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Sunday, March 11, 2012


Nun may mean:
  • a female ascetic who chooses to voluntarily leave the world and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent;
  • in the Bible, Nun is the name of the father of Joshua, the right-hand man and successor of Moses.
  • in Egyptian mythology, an alternate spelling for Nu, the name by which ancient Egyptians called both the mysterious underworld from where life was renewed and the primordeal god residing there (the name translates as "Abyss");
  • in biology, a genus of the hillstream loach, a type of small freshwater fish;
  • in Elizabethan era slang, a prostitute(a nunnery referred to a brothel as well as a genuine nunnery);
  • the fourteenth letter of many Semitic alphabets;
  • nun buoy, a type of buoy.

Picture of hillstream loach
In general, a nun is a female ascetic who chooses to voluntarily leave mainstream society and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent. The term "nun" is applicable to Roman Catholics, Eastern Christians, Anglicans, Jains, Lutherans and Buddhists,for example. The male equivalent of a nun is a monk.

In Roman Catholicism a nun is the term for a female monastic regular, equivalent to that of a male monk.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, there are a number of different orders of nuns each with its own charism or special devotion. In general, when a person enters a convent she has a trial period (Noviciate) that lasts a number of years. Upon completion of this period she may take her vows. In the various branches of the Benedictine tradition (Benedictines, Cistercian and Trappists) nuns usually take formal vows of stability (that is, to remain a member of a single monastic community), obedience (to an abbess or prioress), and "conversion of life" (which includes the ideas of poverty and chastity) while in other groups like the "Poor Clares" (a Franciscan order) and cloistered Dominicans the three-fold vows of chastity, poverty and obedience are professed.

Nuns observe "papal enclosure" rules and their monasteries typically have walls and grilles separating the nuns from the outside world. The nuns rarely leave, though they may have visitors in specially built parlors that allow them to meet with outsiders. They are usually self-sufficient, earning money by selling jams or candies or baked goods by mail order, or by making liturgical items (vestments, candles, bread for Holy Communion). They sometimes undertake contemplative ministries – that is, a monastery of nuns is often associated with prayer for some particular good: supporting the missions of another order by prayer (the Maryknoll order has both missionary sisters and cloistered nuns; and the sisters of Daughters of Saint Paul are supported in their media ministry by the nuns of Daughters of Divine Wisdom), prayer for a diocese, etc.

Technically, a convent is the home of a community of sisters – or, indeed, of priests and brothers, though this term is rarely used in the U.S. The term "monastery" is usually used by communities within the Benedictine family, and convent (when referring to a cloister) of certain other orders.

A nun who is elected to head her monastery is termed an abbess if the monastery is anabbey, a prioress if it is a priory, or more generically may be referred to as the Mother Superior. The distinction between abbey and priory has to do with the terms used by a particular order or by the level of independence of the monastery.

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