The Canterbury Tales


The Second Nun's Tale

The Second Nun’s tale revolves around a lady named Cecilia. Therefore, in her prologue the Second Nun explains the name Cecilia. She also talks about idleness and the Virgin Mary. In her tale, a young noblewoman named Cecilia wants to remain a virgin and dedicate her life to the Virgin Mary. However, she marries a man named Valerian. Wishing to remain a virgin, she tells Valerian that she has a guardian angel who will kill anyone who violates her body. Valerian wants to see the guardian angel, but she tells him that in order to see the guardian angel, he must be baptized. Valerian is baptized by Pope Urban. He does see Cecelia’s guardian angel, and he asks the guardian angel to ensure that his brother, Tiburse, be baptized. Valerian respects his wife’s wishes to remain a virgin, but not everyone is supportive of Cecilia’s wish to dedicate her life to the Virgin Mary. Almachius, a pagan, arrests Cecilia. At her trial, Cecilia is subjected to torture, including being submerged in scalding water and attempts to cut off her head. Cecilia survives these attempts, which causes a number of pagans to convert to Christianity. After her death, Pope Urban names her a saint.

The Second Nun’s tale was characteristic of a story that would have been told by a nun during that time period. It focused on the Virgin Mary, chastity, and a woman who was canonized because of her desire to devote her life to the Virgin Mary. The story serves as a reminder that choosing to become a nun was actually a difficult choice during that time period, as there were significant societal barriers to choosing a life of chastity. At the same time, virgins were highly esteemed.

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