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Nunnery v. Convent Options
Lire A Haute Voix
Posted: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 7:57:17 PM
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Can someone please explain the difference between a nunnery and convent to me? Thank you so much.
mary hansen
Posted: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 9:52:20 PM
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Location: United States
Lire A Haute Voix wrote:
Can someone please explain the difference between a nunnery and convent to me? Thank you so much.


Without looking it up, I would say, the question is not what is the difference between a nunnery and a convent, but what is the difference between a nun and a "sister". and what is the difference between a monastery and a convent.

The word Nunnery is a "middle ages" term which might denote a convent or a monastery, but more probably a monastery.
A convent is simply a building which is a home for sisters, or nuns. However, sisters come and go from a convent much like you and I come and go from our homes. A convent may have "cells" which are like cubicles in which there is a bed, a chair, a desk, and a cross, which serve as the sister's bedrooms, or a convent may have bedrooms for the sisters.
A convent has a community room or central dining room , usually, and a community kitchen, and some convents have a chapel where Mass if "offered."

Now then, Sisters, very often do not live in convents, these days, but rather, many of them have their own apartments, or live in houses , sometimes with another sister as a room mate. Some orders no longer use convents and some orders do.

A Monastery is a different kind of dwelling place for "nuns", although sisters may live there too. A Monastery is closed to the public and although some sisters live there who come and go for shopping and working purposes, and are called "extern" sisters, the "nuns" do not go out of the monastery, usually. These nuns are usually cloistered...meaning that they choose not to leave the "cloister" or Monastery. There are Monasteries for Men and monasteries for women. A "nun" is the female term and "Monk" is the male term for the same lifestyle and both are said to live in their own monasteries.

In a Monastery ( nunnery) no one from the outside world can go in, except the extern sisters, and none of the "nuns" go out.
They may speak to the public person through a "grille" a window in a door. (Some also may use the telephone and the internet.)

A Nun takes what is known as solemn vows and these are vows she takes for life.
Usually , a nun cannot come and go as she pleases, but must have permission from her superior for everything she does.

A "sister" takes Temporary vows for a number of years, usually three, and then she takes permanent vows, usually for life, but of course these vows can be dispensed with by the bishop, for nun or sister, for a good reason. ( Usually all they have to do is say that they now realize they never had a vocation. That will do it.)

So:
"Sisters" are said to live in convents. They do not live in cloisters or monasteries. Some wear "habits" religious garb, and some , most, do not, these days. The women who taught in Catholic schools for 50 years were actually "Sisters" not nuns. They were called "nuns" because of their religious garb. They lived in "convents" which were not monasteries.

"Nuns " are said to live in Monasteries or cloisters, (and some refer to these as convents too, but the "convent" is inside the Monastery and is a "cloistered" convent.
The term "nunnery" is a term referring to the monastery or cloister. It is a "vulgar" that is, common. incorrect, colloquial term for Monastery or cloister.
Hence the term: "Get thee to the nunnery" meaning "Get thee locked up where you will never be able to get out. "
How do I know these things? I have close friends in the convent, and in the cloister and have been in these places as a guest on occasion. In addition, I have read about these things.
Lire A Haute Voix
Posted: Wednesday, June 9, 2010 10:04:54 PM
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Joined: 5/14/2009
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An excellent and extremely comprehensive response. I tip my hat to you -- and welcome to the forums!
Ellenrita
Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010 9:55:10 AM
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A convent may be called "the Motherhouse" in a large order, such as Dominicans, if it is the main convent.

Mary - welcome to this forum!
pwentworth1965
Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010 7:51:12 PM
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Although very often miss use, nunnery is a whore house and a convent is a place where nuns live.
Romany
Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010 10:14:59 PM
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One of the things a lot of us learn on this forum is how how different American English, mores and culture is to English, Australian, South African etc. even though we are so closely allied historically and socially.

This topic, to my surprise, raises another difference.

I did all my schooling until age 18 in convents - from the age of 13 being a boarder (i.e. living there and only going home for holidays). There were rather a lot of them, I have to admit!

