Forbidden Prayer: Church Censorship and Devotional Literature in Renaissance Italy

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By doing so, they participated in the formation of public memory and affirmed the miraculous powers of a particular holy figure. The ex voto thus represents a perfect example of the ways in which personal religious experiences found natural expression and obvious significance in the context of a social community. At times, the impetus for the convergence of domestic and communal aspects of religious life came more from one side than the other. If Chiu deals with the appropriation of communal customs by laypeople in domestic contexts, Valeria Viola considers the opposite occurrence: when spaces that were ostensibly reserved for the devotions of a household took on more expansive and collective significance.

Viola also highlights the importance of paying attention to regional variations in responses to the restrictions that Rome sought to impose on the use of domestic chapels after Trent, exploring how they shaped the particular spiritual landscape of Palermo. Contemporaries recognised that domestic space was defined as much by its myriad links to other spheres and networks as by any sense of enclosure. At the same time, the richly interactive relationship between domesticity and religiosity meant that beliefs about the household and family themselves shaped piety.

Domestic metaphors and imagery featured in prayers and songs, vite of recent saints described their origins in ordinary lay households, and images of the births of holy babies in contemporary settings affirmed that everyday events could have intense religious significance. This was also a period characterised by a real appetite for images, objects and stories that illuminated the home lives of holy individuals, whether near contemporaries or Biblical figures.

Popular texts told of how the little boy Jesus helped his mother around the house, laying the table and making the beds, and increasing prominence was given to the iconography of the nuclear Holy Family, with their loving bond held up as an ideal for ordinary people to emulate. This impulse towards the domestication of the divine is unsurprising: this was a period during which the home increasingly took centre stage in moral and civic discourse.

Discussions of marriage, household management and childrearing; interest in etiquette, manners and bodily deportment; the attempted regulation of household goods — all emphasised the moral significance of the home. Margaret Morse examines this overlap in her essay on portraiture. Piety could be signalled in portraits via clothing, poses, jewellery and books. But even paintings that lacked these overt markers of religiosity could take on spiritual significance when they were hung alongside devotional images and placed in close proximity to domestic altars.

Morse argues that this kind of arrangement communicated that a depicted figure was a devout member of the Christian community. We are thus encouraged to think in more flexible terms about how we classify certain aspects of early modern culture. Similar sculptural representations subsequently filled churches and convents, before migrating into homes in miniature. Paying particular attention to questions of materiality and gender, Sarnecka provides a case-study of these little terracotta objects.

Many of them were functional as well as decorative, taking the form of inkstands. Thus a very everyday activity could be imbued with mystical meaning by an object that brought the holy narrative into the home.


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In Naples in the later sixteenth century Isabella della Rovere, Princess of Bisignano, was renowned for her great piety. Geremia had the work of art made for her, and it testifies to the intimate relationship that bound the two together. But, as Novi Chavarria attests, neither Isabella nor Geremia was an isolated figure. The Princess was at the heart of a network of aristocratic sociability that was based on cultural connections and the exchange of religious relics, scientific instruments, and artistic artefacts. The holy man became the subject of widespread devotion and as his fame spread, so too did the image he had had made for Isabella, disseminated in prints and sculptures.

Thus the intimate, personal religious encounter of these two figures lay at the heart of a cult that traversed social boundaries and spread beyond Italy. As has already been noted, the centrality of material and visual culture to early modern Catholicism is inescapable. The essays in the previous sections, although grouped under different headings, encompass discussion of maiolica inkstands, musical instruments, ex votos, architectural structures, paintings, domestic altars, relics and prints. Catholicism was undoubtedly a religion of things: the liturgy came to employ a vast array of objects chalices and patens of precious metals, candles and candleholders, bells, sacred vestments, crosses and so on and churches were lavishly furnished.

This period also saw a remarkable proliferation of objects intended for private devotion: rosaries, crucifixes, agnus dei , medals and pilgrim badges, domestic altars, holy water stoups, prints, plaquettes, sculptures and paintings. Objects and their uses sparked debate and attracted criticism, most obviously during the Protestant Reformation. Although the Catholic Church affirmed the value of the visual and material culture of religion, increasingly after Trent it sought to control the use of such objects through sanction and censure.

Historians of Catholicism have long paid attention to objects, images and the evidence of sources such as post mortem inventories, but the essays in this section confirm that there is still much that can be illuminated by a focused approach to material culture. Brody conducts a survey of the iconographies of these maiolica wares, which were found in homes across Italy.

He perceives them as operating in an analogous way to paintings, and considers to what degree their cheaper production distinguished them and increased their appeal. Galandra Cooper concentrates on the agnus dei. Her analysis attends to their physical and material characteristics, and commences with fundamental questions such as: What were agnus dei?

Who made them and for what purposes? To what kinds of beliefs and practices do they attest? These little pieces of wax were initially an entirely licit sacramental distributed by the Church. Individuals treasured them, keeping them at home or on their persons, pinned to their clothes or hanging from their necks.

However, these were multivalent objects that could slip into the realm of the illicit and become points of tension — both between the Church and laypeople, and between individuals within a single household. In the aftermath of the Council of Trent ecclesiastical authorities attempted to impose a rigidly orthodox discipline over the use of such items, and Galandra Cooper fruitfully turns to inquisitorial records to unpick these complexities.

