Luther’s challenges to Catholicism would result in significant devastation…Convents were forced open and vandalized. Iconoclasts shattered stained glass, painted over artworks, and stole the clappers from chapel bells. Many of the great monasteries of England, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, and Scandinavia disappeared completely.
The reformers focused especially on religious habits, ripping them to shreds or burning them, ordering sisters to adopt secular dress…Protestants proclaimed the idea of celibacy as unnatural, declaring marriage to be the most illustrious state and therefore seeking to “liberate” nuns so they could be free to marry…In England, King Henry VIII closed monasteries and obliterated orders in order to gain their lands.
Later Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and his Puritan Roundheads escalated Catholic persecution with fierce brutality – his army slaughtered over 40 percent of indigenous Irishmen, for example, who clung to their faith. Rather than being an agent of reform, the Protestant movement became a tyrannical repression of religious freedoms of non-Protestants.
—  Elizabeth Kuhns, “The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns”
The Greek and Roman worship of virgin goddesses glorified females independent of men, but this esteem did not carry over to mortal females. Women’s roles were defined strictly through marriage and motherhood - no acceptable position existed for the single, free woman. Roman law specifically required a woman to be bound in marriage or registered as a prostitute…
Christ spoke of the righteousness of self-imposed virginity and viewed it as something more laudable than marriage; this was a radically new idea. It granted women autonomous significance, and the virgin who forsook marriage gained preeminence over the married woman…
Taking vows of virginity, men and women of any social strata were able to travel and work together as chaste partners for the first time. Women also could choose to live together in groups, relying on each other for help and support rather than on fathers and husbands.
—  Elizabeth Kuhns, “The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns”