Spank the Nun

Nuns spank! It’s something many a rueful Catholic schoolgirl will confirm, and it has been so for centuries. Here’s a genre painting of 1789 by the Viennese master Adam Johann Braun (1748-1827) showing what happened to a young lady who was caught reading an inappropriate letter:

01 Adam Johann Braun Maedchenschule 1789

And some have identified such treatment as the origin of unorthodox tastes in later life:

02

Whether that be true or not, the motif of the spanking nun has entered the standard lexicon of erotic art:

03

But there is another side to the story: nuns get spanked too! And since they are brides of Christ, that might not come as too much of a surprise.

Divine manifestations are rare, however, so the history of nun-spanking will inevitably be mainly about monks.

With the Reformation, long-standing suspicions about the supposedly celibate Catholic clergy started to generate satire, including salacious imaginings about the symbiotic relationship between monasteries and nunneries. This included a new take on the mortification of the flesh through penitential flagellation, as seen in this detail from a 16th-century painted ceiling in the Protestant city of Nuremberg:

He’s whacking her with a rod made of a fox’s tail, implying wily hypocrisy, and this instrument of flagellation recurs in later treatments of the theme in Germany and beyond. Here’s a hand-colored print from the 17th century:

‘In the monastery garden is administered the kind of discipline you can see here.’ And for a closer look, here’s a contemporary copy:

An English version, also from the 17th century, comes with an extensive verse caption. On the left, the nun protests her fate and calls for help from any women readers, saying that, if she has to have the monk on top, she’d much rather be supine. ‘Must I be punished like a child again,’ she says, ‘And my posteriors to the world laid ope?’ (Laid ope means exposed to public view, not anything unsavory.) And on the right, an author named Harry Plott decides not to help her, but goes away and writes a ballad about it, entitled ‘Up Tails All, Women Beware Your Breeches’. (The words tail and breech both meant bottom.)

08

The motif continues to be found in images from the late 17th century…

and the 18th century…

and even at the dawn of the 19th, around 1800, though by now the foxtail has been replaced with a birch rod:

Even in the present century, you sometimes find nuns being chastised by clerical gentlemen. Here’s a publicity picture for the 2011 documentary, Gaga by Gaultier, with fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier and singer Lady Gaga:

And sometimes by not so clerical gentlemen, too, with fewer inhibitions about spanking a nun on her ecclesiastical panties. Here’s a scene from a 2009 Grand Guignol show by the San Francisco performance art company Thrillpeddlers:

But nowadays it’s a more equal affair: no longer penance for the nun and kinky fun for the monk, but two-sided sexual behavior. In the 2013 sitcom Save Me, for instance, Beth Harper (Anne Heche) recovers from a near-fatal accident to find that she has God in her head, and has to admit to her maker that her main engagement with religion has hitherto involved being spanked while dressed as a nun:

Let’s hope that God doesn’t mind too much. Being omniscient, of course, he already knows. And being omnipresent, he can go anywhere and see everything, from the foxtails wielded in the monastery garden to the goings-on backstage at The Sound of Music

Nuns get spanked – and they enjoy it!

8 thoughts on “Spank the Nun

  1. Sam says:

    I like these historical depictions and would like to see more of them. However, I do speculate as to whether they are anything much more that works of imagination and are not deeply rooted in experience or actual behaviour. It is a bit like if in five hundred years time people were to look at the internet of today and conclude that spanking was endemic from the images they found. Well may be my life is totally on the boring side, but apart from a few minor triumphs I can attest to the abundance of such things. Don’t get me wrong, I hope these things were commonplace and still are. I would get a sort of vicarious satisfaction from that.

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    • Harry says:

      Thanks. But I do hope that nobody mistakes a playful and light-hearted piece written around a theme for a serious historical account of what actually happened in nunneries past (or present). The interest of the imagery is, for me, in that they are products of the (mainstream) human imagination rather than documentary records of real events and practices. As my strapline says spanking is more interesting when it’s a part of real life, but I guess it comes down to how you define real life – a subject I may write about at length another time.

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      • Sam says:

        I appreciate your reply and of course I did not think it was meant to be historical. I will not labour the point except to make a little comment about something that saddens me very much. When I see historical depictions I feel that what I am seeing is a manifestation of a man’s frustration and lack of fulfilment . So it is more in the nature of expression of pain. I particularity feel this when seeing artwork of say the Victorian and Edwardian period . I have a great pity for the artists and indeed original viewers who I fear had nothing more than fantasies to sustain their loneliness.

        Anyway even though I am probably not being very clear I hope you at least can see something in my point. I will not be offended if you do not post this as I freely admit it is just my self indulgent musing.

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      • Harry says:

        What you say is intelligently humane and I admire that greatly. I don’t necessarily think that every historical spanking illustration was primarily meant to be an expression of an erotic fantasy; the Reformation pictures of monks spanking nuns, for instance, must have been at least partly political in motivation, though I wouldn’t say this means they have no erotic dimension at all. (Compare this earlier, very acute comment here that spanking simultaneously is and isn’t sexual.) Whether that sexual side of it arises from and reflects frustration rather depends on whether writing and illustration are taken to be an inadequate substitute for participatory action.

        This is difficult to articulate in broad terms because few people talk frankly about their own sexuality, especially in this area; I know my own experience but I can’t and don’t suppose it to be either normative or unique. But there is a useful analogy in something said by Jillian Keenan, who writes frankly and perceptively about her experience of enjoying being spanked: she has said that, for her, spanking isn’t a preliminary to the fundamental erotic experience of sex, but rather is itself the fundamental erotic experience. Likewise, once I had the chance I discovered fairly quickly that I have no great desire to actually spank anyone myself, but that my primary response and pleasure relates to the idea of spanking in imaginative representation and discourse. Perhaps others can relate to that; if they can, it means that not all spanking fantasies are the sad resort of lonely, unfulfilled men who would much rather be doing than thinking.

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  2. Danny says:

    Thanks for this. I am surprised, though, that you have made no reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail—with its adorable spankaholic nuns.

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    • Harry says:

      Two reasons: I already written about the film elsewhere, and it’s debatable whether the ladies in question are actually nuns in the most exact sense of the term. But in any event, we’ll be seeing a little more of Castle Anthrax later this year.

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