Are the Medieval Meowing Nuns Real?

The Meowing Nuns in a Medieval French convent are most likely real, though the story cannot be 100% verified. Different theories exist on how the incident started. One theory categorizes this as mass hysteria, while another claims it’s the solitude of the mind, but stick around for my theory at the end. Now, if you’ve seen the film Super Troopers, you might already be imagining a nun with a serious look on her face going, “Do not delay the day of your repentance, the time is meow!” The meowing in this case wasn’t that subtle, though.

The Condensed Version of the Meowing Nuns

The story goes that there was a large convent of nuns in France sometime between 500 B.C. to 1500 B.C. One day, one of the nuns started meowing like a cat. She would do this repeatedly until another nun joined in, and then another, and another. Soon, all the nuns would meow for hours, loud enough to be heard by the nearby town. Said townspeople became upset at the creepy sounds emanating from the convent and, in typical white people fashion, called the police. The cops came prepared, too, with soldiers lined up outside the convent holding rods. They threatened to whip the nuns until they stopped meowing, but luckily no whipping was necessary. The meowing promptly stopped.

The Source

A translator by the name of Benjamin Guy Babington in 1844 London working on a compilation from German physician and medical writer Justus Friedrich Carl Hecker. Hecker, in one of his works, had written a section Hysteria in reference to The Dancing Mania. It is here that translator Babington decided he should include a note as follows (I will replace the Old English “mew” with “meow”):

“I have read in a good medical work that a nun, in a very large convent in France, began to [meow] like a cat; shortly afterwards other nuns also [meowed]. At last all the nuns [meowed] together every day at a certain time for several hours together. The whole surrounding Christian neighborhood heard, with equal chagrin and astonishment, this daily cat-concert, which did not cease until all the nuns were informed that a company of soldiers were placed by the police before the entrance of the convent, and that they were provided with rods, and would continue whipping them until they promised now to [meow] any more.”

Due to a lack of a citing the work, the name of the author, or even providing a specific location or date where this happened, you can see that this is a Wikipedia no-no. Can it be accepted as hard evidence? Babington had no reason to lie, but still, take it with a grain of salt. Hell, throw in a bit of pepper, a sprinkle of paprika, and a flake of thyme while you’re at it.

The Other Source

But wait, there’s more! A Swiss philosophical writer, naturalist, and physician with a mouthful of a name, Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann, wrote a book in the late 1700’s about how the mind is affected by isolation, titled Solitude. In one chapter, “The Influence of Solitude on the Imagination,” Zimmerman writes (again replacing “mew” with “meow”):

“A French medical writer, of great merit, and undoubted veracity, relates, that in a convent of nuns, where the sisterhood was unusually numerous, one of those secluded fair ones was seized with a strange impulse to meow like a cat; that several others of the nuns in a short time followed her example; and that at length this unaccountable propensity became general throughout the convent; the whole sisterhood joined, at stated periods, in the practice of meowing, and continued it for several hours.”

Was Zimmerman’s work what was referenced by Babington? It’s too bad that Zimmerman also excluded any citation, author, location, date, etc. We don’t know who exactly this French medical writer that wrote about the Meowing Nuns is. We also don’t even have a clue as to what this writer did to earn “great merit.” Not a spec of direction as to where to look. And with so many writings that have been lost, corroded, buried, burned, or otherwise destroyed, it may be impossible to find now.

My Theory

With different theories thrown out there trying to explain this occurrence, let’s add another to the mix, because why not? Hear me out… or… read me out. Does anybody remember that guy dancing on a hill in the 2009 Sasquatch Music Festival? If not, you might want to go search for it after this. It’s basically a guy dancing alone on a grass hill where everyone else is sitting on the grass, but quickly turns into a dance party with lots of people dancing.

I’ve heard analysis on why so many people joined in on this guy’s dancing when everyone was just sitting on the grass, and he was the only guy dancing. The gist of it is that it wasn’t the first guy dancing that triggered the dancing mob, it was actually the second guy that started dancing with him. See, without the second guy that starts dancing, the first guy is just a crazy guy dancing alone. The second guy is the one that actually triggers the third, and the third triggers the fourth, and so on until there are many dancers. I don’t even need to say it, do I? This, but with meowing.

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