A Woman to Know: Benedetta Carlini

The case of a nun from Pescia who claimed to be the object of miraculous events but who upon further investigation turned out to be a woman of ill repute. — Judith C. Brown

(image via National Gallery of Canada)


Benedetta was truly an expert at the long con — in the course of her 20-plus years as a nun, she faked divine visions, fabricated some bogus stigmata on her palms and even carried on a multi-year lesbian affair. But weirdly enough, the smallest of Benedetta's lies undid her elaborate story.

She had claimed that in one of her spiritual dreams, Jesus himself forbade her to eat meat, and she devoutly abstained publicly for many years. Then, one night around 1650, a servant in the abbey saw her secretly eating salami. That slice of salami brought down the whole ruse — more nuns reported that they'd seen her poking herself with a needle to replicate the stigmata, another nun said Benedetta kissed her and groped her, and soon enough the Church had tried Benedetta for heresy and pronounced her possessed by demons. In 1681, she died in prison, her name forever ruined.

Add to your library list:

​​Read more:

** Send your own recommendations for women to know! Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she could be featured in an upcoming edition. You can browse the archive here. **