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Author Topic: Babies in church walls
clarinetqueen
Baby 100 Grand


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Hello. I am a music teacher who teaches a high school music history class in the spring. Every time we study the Middle Ages I bring up the story that I have heard time and time again about nuns who became pregnant, bore their children, and entombed them in the walls of their churches. I have heard that years and years later, during demolition, reconstruction, etc, that they have found these tiny skeletons in the walls. I would like to be able to back this story up, if I can, with specific cases of this, but I can't seem to locate them on the Internet. Can anyone out there help me?

Thanks
Donna

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Stoneage Dinosaur
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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One source could be the fictitious book The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk published in 1836.

The link details the book's description of convent life as "little more than a harem for the use of the local priesthood", and states "As the story progresses, we find the building is riddled with secret entrances, underground tunnels, prisons, and even a mass grave for the babies born of their liaisons".

The story could have been subsequently embellished to have babies entombed in walls rather than buried in mass graves.

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"You learn something new every day if you're not careful" - Wilf Lunn

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hoitoider
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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There was a claim that bodies of dead babies were discovered in an underground tunnel between a Franciscan monastery and Poor Clares Nunnery in Spain in the 1930's. But you're getting into Jack Chick territory with that one.

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Stoneage Dinosaur
We Wish You a Merry Giftmas


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The Reformation Online website mentions the underground tunnels in Spain as well as the Maria Monk book (check out the rest of their site - its good for a few laughs).

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"You learn something new every day if you're not careful" - Wilf Lunn

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NewZer0
Happy Holly Days


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I've never heard of babies being walled up. But I have heard that nuns who broke their vows of chastity were walled up, like the Vestal Virgins in Rome.

--NewZer0

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I study medieval literature because that's where the money is.

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Queen of Slugs
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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Very few and far between. A girl once gave birth at the Prom- that doesn't mean that it happens frequently.

To my view (and I'm a Medievalist), these sort of stories proliferate because they are the exception. After all, who writes about the lives of the many women who pass their years as nuns, seeing nothing more liscentious than a rooster in the chicken yard? No one. They write what captures attention, and sex in the church is an attention-getter all right.

Write it off- it's anti-Catholic claptrap (especially coming from Jack Chick!), and not worth your time to remember, much less recount.

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"The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little." ­ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Ganzfeld
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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Queen of Slugs, what is is a Medievalist?
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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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Medievalist, according to Dictionary.com, is:
1. A specialist in the study of the Middle Ages.
2. A connoisseur of medieval culture.

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Ganzfeld
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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Thanks, Lanie. I looked in my dictionary but it didn't have it.
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Aud
We Three Blings


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People were entombed in churches. If found the bones could have come from legitimate burials.
However, there are tons more interesting things about the Middle Ages one could bring up in a MUSIC class.

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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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No offense, but if I found out that one of my DD's teachers was recounting unsubstantiated anti-Catholic stories like that in class, I'd have a talk with him/her and possibly the principal. And I'm not even Catholic.

Not that it would be the first time that one of her teachers taught an urban legend.

ETA: I'm not suggesting that your intention is to bash Catholics or the church. But those stories did come from people whose intention was just that, and it's irresponsible, IMO, to continue promoting them once you know that. And as Aud said, there are far more interesting and relevant things you could tell your students.

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Danvers Carew
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Come on you lot, it's just a gruesome little historical tidbit that high school kids love hearing about. It engages their interest. And clarinetqueen's not peddling anti-catholic lies - she's simply asking whether this tidbit is true to avoid potentially spreading mistruths. Get those bees out of your bonnets! [Wink]

The topic reminds me that when I was last in York, I paid a visit to York Minster, a medieval Cathedral. I took an audio tour of the ancient undercroft/catacomb section - I can't remember much about it, but the one thing that sticks out was the skeleton of a baby that was found in a little hollowed out section of one of the walls. I wish I could remember what it was doing there - I don't imagine it had anything to do with nuns though!

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Gale
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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Danvers, you know I love you and your ability to blither on, but this one?

Have them read some Poe if you want to give them the chilly-willies. Talking about nuns giving birth to illegitimate children and walling them up? That's the kind of story that you get from other kids, NOT from a teacher.

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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Danvers Carew:
Come on you lot, it's just a gruesome little historical tidbit that high school kids love hearing about. It engages their interest. And clarinetqueen's not peddling anti-catholic lies - she's simply asking whether this tidbit is true to avoid potentially spreading mistruths. Get those bees out of your bonnets! [Wink]

There's no bee in my bonnet, thank you. And yes, by posting here, clarinetqueen is asking if this story can be verified. However, she said:

quote:
Every time we study the Middle Ages I bring up the story that I have heard time and time again about nuns who became pregnant, bore their children, and entombed them in the walls of their churches.
That story is, in fact, an anti-Catholic lie. If she continues to repeat it, she will be spreading an anti-Catholic lie. As I stated, that may not be her intention, but the end result is the same. I assume she is a person of integrity and will stop spreading this story now that she understands its nature.

