by Owen Chadwick
CLARENDON PRESS · OXFORD
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Published in the United States by Oxford University Press Inc., New York © Owen Chadwick 1981
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The Popes and European revolution.-
(Oxford history of the Christian Church).
1. Papacy - History - 1566-1799
2. Papacy - History - 1799-1870
3. Europe - Politics and government - 18th century
4. Europe - Politics and government - 19th century
I. Title II. Series
262'.13'09033 BX1361 80-40673
This book tries to describe the difference made to the Papacy by the European Revolution of 1789 to 1815; or, in other words, what Catholicism was like before the deluge and what is was like after, what the continuity and what the differences.
Those who read the book will see that the point of view is sufficiently unusual in that it is not particularly French. English historians have normally seen the process through the eyes of the nearest Church to the English; and that has the merit, not only that the French was then the most numerous and prosperous Catholic Church in Christendom, but that France caused the revolution which overwhelmed the ancien régime not only in France itself but in all Europe. I have consciously avoided this point of view; not because I believe that there is little now to say on that matter (I believe the contrary) but because a volume on the vital French part in the process is already under preparation for this same series, by our expert in French Catholicism, Professor John McManners of Oxford.
I have consciously taken a viewpoint further south and further east; to try to see how it felt in Rome, or Naples, or Venice, or Innsbruck, or Freiburg im Breisgau, or Madrid, or Cadiz.
A part of the book started as the Prideaux lectures at the university of Exeter; another and overlapping part, as the Paddock lectures at the General Seminary in New York. To the trustees of those hospitable foundations I owe thanks.
In the Vatican archives I was helped by Monsignor Hermann Hoberg and Monsignor Charles Burns. At the archives of the Society of Jesus in Rome I received much kindness from Father Lamalle. The librarians at the Vatican library and the library of the Gregorian university, as well as the never-failing friends at the library of Cambridge university and the Bodleian library at Oxford, produced not only rare books but good advice.
In particular Lord Acton collected a mass of literature in order himself to write a book about this very theme. The book never got itself written; for Acton was not a writer of books but a man who sometimes hoped that he would be. He died nearly eighty years ago. But I could not have done this work without his frequent assistance.
Professor McManners, Dr T. C. W. Blanning and Mrs H. Chadwick helped me with various points of the text.
The Leverhulme Trust through the British Academy generously endowed travel in Italy.
PART 1. THE CHURCH AND THE OLD REGIME
Part II - Reform and Revolution
Part III - Restoration of the Papacy
The nearness of magical powers, p. 3 —witchcraft, p. 7 —virtus, p. 11 —the Jews, p. 16 —the saints, p. 21 —feast days, p. 28 —processions, p. 32 —brotherhoods, p. 38 —pilgrimage, p. 41 —indulgences, p. 46 —inside the church, p. 47 —sanctuary, p. 47 —the crib, p. 59 —the Sacred Heart, p. 64 —the parish service, p. 66 —the Sunday school, p. 69 — German hymns, p. 72 —Bible-reading, p. 75 —church ornament, p. 78 —music, p. 85 — conclusion, p. 94
