A wheel within a wheel

This is a convent wheel, currently in the Santa Chiara museum in Naples. I’d never seen one before. It was used in the convents of closed orders, whenever communication with the rest of the world was required. The nun would stand on one side of the wheel and speak into the drum. The sound would travel into the other half of the drum and out of the opening on the other side. I was there with my sister, we tried it and it works extremely well, though it wasn’t clear to me why it should be a wheel rather than, say, a wall, unless the idea was that it could be spun round to accommodate particularly tall or short petitioners. Although presumably the nuns were accustomed to kneeling… The wall of the cloister closest to the museum contains scenes from the martyrdom of St Catherine. I wonder if the wheel ever reminded the cloistered nuns of the rather gruesome images outside.

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2 Responses to A wheel within a wheel

  1. hello Charles ─ the wheel was also used to pass goods such as groceries, presents for or from the nuns’ relatives, or products from the nuns themselves (their needleworks and pastry were extremely popular among the well-to-do families of the city). occasionally, the wheel was also used as a receptacle to abandon babies born out of wedlock, as in many other convents in Italy; one of such wheels is still in place and visible today at the Casa dell’Annunziata, also in Naples (via Annunziata 34).

  2. Thank you so much for providing this information. It certainly makes sense that the wheel should have been used for objects as well as verbal communication. I’ll take a look at the one you mention next time I’m in Naples – soon, I hope. And I’m looking forward to reading your blog as well. The photo of the ark is extraordinary!

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