illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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In The Canterbury Tales, why do you think the nun is going on the pilgrimage?

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There are two nuns in the company of pilgrims, usually referred to as the Prioress and the Second Nun. We don't hear much at all about the second nun in the prologue, except the fact that she, along with three priests, is accompanying the prioress. The prioress, however, is described at length as being an incredibly soft-hearted and gentle person, as well as being rather beautiful. However, she speaks French poorly and is extremely particular about table manners. She also tells her own tale, begging the Virgin Mary to help her tell it properly in order to honor God. We can assume, then, that the prioress is going on a pilgrimage out of genuine religious devotion.

The second nun is supposed to be a chaperone to the first. Nuns ordinarily would remain resident in their priories, so it wouldn't be proper for the prioress to travel alone, or even just in the company of her priests, without a female to accompany her. Given her story, we can also assume that she, too, is extremely pious and might therefore be quite happy to go on pilgrimage for devotional reasons.

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Chaucer announces that the nun is the chaplain of the Prioress, but does not take time to describe this nun.  One can only assume that she is going on the pilgrimage because she has been asked to by her benefactor, the Prioress.  Madame Eglantine (the Prioress) is described as being sentimental and romantic.  It is possible that she felt she must have a religious posse with her in order to perform the pilgrimage correctly - somewhat like a superstition.

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