt like being in a time warp, suddenly enveloped in sixteenth-and-seventeenth- century Bologna and Milan, in the company of gifted nun-composers who chose cloister walls to better live out their consecrated lives. Such passion for the Sacred found expression in their hymns. But their singular voice angered the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, created in 1572, lest they lose authority over the masses. Despite restrictions upon the cloistered choirs, the nuns kept composing motets and the townspeople kept filling their chapels, over ninety-four of them in Bologna. The Sacred Feminine would not be silenced. Its expression saturated thirsty souls and evoked deep communion. This, indeed, was life.

Then, as well as now, such sacred harmonies restore wholeness, rejuvenate psyches, and enlarge faith in the unseen beauty that permeates all creation. Humbly, we seek its presence and thrive.

 

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