Life in the Grey Nunnery at Montreal
by Sarah J Richardson
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In a late number of "The American and Foreign Christian Union," we find the following account of conventual life from a report of a Missionary in Chile, South America.

"Now, my brother, let me give you an account related to me by a most worthy English family, most of the members of which have grown up in the country, confirmed also by common report, of the Convent of Capuchins, in Santiago.

"The number of inmates is limited to thirty-two young ladies. The admittance fee is $2000. When the nun enters she is dressed like a bride, in the most costly material that wealth can command. There, beside the altar of consecration, she devotes herself in the most solemn, manner to a life of celibacy and mortification of the flesh and spirit, with the deluded hope that her works will merit a brighter mansion in the realms above.

"The forms of consecration being completed, she begins to cast off her rich veil, costly vestments, all her splendid diamonds and brilliants—which, in many instances, have cost, perhaps, from ten to fifteen, or even twenty thousand dollars. Then her beautiful locks are submitted to the tonsure; and to signify her deadness forever to the world, she is clothed in a dress of coarse grey cloth, called serge, in which she is to pass the miserable remnant of her days. The dark sombre walls of her prison she can sever pass, and its iron-bound doors are shut forever upon their new, youthful, and sensitive occupant. Rarely, if ever, is she permitted to speak, and NEVER, NEVER, to see her friends or The loved ones of home—to enjoy the embraces of a fond mother, or devoted father, or the smiles of fraternal or sisterly affection. If ever allowed to speak at all, it is through iron bars where she cannot be seen, and in the presence of the abbess, to see that no complaint escapes her lips. However much her bosom may swell with anxiety at the sound of voices which were once music to her soul, and she may long to pour out her cries and tears to those who once soothed every sorrow of her heart; yet not a murmur must be uttered. The soul must suffer its own sorrows solitary and alone, with none to sympathize, or grant relief, and none to listen to its moans but the cold gloomy walls of her tomb. No, no, not even the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that great alleviator of all the sorrows of the heart, is allowed an entrance there.

"Nor is this all. Besides being condemned to a meagre, insufficient and unwholesome diet which they themselves most cook, the nuns are not allowed to speak much with each other, except to say, 'Que morir tenemos, 'we are to die,' or 'we must die,' and to reply, 'Ya los sabemos,' 'we know it,' or 'already we know it'

"They pass most of their time in small lonely cells, where they sleep in a narrow place dug out in the ground, in the shape of a coffin, without bed of any kind, except a piece of coarse serge spread down; and their daily dress is their only covering. SLEEP! Did I say? Alas! 'Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep, no more with his downy pinions lights on his unsullied with a tear:' FOR EVERY HOUR OF THE TWENTY-FOUR they are aroused by the bell to perform their 'Ave Maria's,' count their rosaries, and such other blind devotions as may be imposed. Thus they drag out a miserable existence, and when death calls the spirit to its last account, the other nuns dig the grave with their own hands, within the walls of the convent, and so perform the obsequies of their departed sister.

"Thus, I have briefly given you not fiction! but a faithful narrative of facts in regard to conventual life, and an establishment marked by almost every form of sin, and yet making pretence of 'perfecting the saints,' by the free and gentle influences of the gospel of Christ.

"Query 1st. What is done with all the money?

"2d. What is done with the rich vestments and jewels?

"3d. Where do the priests get all their brilliants to perform high mass and adorn their processions?

"4th. Where does all the hair of the saints come from, which is sold in lockets for high prices as sure preventives of evil?

"5th. Whose grave has been plundered to obtain RELICS to sell to the ignorant.

"6th. Where does the Romish Church obtain her SURPLUS RIGHTEOUSNESS TO SELL TO THE needy, and not give it like our blessed Lord, 'without money and without price?'

"7th. Who is responsible for the FANATICISM that induces a young female to incarcerate herself?

"8th. Where is the authority in reason, in revelation, for such a life?

"9th. What is the average length of life?

"10th. How many die insane?

"A young lady lately cast herself from the tower, and was dashed in pieces, being led to do it, doubtless, in desperation. The convents of this city, of the same order, require the same entrance fee, $2000. Of course, none but the comparatively rich can avail themselves of this perfection of godliness.

"Who will say that this mode of life has not been invented in order to cut short life as rapidly as possible, that the $2000, with all the rich diamonds upon initiation, may be repeated as frequently as possible?

"O! how true it is, that Romanism is the same merciless, cruel, diabolical organisation, wherever it can fully develop itself, in all lands. How truly is it denominated by the pen of inspiration the 'MYSTERY OF INIQUITY,' especially that part of it relating to these secret institutions, and the whole order of the Jesuits."

The editor of the "Christian Union", in his remarks on the above, says, "Already the fair face of our country is disfigured by the existence here and there of conventual establishments. At present they do not show the hideous features which they, at least in some cases, assume in countries where papal influence and authority are supreme. The genius of our government and institutions necessarily exerts a restraining power, which holds them from excesses to which, otherwise, they might run. But they constitute a part of a system which is strongly at variance with the interests of humanity, and merely wait the occurrence of favorable circumstances to visit upon our land all the horrors which they have inflicted elsewhere.