There are other ways to engage students' interests. Doing so by spreading undocumented stories (especially slanderous ones) is hardly appropriate behavior for a teacher.

And IME, it's elementary-school children, not teenagers, who adore gruesome stories.

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Danvers Carew
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Ach, you Americans! At Primary school, and in High School history, we were always learning about the gory bits. Various monarchs getting heads cut off, martyrs being burned at the stake, all the elaborate torture devices employed against Guy Fawkes, etc, etc. We learnt all about how the Egyptians made mummies, and how their brains were hauled out through their noses with a look wire scoop. Pictures of trench foot from WW1, the vikings raping and pillaging their way around Europe, pictures of holocaust victims...we certainly never got a sugar-coated version of history.

There's a whole range of very popular children's books in the UK called Horrible Histories, which is history with all the ghastly bits left in.

Babies being walled up is nothing!

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Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

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Gale
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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Oh, you're giving me a head ach. Of course kids loved the gory bits. How do you think I remembered Henry VIII's wives? Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Cromwall's head? the Salem witchcraft trials? The 19th century bounty on scalps? Michael Rockafeller? Medical history in general. We didn't get sugar-coated history either. But telling non-specific stories of babies born to nuns out of wedlock being walled up isn't history. It's a ghost story and "The Cask of Amontillado" will do quite nicely if that's the sort of thing you're looking for.
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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Danvers Carew:
Ach, you Americans! At Primary school, and in High School history, we were always learning about the gory bits. Various monarchs getting heads cut off, martyrs being burned at the stake, all the elaborate torture devices employed against Guy Fawkes, etc, etc. We learnt all about how the Egyptians made mummies, and how their brains were hauled out through their noses with a look wire scoop. Pictures of trench foot from WW1, the vikings raping and pillaging their way around Europe, pictures of holocaust victims...we certainly never got a sugar-coated version of history.

Are you deliberately being dense? The problem is not that the story is gruesome: it's untrue, and slanderous. It has no more business being taught in school than does the Blood Libel.

And don't worry, our children hear plenty of gruesome stories in history class, too. The two graves of Mad Anthony Wayne, for example. [Big Grin]

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Danvers Carew
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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Stoneage Dinosaur offered a gothic novel source for such tales. Queen of Slugs then made the point that historically, such tales actually originated as anti-catholic myths. A perfect response, and very interesting.

But Aud chimed in to criticise clarinetqueen's ability to teach ("there are tons more interesting things about the Middle Ages one could bring up in a MUSIC class), and then Lainie did likewise ("there are far more interesting and relevant things you could tell your students").

This is not particularly helpful or welcoming, especially when others have already eloquently provided all the relevant information. Clarinetqueen thought it was a true bit of history, and was asking for proof. I assume now that she knows it's not true, she will refrain from relating this tale, or modify it to "there is an old anti-catholic tale that isn't true, but goes that..."

And no, I'm not being deliberately dense - I was referring directly to Gayle's point that children should be directed to fictional horror rather than real horror. Just making the point that most of history is horrific (which, yes, is beside the point).

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Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

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Mistletoey Chloe
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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I think it's an appropriate thing to bring up, as long as it's told with the caveat that explains that it seems to have been an early modern anti-Catholic urban legend. Likewise, I have no problem with teaching the existence of the Blood Libel as a medieval anti-semitic urban legend.

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~~Ai am in mai prrrrrraime!~~

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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Danvers Carew:
But Aud chimed in to criticise clarinetqueen's ability to teach ("there are tons more interesting things about the Middle Ages one could bring up in a MUSIC class), and then Lainie did likewise ("there are far more interesting and relevant things you could tell your students").

Can't speak for Aud, but I wasn't criticizing clarinetqueen's ability to teach. I'm not sure how either of those sentence is interpreted as criticism of a clarinetqueen's teaching skills, which aren't mentioned in either one of them. I stand by my position that babies entombed in walls, real or mythical, are not relevant to a music class. Interesting, of course, is a subjective term.

quote:
This is not particularly helpful or welcoming, especially when others have already eloquently provided all the relevant information. Clarinetqueen thought it was a true bit of history, and was asking for proof. I assume now that she knows it's not true, she will refrain from relating this tale, or modify it to "there is an old anti-catholic tale that isn't true, but goes that..."
I have already said:

quote:
I'm not suggesting that your intention is to bash Catholics or the church. But those stories did come from people whose intention was just that, and it's irresponsible, IMO, to continue promoting them once you know that.
and

quote:
I assume she is a person of integrity and will stop spreading this story now that she understands its nature.
So clearly we agree on this part.

quote:
And no, I'm not being deliberately dense - I was referring directly to Gayle's point that children should be directed to fictional horror rather than real horror.
Gayle didn't suggest that. The story in the OP is not real.