Numbers of clergy, p. 96 —private masses, p. 101 —exemption, p. 102 —fashion, p. 103 —celibacy, p. 109 —the training of the clergy, p. 112 —examination before appointment to a parish, p. 124 —ordination of coloured priests, p. 133 —confession, p. 133 — residence of priests, p. 151 —repair of churches, p. 151 —the receptive church, p. 153 — patronage and election, p. 154 —a priest's books, p. 155 —clergy and secular work, p. 156 —missions, p. 159 —the sermon, p. 165 —the cathedral chapter, p. 172 —retirement and pension, p. 180 —the bishop, p. 181 —residence of bishops, p. 189 —visitations, p. 193 —diocesan synods, p. 198 —the bishop's power, p. 203
Numbers, p. 211 —social needs, p. 214 —internal strain in religious orders, p. 222 —the nun's dowry, p. 227 —new orders, p. 229 —The Redemptorists, p. 231 —hermits, p. 232 —critics of the monks, p. 235 —the monastery prison, p. 239 —mortmain, p. 244 — Joseph II and monks, p. 249
The critics of the Jesuits, p. 346 —Paraguay, p. 347 —the French Jesuits, p. 355 — Clement XIII (Pope 1758-69), p. 359 —the Spanish Jesuits, p. 359 —Jesuits in Naples, p. 363 —Parma, p. 364 —Clement XIV Ganganelli (Pope 1769-74), p. 368 —the attempt to survive, p. 385 —Prussia, p. 385 —Russia, p. 387
The Jansenists, p. 392 —Muratori (1672-1751), p. 395 —Pietro Tamburini, p. 402 — Giannone, p. 403 —the Enlightenment, p. 406 —Febronius, p. 408 —the Emperor Joseph II, p. 411 —Pope Pius VI in Vienna, p. 417 —Leopold of Tuscany, p. 418 — Scipione de' Ricci, p. 419 —the Diocesan Synod of Pistoia, p. 424 —the constitution of the Church, p. 428 —the riot at Prato, p. 429 —toleration, p. 431 —the attack upon celibacy, p. 436 —the reform of the liturgy, 439
Revolution in France, p. 446 —Revolution in Italy, p. 449 —the Roman republic and the Pope, p. 462 —Rome without the Pope, p. 466 —Sanfedists, p. 471 —peasant war in Belgium 1798-9, p. 476 —peasant war in Switzerland, p. 480 —the Conclave of Venice, p. 482 —The French Concordat, p. 487 —the Italian Concordat, p. 490 —the coronation of Napoleon, p. 492 —the end of the Holy Roman Empire, p. 494 —the monasteries in Württemberg, p. 505 —Napoleon and Italy, p. 508 —the exile of Pius VII, p. 512 — Imperial Rome and its Te Deums 1809-14, p. 513 —Italian churches in the age of Napoleon, p. 516 —Napoleon and Spain, p. 527 —bishops and guerrilla war, p. 528 — the afrancesados, p. 530 —the Cortes at Cadiz, p. 531
Jesuits, p. 596 —the revival of other orders, p. 598 —new religious groups, p. 599 — virtus, p. 601 —the differences in parish life, p. 606
Chapter 9 - Conclusion, p. 609
Bibliography, p. 614
Index, p. 633
A.H.P. Archivum Historiae Pontificiae (Rome, 1963-).
A.H.S.I. Archivum Historicum Societatis Jesu (Rome, 1932-).
A.S.V. Archivio Segreto Vaticano.
C.I.C. Codicis Iuris Canonici Fontes (Rome, 1923-39).
D.B.I. Dizionario biografico degli italiani (Rome, 1960-).
D.D.C. Dictionnaire de droit canonique (Paris, 1924-).
D.H.E.E. Diccionario de historia eclesiástica de España (Madrid, 1972-5).
D.H.G.E. Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques (Paris, 1922-).
D.I.P. Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione (Rome, 1974-).
D.S. Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique (Paris, 1923-).
D.T.C. Dictionnaire de théologie catholique (Paris, 1930-72).
H.J. Historisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft (Munich, 1880-).
L.T.K. Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. M. Buchberger, 2nd edn. (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1957-68).
Realenc. Realencyclopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche (Herzog-Hauck), 3rd edn. (Leipzig, 1896-1913).
R.H.E. Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique (Louvain, 1900-).
R.S.C.I. Rivista di storia della Chiesa in Italia (Rome, 1947-).
R.S.I. Rivista storica italiana (Naples, then Turin, 1884-).
R. stor. Risorg Rassegna storica del Risorgimento (Rome, 1914-).
T.R.E. Theologische Realencyklopädie (Berlin, 1976-).
