“Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”
It may not be a saying people use all that often anymore, but most of us have heard it somewhere along the way, perhaps from a condescending teacher, a guilt-tripping mother, or some other well-meaning person born before or around WWII.
But where does the phrase come from in the first place? It’s pretty strange when you stop to think about it (so are a lot of things our grandparents said, am I right?). Well, I’m here to tell you that the actual story behind the saying is even weirder. Or more awful. I don’t know which.
Hold on to your hats…and your stomachs, I suppose.
By 867 C.E., Vikings had invaded England and sailed north, landing on Scottish shores. There they attacked Coldingham monastery, the largest in Scotland, and since the pirates were known not only for their love of plunder, but also for their lust for cruelty and destruction, the Coldingham nuns feared both for their lives, and, more importantly, for their honor.
I mean their virginity, natch.
One of the nuns, a St. Aebbe the Younger, assembled her sisters and suggested a way to avoid falling into the hands – literally – of the barbarians. And she walked the freaking walk, too: in order to make herself unattractive to potential rapists among the marauders, she sliced off her own nose and upper lip and wallowed in her blood.
The other women were stunned and inspired, quickly following suit. When the Vikings discovered the bloody women in the convent they backed away with some haste (we all know how unequipped men are to deal with bloody women).
Even though the stunt saved the nuns’ virginity, I am sorry to report that it did not save their lives. The Vikings simply locked them inside the building and burnt it to the ground.
So, there you go. There’s no point in cutting off your nose to spite your face, because Vikings will burn you alive (virgin or not) anyway.
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