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Focusing on items such girdles, amulets and holy words, prayer sheets, and phrases written on brevi , and on attitudes to these objects that are revealed in contemporary sources, Tycz illuminates both actual practices and gendered understandings of religiosity. She demonstrates that fierce belief in the power of such aids during pregnancy and childbirth was enduring and widespread. From consideration of the apotropaic virtues of the brevi , Tycz moves outward to the histories of child bearing, pregnancy and infancy in early modern Italy. Her essay demonstrates that although the study of material culture prioritises research on artefacts, it is also enriched through analyses of representations of materiality, both textual and visual.

The use of objects in private devotion was nothing new, of course. By the twelfth century, Byzantine believers had adapted rituals of the Mass and transposed them into their homes, along with religious icons. Although this domestication of church practices was suspect in the eyes of some Westerners, the production and domestic use of icons quickly spread in Italy and the Venetian empire. By the fifteenth century, the maniera greca was perceived as distinct from the Western style: the latter was considered more aesthetically appealing, but icons were thought by many to retain a particular value in private devotion.

Bacci illustrates how artists freely mixed Italianate features with Byzantine ones to create works that made visible a trans-confessional concern with the efficacy of images for personal piety.

Anti-Censorship Organizations

Throughout the early modern era, reading devotional texts and contemplating sacred images were privileged ways to gain access to the divine. Notwithstanding the prohibition issued in the aftermath of Trent on reading the Bible, Italian devotees had access to a large and manifold choice of spiritual works, mainly in the vernacular. As scholars are beginning to recognise, both the birth of new spiritual genres and the spiritualisation of pre-existing ones contributed to a rejuvenation of Italian literature in this period.

Essays in this section reflect on devotional literature, on how it affected prayer and meditation, as well as on its interactions with imagery. In turn, literate laypeople taught the art of religious reading to fellow devotees.

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Introduction

This was true of Bartolomea degli Obizzi, whose spiritual father was the Dominican Giovanni Dominici, and who herself provided guidance to other women with whom she corresponded. As Corbellini notes, there was a substantial — and still partially unexplored — outpouring of devotional books, many of which recommended regular religious reading.

Spiritual teachings learned while attending sermons or church were often written down, and subsequently read, meditated on, and discussed at home. While some of the devotional works that were printed for a growing audience of devout readers achieved remarkable success and longevity, many of them are nowadays largely forgotten. The same is true of paintings. Maya Corry turns her attention to the production of numerous relatively cheap, small-scale religious paintings of generally Leonardesque inspiration, which depict episodes from the infancy of Christ and St John the Baptist.

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Medical beliefs taught that children were naturally inclined towards sensual pleasure, and pedagogues advised that their moral instruction ought to be enjoyable. Visual images were thought to be particularly appealing, and in combination with the idea that works of art could access the soul with greater immediacy than the written word, these discourses can be seen to have driven the market in certain iconographies that were pleasing to children.

If the needs and desires of laypeople drove the production of devotional works of art, the same was equally true of texts. Nor was there any clear distinction between these, for contiguity between the written word and images was a defining feature of religious culture. Erminia Ardissino analyses the production of books on the rosary, exploring the interplay between words and pictures in this sub-genre. As is well known, the rosary was one of the most widespread forms of devotion in Europe. Spoken individually or collectively it could be practised anywhere, inside the home or within one of the many confraternities of the rosary.

Rosary books were often illustrated so that the illiterate could take spiritual advantage from them, while more literate readers could fruitfully consider the images alongside the written text. Later in the century books of imprese and emblems specifically centred on the rosary were published, and it became the subject of narrative poems some intended for a learned audience, others for a more popular readership.

In a time of confessional divisions, personal religiosity became an increasingly delicate matter. Homes were privileged spaces where heterodox ideas could be discussed and deviant devotional practices could be performed, as has been noted. Although we tend to think of reformed devotion as generally not relying on materiality, this is only partially true. Books, paintings and woodcuts were all central in non-orthodox devotions, and a variety of rituals and practices were associated with them.

A number of essays in this volume deal with these issues, highlighting the ambiguities and the shortcomings of the strategies of the Roman Church. Yet religious authorities were suspicious of the domestic diffusion of heterodox practices and sought to encourage public displays of orthodoxy. In the second half of the sixteenth century the Inquisition tribunal increasingly turned its attention towards mysticism and superstition. Given the practical impossibility of exerting control over the personal religiosity of all Catholics and also because of the many jurisdictional conflicts within the Counter Reformation Church , Rome resorted to a compromise.

Certain forms of devotion, such as cults dedicated to un-canonised holy people, were prohibited in their public manifestations but tolerated in private. Possession of suspect books might be permitted as long as they were not read. This led to an ambivalence, a grey area in official attitudes to personal devotion that Caravale links to longer-term historical trends. As late as the s, secret conventicles were held during which devotion was paid to relics and images of the friar, and stories of his miracles were told these also circulated in the anonymous Trattato dei miracoli.

The cult, which was not limited to Tuscany and which involved members of all levels of society, was eminently domestic. This is not to suggest, however, that authorities simply ceded control over the domestic sphere.

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Those who advocated compromise did so in acknowledgment of the disruptive potential of religious beliefs that found expression behind closed doors. In a city such as Venice, with its proximity to German-speaking regions, these issues were particularly acute. Forgotten password Please enter your email address below and we'll send you a link to reset your password. Not you? Forgotten password?

Trinity College Library Dublin: Stella Search -- devotional literature

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