Z.K.G. Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte (Gotha-Stuttgart, 1909-).
Note on References in the Footnotes
To find the full reference for one of the footnotes to the text, see the page-numbers after the name of the author in the index, which will give in bold type the appropriate page of the Bibliography.
Part I: The Church of the Old Regime
1 The Religion of the People
The people of Catholic Europe were in majority poor and illiterate. Though in France and Catholic Germany elementary education made progress, in southern Italy and rural Spain and Portugal, even in the eighteenth century, many of those who could read and write were clergymen, even if only in minor orders. In such conditions priests were intellectual as well as moral leaders, seminaries were chief places of education. In remote parts priests still stumbled over the Latin of the mass, ignorant of its meaning, or fumbled over ceremonies because the rubrics could not be followed. But the Counter-Reformation educated the clergy. An illiterate priest was a scandal, even to his people. The priest might be mocked for worldliness, or resented for vice. But he was outwardly regarded. Even if Italians mocked behind his back, or boys shouted as he passed in the street, the people liked to greet him by stooping to kiss his hand.
The Nearness of Magical Powers
The difficulty of the whole Church lay in the widening gap between the mental habits of educated and illiterate. In southern Italy fauns hid in the woods, and an occasional clergyman of the deep country reminded his bishop more of a satyr than of a priest. Bishops were educated men and sharply distinguished between rites of the Church and superstitious affections of their people. They would not concede that in illiterate, passionate, and earthy society credulity was a gate towards creed.
The rites of the Church were at times entangled with folk-lore about fertility. The strangest arts of magic might be observed in remote southern-Italian villages in moments of childbirth. And remedies which less eminent priests used to cure superstition were almost as strange.
A southern-German priest, Hermenegild Adam, wrote a book of devotion entitled: An Easy and Sure Way to Heaven, which by 1771 had ten editions. If magic is suspected, Adam recommends that a priest bless the place, and then it be sprinkled with 'Ignatius-water' or 'Three Kings' water' (that is, water blessed at St. Ignatius' Day or Epiphany) or St. John's wine—or 'what is still more powerful, a mixture of all three'. Then should be read the first verses of St. John's gospel. If a cow is bewitched, Adam recommends that it be given blest bread or salt, and fumigated daily with the smoke of blest sulphur or palm branches or herbs. Evidence shows that this kind of treatment was especially frequent in cattle-disease. The book of ritual for the diocese of Bamberg (1773) contains a formula of blessing 'Against disease in animals': 'we beg thy mercy that these animals which are so sick may be healed in thy name and by the power of thy blessing. Let all the power of the devil be driven from them. Be thou, Lord, the stay of their life and their healing.' 1
The diocese of Bamberg and Würzburg approved a ritual against flood and fire 'which are thought to be beyond human control'. The priest in surplice and white stole should bear the holy sacrament in procession with the people, headed by a man ringing a bell, place it on a table covered in white cloths and with two lighted candles, and then sing or read to the four points of the compass the beginnings of all the four gospels.
Into the twentieth century the Roman pontifical made provision for the blessing of bells. Church bells were rung as a precaution against storms. This was a popular belief which went back to pre-Christian times. Even the leaders of the German Reformation had not succeeded in extinguishing it from the Lutheran churches. Bells when hung were consecrated for this purpose by the bishop. After certain psalms and prayers the bishop blessed salt and water, mixed them, washed the bell with the mixture (hence the common name 'baptism of bells'), and anointed them with the holy oil consecrated to anoint the sick. Under the bell he lit incense, and the deacon sang from St. Luke's gospel. The bell was given the name of a saint, so that bells (the fancy ran) were like voices of saints summoning the people to church. The washing and naming produced such a likeness of baptism that in Catalonia, even into the eighteenth century, a man and a woman stood as godparents when the bell was blessed.
Observation began to suggest that lightning was attracted to church towers when ringers pulled bells throughout a storm. Benjamin Franklin made in 1752 his first lightning conductor, and seventeen years later the first German conductor was erected on a church tower in Protestant Hamburg. Before the end of the century conductors began to appear on church towers in Catholic parts of Germany. The middle class started to try to stop the people ringing bells. The easiest way was to turn the bell-ringing from a continuous chime throughout the storm to a warning ring beforehand and a ring of thanksgiving afterwards, like the 1939 sirens before and after an air-raid. The people were not quickly content with the changes, and a witness spoke of little old mothers miserable at silence during storm. Bell-ringers extended the warning into the storm to keep the old protection.
Some towns were slower than villages to accept the new ways. The payments to bell-ringers at Ochsenfurt, for special ringing in storms, still appeared in the accounts at the end of the eighteenth century. But this is not true of big towns. In 1735 the Archbishop of Bologna felt it needful to take precaution against popular superstition about bells, by explaining that the word baptism of bells was only a nickname, that storms were not made to cease by the motion of air caused by bells swinging (otherwise cannon would be more efficacious) but that when the bells rang people prayed and prayer was what was important. But in the same breath that he warned against superstition, he protested about the growing indifference of parishes to the blessing of new bells. He made a public offer to bless bells and for two years afterwards no one sent him an invitation. 2
The expertise of Swiss clock-makers and bell-makers was encouraged by this faith. When a Swiss village built a new church it demanded an excellent peal of bells and would seek large money to hire a capable founder. Only a few founders had their factory. The founder came to the village, and built by the church a furnace and foundry, while the entire community followed his effort with anxious interest because it concerned their future safety.
Countrymen in Spain still wanted to ring church bells to get good weather for harvest, still suspected irrigation because only rain water was good for wheat, still hid in their cottages at time of eclipse and kept their cattle within the byre, still begged their priests to lead litanies through the fields in time of drought—and their needs were met sufficiently often to confirm the opinion that the remedies were effective. Many crucifixes placed in the fields were not intended at first to remind the worker to lift up his heart, but to remind God that he was not forgotten and should bestow a fertile crop. The Benedictine Father Feijóo, who dedicated himself to the curing of superstition, went to the little chapel of St. Louis at Cangas de Tineo to see the famous miracle, the covering of the doors and walls of the hermitage, the vestments of the priest, and the vessels of the altar, with tiny white flowers. Feijóo saw that they were laid by insects. The people saw these eggs elsewhere—but in the hermitage were sure that they were flowers. 3
Conservatism during the eighteenth century is shown by the slow way in which demonic powers began to be discounted. As late as 1766 few houses in the district of Straubing in southern Germany had not a specially blest paper nailed upon their doors as a protection against the entry of demons. The householder must have valued the paper, because he could only acquire it on payment of about a pound of butter. 4 In a world where faith was strong, and the art of many physicians ignorant or contemptible or fraudulent, a man was as likely to find cure from disease with a saint as with a doctor, in many remote districts (where doctors did not exist) far more likely.
A Bavarian priest named Johann Joseph Gassner led a faith-healing mission to the people. He said that illness was the victory of the devil and that most diseases could not be cured by doctors but must be exorcised. His results were wonderful enough to win him the support of the Bishop of Regensburg, Count Fugger, who invited him to be his private chaplain. In December 1774 more than 2,700 people surrounded Gassner in Ellwangen hoping for cures. In the next year Regensburg became a magnet for pilgrims from all southern Germany. No one doubted that people were healed, and the movement expired only with Gassner's death four years later. Yet Rome suspected. Bavaria and Austria refused entry. Catholic governments disliked what they saw.
