In January 1836 Maria Monk published a book titled Awful Disclosures
in which she exposed various scandalous events that, according to her, had occurred at the Hotel Dieu convent in Montreal. Her central claim was that convent nuns were having sexual relations with priests from the neighboring seminary who supposedly entered the convent through a secret tunnel. All babies born of these illicit encounters, Monk claimed, were baptized before being killed and dumped in a lime pit in the basement of the convent. Maria Monk said that she had lived in the convent for a total of seven years before becoming pregnant by a priest. Being unable to bear the thought of having her child killed and dumped in the basement, she had finally fled.
The publication of Maria Monk's book caused an enormous public outcry that fed on the prevailing anti-Catholic sentiment of the era. Leading protestants in New York and Montreal demanded an investigation of the Montreal convent, and in response to this pressure, the Bishop of Montreal finally did authorize an investigation. It turned up no evidence to support Maria Monk's claims, but American Protestants refused to accept these results, claiming that the investigation was biased because it had supposedly been conducted by Jesuits disguised as Protestants.
Col. William Leete Stone
A New York City newspaper editor, Col. William Leete Stone, asked the Bishop for permission to investigate with a team of protestants. The bishop granted his request, and in October 1836 Stone led a team around the convent. With Maria Monk's book in hand, he compared her description of the convent's interior with the convent itself. He found very little correspondence between the two, however he was not allowed to see the nun's rooms or the basement area and had to return to New York City, his investigation unfinished.
Col. Stone later obtained permission to see the entire convent and, on the basis of this fuller investigation, concluded that there was no evidence that Maria Monk "had ever been within the walls of the cloister."
Once her claims were discredited, Maria Monk fell from public view. A rumor emerged that she had actually been a prostitute in Montreal, and that the years she claimed to have spent in a convent were actually spent in the Magdalen Asylum for Wayward Girls. She was later arrested for picking the pocket of a man who had paid her for sex, and she died in prison on Welfare Island, New York City, in 1849. The Awful Disclosures
of Maria Monk, despite having been shown to be false, remained in print until well into the twentieth century.
- Billington, Ray Allen. The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism. New York, 1958: 98-117
- Stein, Gordon. Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Gale Research, Inc. 1993, 224-226.
Text copyright © 2002 Alex Boese