In the 15th century, Klingental Abbey was home to a group of radical nuns who were skillful businesswomen and violated the code of monastic life by furnishing sumptuous rooms, keeping secular books and clothing, and often leaving the convent to bathe or go on other excursions. During a wave of monastic reforms by papal decree, they were ordered to renounce all personal possessions and lead a restricted life, which they bravely resisted in numerous ingenious ways. By singing and reciting verses, they made the reading of the reform instructions impossible, they threatened to burn down the convent completely, they took up arms against those they were supposed to reform, they collectively left the monastery and continued their resistance abroad, stole the monastery seal, carried on their business and finally bribed Archduke Sigmund of Austria to use his influence to overturn the papal reform order.

Anna Reutinger‘s project Worldly Hearts takes the story of the radical nuns of Klingental as the starting point for an artistic retelling of history, intertwining many voices and hands. A workshop held in December 2023 invited participants to take a fresh look at the complex history of the nuns of Klingental and their resistance to the religious and secular constraints of the Middle Ages through a contemporary lens. They discussed sources from the convent archive, tried out natural textile dyeing techniques and collective storytelling exercises, discussed their own experiences in a patriarchal society and possible forms of resistance against it. The 37 unruly nuns were remembered while working on veils, their monastic and secular lives imagined. Worldly Hearts refers to a source that writes – with clear devaluation – that the nuns were acting “in a worldly heart as they pleased”.

Anna Reutinger‘s work addresses historical bias as well as the devaluation that female-connoted crafts such as embroidery and quilting have experienced in the past and present. At the same time, the exhibition invites visitors to take up this colorful thread of local history and continue to weave it themselves.

Text by Franca Schaad

Workshop participants: Stefanie Albrecht, Vera Bruggmann, Sabrina Davatz, Fanny Adriana Dunning, Lea Kuhn, Sonja Lippuner, Céline Manz, Lisa Mazenauer, Claudia Moddelmog, Barbara Muff, Franca Schaad & Lydia Sonderegger

Worldly Hearts
Ausstellungsraum Klingental, Basel, CH