Anyway, in UK,PNG, France and Australia "Sister" is just what nuns are called. Its their honorific, like Mister for men. There is no differentiation between those who have taken final vows. Those who haven't taken their final vows and are still free to leave anytime, are called Postulants and are still called "sister", but their own first name is used (Sister Denise, Sister Tiffany). Nuns who have taken final vows take the name of a Saint they admire, which leads to strange names like Sister Thomas or Mother John. "Mother" is the name given to the Head Honcho: often (as in The Sound of Music) addressed as Mother Superior.,

As Mary said, "Nunnery" is an old word from the Middle Ages,. It was used in the days when all religious houses, whether containing monks or nuns, were called Convents and so allowed differentiation according to gender. Monasteries are indeed places for prayer and contemplation mainly, but in the case of nuns, we usually just refer to those as "closed orders" as the word monastery has come to have mainly masculine connotations.

So, to the original question: my answer, coming from other places, would have been that there is no difference between a nunnery and a convent - except that nunnery is rather an archaic word which is not in official use these days, but still clings verbally in some parts of the community! Quite a difference, isn't it?

I would never have guessed that the way American religious ordered their lives differed from those in other countries - especially as most Orders originated in Europe. Gotta love this Forum:- live and learn!

PS Nunnery synonymous with whorehouse? In whose fantasy?

krmiller
Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 10:15:26 PM
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pwentworth1965 wrote:
Although very often misused, nunnery is a whore house and a convent is a place where nuns live.


I have studied Shakespeare and in studying Hamlet we learned that "nunnery" was a slang term for a brothel in Elizabethan England. However, it also literally meant a place where nuns lived, which is why the famous "get thee to a nunnery" scene in Hamlet is ambiguous--is Hamlet urging Ophelia to protect herself by becoming a nun, or is he accusing her of being promiscuous and telling her to get away from him and become a prostitute? However, that is archaic slang, and has little relevance in today's English-speaking world.

Romany wrote:
So, to the original question: my answer, coming from other places, would have been that there is no difference between a nunnery and a convent - except that nunnery is rather an archaic word which is not in official use these days, but still clings verbally in some parts of the community! Quite a difference, isn't it?


I don't know if there is a difference nowadays. The differentiation may only be in older language. I say this because I am American and always understood "nunnery" and "convent" to mean the same thing (that was certainly the assumption when studying Hamlet). However, I admit that I am not Catholic and have never attended Catholic school or known nuns personally; all of my knowledge comes from friends who have attended Catholic school (though not at convents) and the musical The Sound of Music.

I also thought that "sister" was simply the title given to a nun.

As further support for my and Romany's understanding of the terms, I present this website's definition of "nunnery": A convent of nuns. (You can look it up above if you don't believe me!)
Romany
Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 11:51:05 PM
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KR - ah - so perhaps things aren't so different after all?

I expect one could go much further with this topic and the definitions herein because, as you will have learned: Shakespeare's use of the word "nunnery" was euphemistic. While certain members of his audiences would have understood, it was a sort of an "in" meaning, wasn't it? Just as, the first time I heard a friend of my fathers announce he was going to "see a man about a dog" I asked if I could go with, to see the dog... and was mystified when people burst out laughing.

Also, the word "convent" was understood as a word describing an all-female community:- and the only such communitites at that time were religious.However, my favourite Early Modern playwright, Margaret Cavendish, wrote a very revolutionary play in the mid-1600's entitled "The Convent of Pleasure" which was a Utopian fantasy (the very first Utopian fantasy at that!)concerning a community of women who were sick of their place (as women) in the world and wanted to get rid of men from their lives. This convent was purely secular and the idea was the women would be free to discuss Philosophy, Science, Literature: all subjects women were not considered clever enough to learn, let alone discuss!
Joseph Glantz
Posted: Friday, June 18, 2010 1:56:23 PM
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If I remember Shakespeare used the line "Get thee to a nunnery" and well thee doesn't rhyme with convent.
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