Attendees to Facets Night School are bearing witness to the ongoing saga of The Sisters of No Mercy, but some of you may not be aware of the story’s strange origins.
In 1524 Heilige Ordnung der Nonnen der Barmherzigkeit, a tiny convent near Zurich, Switzerland became the home of sinful and lustful indignities. A number of the nuns were cast out or burned as witches, offending priests and others were hanged and the village of Zurich with the approval of Huldrych Zwingli ceased the production of chocolate for 57 years to “purify thy souls.”
Although ostensibly a story of demon possession, the truth is that the order became center of power for a corrupt priesthood headed by Vater Brennen Knien, who sought to work his way up eventually to the papal throne. A smuggler of stolen goods, Vater Knien also had a lust for women. One of them was Schwester Dampf Kiel, a sister of the order whose power grab matched Knien’s.
Both became lovers and used the convent for their own thievery–hiding stolen goods and criminals escaping the law–and as a center of orgies. On April 14, 1524 it was noted that one of the criminals died from “overconsumption” during a particularly strenuous romp. Kiel, who had assumed the title of “Saint Theresa” after ousting the Mother Superior, ordered the orgy to continue in full view of the dead man and even ordered a few of the nuns to mount the corpse.
Some months earlier, the Mother Superior had escaped the convent and lived in the woods with several of her devout followers. These sisters, convinced that the convent was now in Satan’s hands, decided to burn it down the morning after the orgy. Kiel was killed in the melee and Vater Knien was later captured by authorities. His possessions were confiscated as he was put to trial. Knien was hanged in the public square on November 23, 1524 in full view of onlookers eating meals in “thanks” for the gruesome entertainment and for the end of the thievery.
The Heilige Ordnung der Nonnen der Barmherzigkeit was one of the first makers of chocolate in Switzerland, but the outrage forced its production shut down in disgrace, resuming in a new nearby convent in 1581 after an assurance such chocolate would not “pervert” the nuns or the rest of the populace.
Sisters of No Mercy recalls the spirit of the rebellious nuns. We are proud to present the dramatization in hopes of bringing attention to this hidden chapter of history.