The Biting Nuns Outbreak
Long-term stresses and fears such as those leading to the meowing nuns were not unique to that particular convent or to France, but applied throughout the era’s Christendom. Across the Rhine from France in Germany, similar stressors led to a mass hysteria outbreak in the 15th century. It began when a nun started biting the other sisters in her convent. Before long, the behavior spread and the convent was full of crazed nuns running around and biting each other.
As described by a 15th-century doctor: “A nun in a German nunnery fell to biting all her companions. In the course of a short time, all the nuns of this convent began biting each other. The news of this infatuation among the nuns soon spread and it now passed convent to convent throughout a great part of Germany principally Saxony and It afterward visited the nunneries of Holland and at last, the nuns had biting mania even as far as Rome.”
As seen above, the German nuns’ mass hysteria did the French ones one better by not being restricted to a single convent. As news of the biting nuns spread, so did the bad habit, and soon, other convents throughout Germany were similarly afflicted. Before long, the mass hysteria went international, and convents in the Netherlands as far north as Holland reported outbreaks of biting nuns. The hysteria also traveled south and crossed the Alps into Italy.
The authorities were baffled and alarmed, and attempted various countermeasures as “the Nuns, at length, worried one another from Rome to Amsterdam“. When prayers and masses failed, the Church resorted to exorcisms and the casting out of devils and demons, but to no avail. So they resorted to a more basic approach and threatened to flog or dunk into the water any nun who bit another. That worked, and after a few salutary examples were made, the nuns quickly came to their senses and the biting fever rapidly subsided.