Occasionally parish priests needed to be firm amid their people's excitement. At Gerace in Calabria (1777) a crowd seized a woman in convulsions and dragged her to church to have the demon exorcised. They demanded that the priest come to exorcise. But this was the eighteenth century, and the priest refused to come. And when the woman and the demon had been roughly handled, the convulsions suddenly ceased and the poor creature ran away. 5
That priest may have refused to come because the Church discouraged exorcism. The old Roman book of ritual provided a form of exorcism. But a decree of the Inquisition (25 June 1710) proclaimed 'grave disorders' from so many exorcisms, and for the future forbade priests to exorcise unless approved by authority and using the Roman ritual and no other. Bishops confessed that cases of possession might demand exorcism, but they were rare, and presumption against the use of the rite grew as the century passed. The Archbishop of Ferrara (1781) insisted that his permission was necessary, and where it was given, the exorcism must be in daylight, in public, amid no crowds, with at least one or two other clergy-men and two or three respectable witnesses, all if possible related to the possessed. A famous confessor who was very familiar with cases of possession, and with demands for exorcism, laid it down that though demonic possession occurred, and no one denied the wisdom of the Church in providing a rite of exorcism, nearly all cases of possession are due to psychological states and are imaginary, especially when they occur in women. 6
But though we can mark some little signs of slow change, we still find confessors needing to argue in their monthly meeting whether a woman sins if she collects herbs on the day of St. John the Baptist, or whether another woman sins if to escape disease she marks herself with Scriptural texts or with incantation-rhymes, or whether a man sins if he avoids sitting down to dinner when the company numbers thirteen. Confessors agreed that these persons sinned mortally and yet might be excused on a plea of invincible ignorance.
The symbol of this changing mood within a popular faith was decline in the killing of witches.
The number of witches executed for their craft climbed during the seventeenth century. For old half-demented women that was the most perilous age of European history. The regions where the danger from human ignorance and barbarity survived longest into the eighteenth century were mountainous lands—Alpine countries, Highlands of Scotland, Carpathians, Spain.
This was not a belief only of the illiterate. The Protestant, Christian Thomasius, who was born at Leipzig in 1655, and became a beneficent reformer to save witches from destruction, believed unquestioningly in witchcraft until he reached the age of nearly forty. He believed not just in spells but in pacts and fornications with the devil, and in witches flying through the air. In September 1694 his faculty sent him to take part in the trial of a witch and for the first time he looked with a lawyer's eye at the documents of a case. He voted for severity and was vexed that his colleagues disagreed and released her under supervision. This experience made him angry with himself, that he was so uncritical about a tradition, and seven years later he was in full cry against every sort of witch-trial.
Lawyers were the instrument of change; not because (for the most part) they disbelieved witches but because in all their departments of justice they looked at the nature of evidence with newly critical eyes. They became ever more suspicious of rumour or gossip and scandal, ever more demanding in their desire for proof. By 1700 the number of executions was sinking rapidly, not because courts questioned that the crime existed or that it deserved the penalty of death, but because they raised their hitherto low standards of proof. And since, in the nature of the alleged crime, no proof (to satisfy modern courts) could exist except confession by a culprit, the diminishing number of cases depended solely upon confessions extracted by torture. Lawyers were slower to doubt the necessity or rightness of torturing suspects. But they began to wonder; and this combination of higher legal standards with the use of torture gave to the cases after 1730 a peculiar horror.
The Protestant world, which pursued witches as zealously as Catholics, was quicker to accept the doubt. As early as 1721 the Prussian law code called witchcraft fantasy, though there was a last trial in Prussia seven years later. The last English witch to be tried (1712) was Jane Wenham of Hertfordshire, though she was not the last witch to be rabbled by the mob. Ten years later came the last execution of a Scottish witch.
Some Catholic countries were almost as quick to alter their legal practices. The French government found it hard to quench the persecuting zeal of local administrations but on the whole succeeded.
Epileptic fits gave all spectators the evidence that a body was possessed by an evil spirit. Possession by demons was part of orthodoxy. The decline of belief in witches marched hand in hand with a decline of belief in demons. But both processes can only be glimpsed, not tracked.