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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Chloe:
I think it's an appropriate thing to bring up, as long as it's told with the caveat that explains that it seems to have been an early modern anti-Catholic urban legend. Likewise, I have no problem with teaching the existence of the Blood Libel as a medieval anti-semitic urban legend.

I agree, but that wasn't the impression I got from the OP. My bad if I'm wrong.

ETA: My earlier comment about my daughter's teachers' being known to teach urban legends should have specified that the ULs were taught as fact. It's quite frustrating, to put it mildly.

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How homophobic do you have to be to have penguin gaydar? - Lewis Black

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Danvers Carew
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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quote:
Originally posted by Lainie:
quote:
Originally posted by Danvers Carew:
But Aud chimed in to criticise clarinetqueen's ability to teach ("there are tons more interesting things about the Middle Ages one could bring up in a MUSIC class), and then Lainie did likewise ("there are far more interesting and relevant things you could tell your students").

Can't speak for Aud, but I wasn't criticizing clarinetqueen's ability to teach. I'm not sure how either of those sentence is interpreted as criticism of a clarinetqueen's teaching skills, which aren't mentioned in either one of them. I stand by my position that babies entombed in walls, real or mythical, are not relevant to a music class. Interesting, of course, is a subjective term.

You know nothing about her music history class though, so you can't judge whether that's relevant or not - she might be teaching them about the history of anti-catholic songs, or the tradition of supernatural/gory folk songs or whatever. It's rather presumptuous of you to decide that she can't gauge what is relevant or interesting in her own class, and somewhat condescending to attempt to offer her advice.

If you came on and said "Hey, I've got this gruesome little story I've always told my students, but it occured to me that it may not be true - can anyone confirm this?" and I calmly told you that you didn't know what was relevant or interesting to teach your students, I'm sure you wouldn't be best pleased. It's certainly unhelpful. That's all I'm saying.

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Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

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RubyMoon
Deck the Malls


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I would think that teachers would find out if a story is actually true BEFORE they start telling it to the students, not after they have told it to several hundered students.
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Mistletoey Chloe
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Here's a rather nasty site that references the issue:
http://www.cs.unc.edu/~plaisted/estimates.doc
Included text: "So late as the 25th of last January, a gentleman writes to a London journal of great repute, as follows:—"In your paper of the 17th you have inserted a letter from ` C. F.,' relative to a strange occurrence, in 1829, at Charenton-sur-Marne. May I be allowed to state that your correspondent has made a mistake as to the locality? It should have been at Charenton-sur-Seine, near Paris. I was engaged on the works of Messrs. Manby and Wilson, under Mr. Holroyd, the engineer of the works, when time after time large numbers of infant skeletons were discovered in all parts of the premises, which, I believe, had been, a convent of a very strict order of nuns. At first we did not take much notice of the circumstance; but when the attention of Mr. Holroyd and Mr. Armstrong was called to the singular affair, we were directed to count the remains; and from that day we counted, and placed to one side, no less than 387 entire skeletons of infants. We took no account of parts of skeletons, which if they had been all put together, would have far outnumbered the entire ones which were counted. I speak far within bounds when I say that there were found not fewer than the remains of 800 children, and there was not a single bone of an adult person among them. The mayor came to the premises, and had the bones placed in boxes and privately buried in the cemetery, and orders were given to hush up the affair."

One of its references leads to Ian Paisley's website, so obviously no bias there.

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~~Ai am in mai prrrrrraime!~~

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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Danvers Carew:
If you came on and said "Hey, I've got this gruesome little story I've always told my students, but it occured to me that it may not be true - can anyone confirm this?" and I calmly told you that you didn't know what was relevant or interesting to teach your students, I'm sure you wouldn't be best pleased. It's certainly unhelpful. That's all I'm saying.

I would hope I would ask whether it was true before I made a habit of telling it to my students. I've already said that "interesting" is a relative term, and I'll admit I don't know how clarinetqueen was relating this story to her music history class.

I do, and I always will, consider it irresponsible for a teacher to repeat stories like this in the classroom without either confirming them first, or making it clear that they are unconfirmed. Clarinetqueen may have done the latter, so I can't judge whether she's been irresponsible. And I didn't -- I expressed my opinion. I really don't care whether anyone is "best pleased" by my comments on the issue or not. And people who don't want to hear other people's opinions shouldn't post here.

