Lament of Sister Julianna, a 15th Century English Nun

I believed my choices would be marriage, possibly die in childbirth
by 16, or have a godly alliance with Christ as my earthly spouse.
Promise of a large dowry for my older sister assured she would wed
a lord. For me, my father presented a fair dowry of money and land
to the nearby convent two years ago on my 14th birthday. Though
I fancied a young man, my father ignored my pleas, my weeping.

Instead of a servant waking me, my eyes now open with a rooster’s
crow. I kneel down next to my slab cot, arms outstretched to form
a cross. Before morning bell for lauds, I flog my back and arms
to help cleanse my soul from desires, from thoughts of Christopher.
After breakfast my tasks include scrubbing our refectory table, buying
cloths and dishes, supervising table settings and meals. Once a week,
I collect soot in the oil lamps for the monastery monks who copy books.

Free from rearing children, we perform charitable acts for villagers,
distributing food and clothing from our convent doors. We are
instructed that women cannot perform Church rituals of hearing
confession or saying mass. We are lesser than men, made to feel
unimportant. I must confess my feelings of envy, yet to whom would I go?

Wouldn’t Christ think it odd that women could not speak as disciples
even though He has no separation of women and men in his teachings?
Dear Jesus, I must stop my grieving. Please, help me!

Cassandra McGovern


Cassandra McGovern’s poems have been published in several anthologies. In July 2015, Cassandra was one of four finalists for the Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award through the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago. Currently, she’s working on a series of poems about individual lives in 12th–15th century England and Scotland.

© 2017