Pierre Loti’s novel, “Ramuntcho”, is more than a charming story of chaste young love in the idyllic setting of the Basque Country. It is a tragedy of how that love was frustrated by what transpired during the three years of separation of the lovers. When Ramuntcho returned from his military service he found that his Gracieuse had entered a convent and was now a professed religious. Convinced that she had been forced into the convent by her mother, his own mother’s arch-enemy, Ramuntcho resolved to liberate her, by kidnapping if need be, and depart with her to live in America. To his surprise and consternation, he discovered that she was perfectly happy to remain in the convent. (It is worth noting that a 1938 French film version of the novel had Gracieuse getting a dispensation from her vows and leaving with Ramuntcho for bliss in El Dorado. Even French films sometimes cannot resist the temptation of a ” ‘Ollywood ‘appy Hending”.)
The history of Catholic convents includes colorful stories of young women being forced to become nuns and thus imprisoned in the cloister. Today people who “enter the convent” and stay there, do so by personal choice. If they ever decide to leave, as did my ex-wife, the annuling of their vows is a relatively simple matter. So much the better. Gracieuse, like nuns today, had no need of a “Save Sister Rose” commando.
Nuns take religious vows of their own free will. The pity is that they are shackled by their own illusions, as are monks and friars, as I was. Many, like me, find a first freedom in renouncing their vows. But a significant percentage of them remain Church-going believers, still incapable of recognizing what Loti calls “the celestial mirage” which is faith. It took me ten years to realize that not only is monastic life built on an illusion. Religion itself blinds believers from recognizing reality.