The claim that Christianity has historically been used as weapon against women, a tool to keep them down, is a falsehood, a smear against the Church. The charge misses the point, first of all, because Christ didn’t come to offer anyone advancement in this world, but to draw all of us, women and men alike, deeper into the life of the Trinitarian God. But even on its own terms the accusation is false. Nowhere else anywhere in human history (up until the last couple centuries) could a woman who was not heir to a throne aspire, solely on her own merits, to the sort of influence wielded by a St. Catherine of Siena or a St. Theresa of Avila. The greatest Catholic Saint of all, the Blessed Mother, is a woman.
While it is true that such women were not the norm, they were more common than one might think. The Venerable Bede almost offhandedly relates that the Northumbrian monastery in which the famous 7th century singer Cædmon lived was part of a dual male/female establishment; both convents, housing men and women alike, were presided over by a woman, St. Hilda. The arrangement seems to have been fairly unremarkable.
Given all that, it should come as no surprise that the creator of the beautiful piece below, composed in an age when music was a mostly male domain, was a consecrated nun. Her name was Vittoria Aleotti, and she was an Augustinian sister who lived from c. 1670-1740. In addition to her talents as a composer, she was also known as an accomplished organist. In the video below the Green Mountain Project Chant Schola performs her musical setting for “Io v’amo, vita mia”.
Featured Image: “Song of Songs”. Woodcut after a drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (German painter, 1794 – 1872) 1877
Io v’amo, vita mia, Vittoria Aleotti (c.1575-aft.1620)
Green Mountain Project Chant Schola
Jeffrey Grossman, chamber organ
Hank Heijink, theorbo
Behind Convent Walls with TENET Vocal Artists:
January 4, 2019 Kirkland Chapel at the Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church
Text in Italian:
Io v’amo vita mia Volli sovente dire, Ed ardo ahi lasso. Chiuse la voc’entro le labbi’Amore E vergogna e timore. E mi cangiar d’huom vivo in muto sasso. Amor, ma se tu vuoi Ch’i miei martiri Io pur taccia e sospiri, Tu dilli à lei che mi consuma e sface E le riscalda il sen con la tua face.
“I love you, my life,” I often wanted to say, and “I’m burning for you.” But my voice was within the lips of Love, and shame and fear changed me from a living man into a dumb stone. But, Love, if you want me to stop my suffering and my sighing, tell it to her who consumes and melts me, and ignite her heart with your appearance.