"How many conventual establishments there are now in the nation, few Protestants, it is believed, know. And how many young females, guilty of no crime against society, and condemned by no law of the land, are shut up in their walls and doomed to a life which they did not anticipate when entering them, a life which is more dreadful to them than death, very few of the millions of our citizens conceive. The majority of our people have slept over the whole subject, and the indifference thus manifested has emboldened the priests to posh forward the extension of the system, and the workmen are now busy in various places in the construction of additional establishments. But such facts as are revealed in this article, from the pen of our missionary, in connection with things that are occurring around us, show that no time should be lost in examining this whole subject of convents and monasteries, and in legislating rightly about them."

Again, when speaking of papal convents in the United States, the same talented writer observes, "The time has fully come when Protestants should lay aside their apathy and too long-cherished indifference in respect to the movements of Rome in this land. It is time for them to call to mind the testimony of their fathers, their bitter experiences from the papal See, and to take effective measures to protect the inheritance bequeathed to them, that they may hand it down to their children free from corruption, as pure and as valuable as when they received it. They should remember that Rome claims never to change, that what she was in Europe when in the zenith of her power, she will be here when fairly installed, and has ability to enforce her commands.

"Her numbers now on our soil, her nearly two thousand priests moving about everywhere, her colleges and printing-presses, her schools and convents, and enormous amounts of property held by her bishops, have served as an occasion to draw out something of her spirit, and to show that she is ARROGANT AND ABUSIVE TO THE EXTENT OF HER POWER.

"Scarcely a newspaper issues from her press, but is loaded with abuse of Protestants and of their religion, and at every available point assaults are made upon their institutions and laws; and Rome and her institutions and interests are crowded into notice, and special privileges are loudly clamored for.

"All Protestants, therefore, of every name, and of every religious and political creed, we repeat it, who do not desire to ignore the past, and to renounce all care or concern for the future, as to their children and children's children, should lose no time in informing themselves of the state of things around them in regard to the papacy and its institutions. They should without delay devote their efforts and influence to the protection of the country against those Popish establishments and their usages which have been set up among us without the authority of law, and under whose crushing weight some of the nations of Europe have staggered and reeled for centuries, and have now but little of their former power and glory remaining, and under which Mexico, just upon our borders, has sunk manifestly beyond the power of recovery.

"Let each individual seek to awaken an interest in this matter in the mind of his neighbor. And if there be papal establishments in the neighborhood under the names of 'schools,' 'retreats', 'religions communities,' or any other designation, which are at variance with, or are not conformed to, the laws of the commonwealth in which they are situated, let memorials be prepared and signed by the citizens, and forwarded immediately to the legislature, praying that they may be subjected to examination, and required to conform to the laws by which all Protestant institutions of a public nature are governed.

"Let us exclude from our national territory all irresponsible institutions. Let us seek to maintain a government of law, and insist upon the equality of all classes before it."

In closing these extracts, we beg leave to express ourselves in the words of the Rev. Dr. Sunderland, of Washington city, in a sermon delivered before the American and Foreign Christian Union, at its anniversary in May, 1856.

"But new it is asked, 'Why all this tirade against Roman Catholics?' We repel the implication. It is not against the unhappy millions that are ground down under the iron heel of that enormous despotism. They are of the common humanity, our brethren and kinsmen, according to the flesh. They need the same light instruction and salvation that we need. Like ourselves they need the one God, the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus; and from the heart we love and pity them. We would grant them all the privileges which we claim to ourselves. We can have no animosity towards them as men and candidates with ourselves for the coming judgment. But it is the system under which they are born, and live, and die, I repeat, which we denounce, and when we shall cease to oppose it, then let our right hand forget her cunning, and our tongue cleave to the roof of our mouth. What is it but a dark and terrible power on earth before which so many horrible memories start up? Why, sir, look at it! We drag the bones of the grim behemoth out to view, for we would not have the world forget his ugliness nor the terror he has inspired. 'A tirade against Romanism,' is it? O sir, we remember the persecutions of Justinian; we remember the days of the Spanish Inquisition; we remember the reign of 'the Bloody Mary;' we remember the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; we remember St. Bartholomew; we remember the murdered Covenanters, Huguenots, and Piedmontese; we remember the noble martyrs dying for the testimony of the faith along the ancient Rhine; we remember the later wrath which pursued the islanders of Madeira, till some of them sought refuge upon these shores; we remember the Madiai, and we know how the beast ever seeks to propagate his power, by force where he can, by deception where he must. And when we remember these things, we must protest against the further vigor and prosperity of this grand Babylon of all. Take it, then, tirade and all, for so ye must, ye ministers of Rome, sodden with the fumes of that great deep of abominations! The voice of the Protestant shall never be hushed; the spirit of Reformation shall never sleep. O, lands of Farel and of Calvin, of Zwingle and of Luther! O countries where the trumpet first sounded, marshalling the people to this fearful contest! We have heard the blast rolling still louder down the path of three hundred years, and in our solid muster-march we come, the children of the tenth generation. We come a growing phalanx, not with carnal weapons, but with the armor of the gospel, and wielding the sword of truth on the right hand and on the left, we say that ANTICHRIST MUST FALL. Hear it, ye witnesses, and mark the word; by the majesty of the coming kingdom of Jesus, and by the eternal purpose of Jehovah, THIS ANTICHRIST MUST FALL."


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