Some observers noticed the thin or peculiar nature of the evidence. In Spain the Benedictine Feijóo talked of the inadequacy of the legal process. The takers of evidence were stupid, accusers were illiterate, witnesses were illiterate, prosecutors expected to convict, torture was used, the confessed defendants began to believe that they were real witches and that the strange horrors suggested to them had happened, and then confessed to the acts of which they were charged; often with minds unbalanced by excess of fear.
In Austria and Bavaria and the mountain cantons of Switzerland this scepticism was slow to develop. As late as 1739 Austria issued a curious article ordering death for the devilish crime of witchcraft, and for all who at night eat meals and dance with the devil under the gallows, or make storms and thunder and hail and plagues of vermin; but in this condemnation, says the order, are not to be included mathematicians, astronomers, or astrologers. 7
The scandalous case, because it won most publicity and caused later improvement, was the trial (1749) of the sub-prior of the nunnery at Unterzell in the prince-bishopric of Würzburg, Maria Renata Singerin. She had a reserved personality which made her friendless in the convent where she lived for fifty years. A dying nun told the provost that her disease came from the spells of Maria Renata who worked devilry against the sisters. When exorcists came to drive out of mentally sick sisters the demons that possessed their bodies, these demons pointed to Maria Renata. When Maria Renata was challenged, she said that it could not be true because sorcerers and witches do not exist. Thus she proved herself heretic as well as suspect witch. They ransacked her cell and found pots of oil, roots, and herbs, which they took to be instruments of magic, and a yellow dress which they took to be the robe for the witches' dance. The prince-bishop ordered her to be imprisoned, two Jesuit fathers and two lawyers investigated her (whether with or without torture we do not know but may guess) and brought her to confession. She said that she was a witch since childhood, as a nun made a pact with the devil, and often attended witches' sabbaths, and cursed God and St. Mary, and fornicated with the devil, and had conversations with a cat that talked, and bewitched six sisters, and made two fathers of near-by monasteries into lunatics, and blasphemed with the Host, even by pinpricks at a witches' sabbath. The faculties of divinity and medicine in the university of Würzburg both declared such devilry to be possible.
On the morning of 21 June 1749 she was beheaded and then her body burnt (by this date burning alive had almost ceased as a penalty). Spectators said that they saw a vulture at the moment of death and thought it a devil in disguise. At the cremation her gallows-chaplain Father Georg Gaar delivered a sermon to the multitude, praising the wise severity of laws against these crimes, and speculating that this might be God's warning against the men of our time who do not believe in witches, or magic, or the devil, or God. Father Gaar plainly thought himself, and told the people, that they only needed to read the evidence from Unterzell to be persuaded of the justice of the sentence and the truth about witchcraft.
This event, and the sermon when it was printed, started a public debate within Catholicism. An Italian Girolamo Tartarotti, who studied in Rome and Venice and was dedicated to showing witchcraft as imaginary, supposed that his battle was almost won. Then he was astonished to read the sermon of Father Gaar. He printed an Italian version of Gaar's sermon with ferocious notes. The ensuing controversy marked an important stage in the dying of the old world, partly because it showed how some instructed theologians still leapt to defend Father Gaar, and partly because it proved the matter to be no longer of truth or dogma but of free debate on which Catholics might take different sides. Tartarotti was among the first to observe the social evidence, and point out how odd was the circumstance that witches always appear in the countryside and never in towns, and especially in countryside where land was poor and where people had neither entertainment nor sufficient employment.
Another Italian, Beccaria, in the Austrian domain of Lombardy, published his treatise On Crime and Punishment in 1764. This treatise of penal reform did as much as a book could do to make torture disreputable in legal systems. Once torture was dropped, no evidence could find a witch guilty.
The last execution of a witch on German soil happened in 1775; in Spain 1781; in Switzerland (with Protestant judges) 1782; and finally in Poland 1793. These were not the last deaths if lynching is added, and Mexico after 1860 witnessed a revival of judicial executions.
