Today we bring you the tale of a medieval shero: Sister Joan of Leeds, who faked her death to escape a convent for a loucher life in a town 30 miles away.
Britain’s Church Times has the story of this incredibly aspirational figure. Researchers at the University of York are currently digitizing registers from the local archbishops of the 14th century. In the process, they found a note in the book for 1318: “To warn Joan of Leeds, lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house.” You see, Joan had fully pulled a Count of Monte Cristo:
The page records how Archbishop William Melton informed the Dean of Beverley that “a scandalous rumour” had reached him that the Benedictine nun Joan had arrived there, “having impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex; out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place”.
Except instead of embarking on a quest for revenge, Joan set out on a career of wild good times:
“Having faked her death and, in a cunning, nefarious manner, turning her back on the observance of religion that she previously professed, and having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.”
Good for Joan!
Professor Sarah Rees Jones, a medieval historian, told Church Times that it’s not shocking to discover evidence of a runaway nun or monk—“Women often entered convents in adolescence, and such changes of heart about their vocation were not uncommon”—but it’s unusual to see such a detailed story. Unfortunately, Church Times does not reveal whether Joan was marched back to the convent on the orders of the Archbishop of York; if so, hopefully she tried again and ran all the way to London.
Netflix should immediately rush this original limited series into production.