The Second Nun Quotes in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Joe Ricker
In the Second Nun's tale, she does a lot of talking about how awesome it is to be a virgin, despite what other travelers in The Canterbury Tales think.

Chastity and the Promise of Eternal Life

The Second Nun's tale is of Cecilia, a woman martyred for her chastity or sexual purity, devotion to God and conversion of pagans to Christians. After her forced marriage to a pagan named Valerian, Cecilia warns him that if he tries to bed her, her guardian angel will kill him. Valerian is curious to see her guardian angel, so he converts to Christianity and is baptized.

Saint Cecilia

After his baptism, he is able to see Cecilia's protector. Unfortunately, a pagan leader named Almachias is opposed to this conversion or any other conversion to Christianity. Valerian is killed after he refuses to acknowledge pagan gods. Cecilia is later brought to Almachias, and she too refuses to renounce God. Cecilia is sentenced to be executed. An attempt to boil her alive fails, and Cecilia is unharmed. She is then sent to be beheaded, but that execution is botched as well when the executioner fails to kill her after three attempts. Cecilia lives for three more days converting pagans to Christians before she dies.

The Second Nun's tale is a testimony to her virtue of diligent work, which she did to prevent sloth. In her prologue, she states:

'So, to put all idleness away,

The cause of so much ruin and stagnation,

I have, as diligently as I may

Followed the legend in my own translation…'

While her tale offers a moral on faith and chastity, her knowledge of the tale exemplifies the Second Nun's devotion to God and her religious practice. Her prologue, essentially, offers proof that she is not guilty of sloth or laziness, which is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

In the Second Nun's tale, she speaks several times on the importance of chastity and religious devotion through her tale of Cecilia. In the way that the Second Nun tells her tale, it is clear that her intention is to pierce the vulgarity of some of the tales that the other travelers have shared. Not only does her tale serve as an interesting story to the other travelers, but the tale serves as the Second Nun's attempt to usher the sinners she is in company with towards a more virtuous lifestyle. In her tale, the Second Nun stresses conversion to Christianity, glorification of God and the promise of eternal life.


As the Second Nun discusses the night that Cecilia's husband Valerian is to bed her, a point at which many of the other travelers would find significant interest because of the potential material the Nun might share about sex, Cecilia tells Valerian:

'But if you love me cleanly, as you must,

He will love you, even as he loves me,

And show the glory of his ecstasy.'

Urban, who is the man Valerian sought out for his baptism and conversion to Christianity, states upon Valerian's arrival:

'Almighty Lord, O Jesu Christ,' said he,

'Sower of chaste thought, shepherd of us all…'

In these lines, the Second Nun references chastity of thought, another reflection on the subject matter that influenced many of the tales during the journey to Canterbury Cathedral. Through her tale, the Second Nun offers the more sinful travelers a tale that they can be entertained by, and at the same time, she can influence them to think, at least a little, about becoming or being better Christians.


The Second Nun continually echoes the moral lesson she wishes to convey with her story of Cecilia. Among the lines of her tale that explain the narrative of Cecilia, the Second Nun makes a large part of her tale telling glorifications to God as seen in the following lines that were presented to Valerian just before he was baptized.

'One Lord, one Faith, one God above us all,

One Christendom, and One that we may call

Father, supreme both here and everywhere.'

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