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clarinetqueen
Baby 100 Grand


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Good grief, I didn't mean to cause such a controversy. Those who are so quick to judge my teaching methods, I guarantee you have never spent a day in the classroom.

Since most of my students don't have an inherent interest in Medieval music (it is Gregorian chant after all, and most of them are more interested in listening to Kanye West), I really try to take them back to that time period. I briefly mention this story as something I remember being mentioned in my own music history lectures in college. I present it as just that, a STORY, not a truth. And I think legends are important to our society (and so do all of you, if you're here). If we don't learn about them, how else are we going to tell fact from fiction?
Which is exactly what I am trying to do, learn. Sorry to have bothered you.

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Franny
Jingle Bell Hock


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Clarinetqueen - I give you my props. I only made it one year in the classroom.

I do remember that the only time I felt I had my student's undivided attention was when we talked about SPERM whales or URANUS. These were highschoolers. [Wink]

Anything to grab their attention - Keep up the hard work of educating our children

[Smile] [Smile]

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I've been waiting here for like 20 minutes.

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Biggles
I Saw Three Shipments


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Nobody seems to have pointed out that it wouldn't be entirely surprising to find burial sites around churches and other holy sites such as convents.

In the last couple of weeks, renovations to the Auckland cathedral found the remains of nuns who were buried around the cathedral - while some of the nuns remains were exhumed and removed during earlier changes to the building, other graves were overlooked, thus human remains were found under the floors very recently.

Given that in times of plague or war, many people would have died within the walls of convents and monasteries which were often used as schools, hospitals, orphanages and homes for unwed mothers etc. If you look at the link below, remains, including a "high frequency of both infant and small child burials" were found under a church. It would not surprise me if somebody hearing about children's remains being found in a convent and having an anti-catholic prejudice would spin stories of evil nuns; ignoring that buildings change & are built over earlier (holy) ruins in some cases over many hundreds of years including during the black plague.

http://www.lviv.ua/kamianets/excavat/dm/KPF_excavations_dm.html

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Ganzfeld
Let There Be PCs on Earth


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That's a good point, Biggles.
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Lainie
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by clarinetqueen:
Good grief, I didn't mean to cause such a controversy. Those who are so quick to judge my teaching methods, I guarantee you have never spent a day in the classroom.

Not as a teacher, but then, I didn't judge your teaching methods, quickly or otherwise. My apologies if it appeared I was doing so. I couldn't tell, from your original post, how you presented the story. And the fact that the story has its roots in some fairly virulent anti-Catholic propaganda is what really makes me question its appropriateness for a classroom.

I would not tell you how to do your job. Questioning the appropriateness of certain topics for the classroom is quite another thing.

You didn't bother me. I hope I haven't offended you.

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jessboo
The First USA Noel


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apart from not seeing how this is anti-catholic (more like just anti bad-nuns!), i wonder how all these nuns managed to time their births to coincide with the construction of a church?

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Lainie
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quote:
Originally posted by jessboo:
apart from not seeing how this is anti-catholic (more like just anti bad-nuns!), i wonder how all these nuns managed to time their births to coincide with the construction of a church?

It's anti-Catholic because it implies that nuns routinely have sex (possibly with the priests), get pregnant and murder the resulting children. They don't necessarily have to time anything, becuase the births are presumed to be happening all the time. And depending on how the churches are constructed, they might not have to do the walling up during construction.

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shifty rob
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Sometimes medieval bones didn't end up where they were originally interred, either:

Sedlec Ossuary

I'm sure you could find some babies bones in this place, but it doesn't mean they were "hidden" there.

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Jonny T
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quote:
Originally posted by Lainie:
quote:
Originally posted by jessboo:
apart from not seeing how this is anti-catholic (more like just anti bad-nuns!), i wonder how all these nuns managed to time their births to coincide with the construction of a church?

It's anti-Catholic because it implies that nuns routinely have sex (possibly with the priests), get pregnant and murder the resulting children. They don't necessarily have to time anything, becuase the births are presumed to be happening all the time. And depending on how the churches are constructed, they might not have to do the walling up during construction.
And nun automatically equals Catholic because...?

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moonfall86
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I don't think most people today who spread things like this are intentionally bad-mouthing nuns or Catholics. Did this really originate in that manner?

If nuns did get pregnant, I would expect them to stick the kids in an orphanage instead of killing them (or use some primitive form of abortion)

Could this legend have its origins in pre-Christian history? I remember reading that sometimes children would be sealed into the walls of a new house as a sacrifice (I think it was either the Romans or Celts I was reading about)

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