The cover of Immodest Acts, a book about Benedetta Carlini’s life
Benedetta Carlini was born to a middle-class Italian family in 1591, who were able to buy her a place in a reasonably comfortable convent, the Convent of the Mother of God, at Pescia. When she was thirty, Benedetta was made abbess of the convent, but then reported a disturbing series of visions in which men were trying to kill her. Fearful that Sister Benedetta was being harassed by demonic entities, the other sisters assigned Sister Bartolemea to her cell. Thereafter, Sister Benedetta’s more disturbing visions ceased, but she still encountered alleged supernatural visitations.
These came to the attention of the Counter-Reformation Papacy, determined to subordinate potentially troublesome mystics if they showed any signs of independent or “heretical” spirituality. Although they paid three to four visits to the nunnery, it wasn’t until they interrogated Sister Bartolemea that they found that Benedetta and Bartolemea were lovers. According to Bartolemea, Sister Benedetta would make love to her, and both would experience the mystical epiphanies that Sister Benedetta described.
According to Brown, it may not have been Benedetta’s lesbianism that led to her ultimate downfall and imprisonment, as much as her egotism. However, Bartolemea’s admission was enough to ensure that Benedetta was stripped of her primacy as abbess and held under guard for the remaining 35 years of her life. She died in 1661; her lover, Sister Bartolomea, predeceased her by one year, dying in 1660.