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:
And some have identified such treatment as the origin of unorthodox tastes in later life:
Whether that be true or not, the motif of the spanking nun has entered the standard lexicon of erotic art:
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.)
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!