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In a book of advice for cloistered women written more than 1,300 years ago, Nuns in Essex were warned to avoid garments that would “nourish the fires of sexual anticipation”.

In the book, De Laude Virginitatis (In Praise of Virginity), nuns were reminded the benefits of virginity and cautioned against wearing garments which “set off” the body.

The author of the work was Anglo-Saxon cleric Aldhelm, an energetic evangelist and early supporter of women’s education. The text was advice for the abbess nuns of Barking Abbey.

The pamphlet of rules was written for local nuns long before the temptations of The Only Way Is Essex and bawdy jokes about Essex girls were even thought of. 

Addressing their style choices, he writes “If you dress yourself sumptuously and go out in public so as to attract notice, if you rivet the eyes of young men to you and draw the sighs of adolescents after you, and nourish the fires of sexual anticipation…you cannot be excused as if you were of a chaste and modest mind.”

After offering his fashion advice, Aldhelm includes biographies of female saints famed for their virginity who he holds as role models.  Examples included Christina, tortured to death for her faith by her pagan father and Dorothy, executed for her Christianity after turning down a marriage proposal.

Written during the seventh century, the book is the first known text from England to be aimed at a female readership.

The four pages up for action at Sotheby’s next month are inscribed on vellum, high quality parchment made from sheepskin or calf hide, in Latin and are from a copy of the book produced in around 800AD.

It is expected to fetch £500,00.

Photo by Getty

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Essex nuns told to 'stop dressing sexily' 1300 years ago
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