The last Swiss execution, which happened at Glarus, had Protestant judges. But in general simple Catholics retained these beliefs longer than simple Protestants. This was partly because a very conservative tradition of theology carried the old axioms into the nineteenth century; and partly because old liturgies contained rites of exorcism and blessing which were familiar and which the people found efficacious and did not wish to do without. Perhaps it owed much to the quicker spread of elementary education in Protestant lands because they were more prosperous and because the ideals of education ran deep within the Protestant consciousness.
As soon as governments stopped killing, witches declined; when governments stopped torturing, witches declined faster, so fast that the change in ideas is revolutionary. Bavaria of the eighteenth century was one of the most conservative countries, if by conservative we mean that many educated men continued to believe in the power of witches. On this very subject even the Munich Academy of Sciences conducted an acrimonious debate during the 1760s, when the assailants of witchcraft derived their best material from Italians like Tartarotti or Muratori. Yet by 1809 an old Bavarian who had been tortured on a charge of magic and acquitted, and then lived on a pension to compensate him, was a prodigy. People looked upon him as a survival from a vanished age. Yet his story was doubted by a later historian, who suspected that the old man pretended to be accused of sorcery in order to increase interest and therefore alms. 8
But if traditional divines believed, a traditional people believed more uncritically. Yet something changed in popular ideas. In the earlier eighteenth century parish priests still advised their people on the best ways to protect themselves against spells (faithful practice of church duties; use of the sign of the cross; devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the saints; carrying of a blessed waxen Agnus Dei). These instructions vanished from many books before the coming of revolution, and where they survived they became private care by word of mouth.
The people, especially of rural Italy and Spain, revered the man whom they saw to be filled with God. The saint was near the heart of peasant religion.
To win the lottery might mean physical comfort or release from destitution. How to predict the winning numbers? A doorkeeper in Rome met the tramp Benedict-Joseph Labre, later a saint by a people's acclamation and then canonized. The doorkeeper said afterwards, 'Because of the high opinion I formed of his sanctity, I thought I might ask him for the number that would win the lottery.'
This was the idea of virtus. The people accepted the old idea, stemming from the earlier days of western Europe, of the virtue in a good man, that is, power to save, which as power of spirit could command the physical.
A curious conversation among peasants is recorded from Monte Lupone near Ancona. One thought the best way to know the winning number was to walk up the Aracoeli steps in Rome saying 'Hail Mary' and 'De Profundis'; another, to make the novena of prayer to executed criminals, walking at night along the exact route which they took to their deaths, and in the church of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, where they were buried, the penitent dead would whisper the right numbers; some said, 'St. Alexis—sleep under your house stairs as Alexis used to sleep and then go out at midnight and an owl hooting or a donkey braying or a dog barking might give you the right number'; others said, 'St. Pantaleone—wake up at midnight shouting his name and leave pen and ink on the table for him to write down numbers.' 9
This power over the physical applied to natural disasters. When Vesuvius erupted in August 1779, flames rose high from the mountain; but when Alfonso Liguori looked out of the window of his monastery at Pagani, and made the sign of the cross, the flames 'disappeared into the crater' and left nothing but smoke—an educated witness believed the saint to have worked a marvel. The people thought sin to cause physical disaster, and holiness to gain physical salvation. 'How can we expect to have rain if these sins go on?', said the bishop to the mayor of Arienzo in a drought, when he heard how soldiers, billeted in the town, behaved disgracefully. Severe flooding at Padua was suspected of being due to the playing of comedies in the theatres on holy days. 10
This belief was a strong force against incoming ideas of tolerance. An atheistic book dishonoured society, might injure society. Some educated Italians believed that the famine of Naples in 1764 was caused by the laxity of government in allowing the import of books by heretical or atheistic Frenchmen like the encyclopedists. During the famine—which contemporaries felt as a landmark in the history of Naples—a pathetic procession of 8,000 or more women, wearing crowns of thorns and crosses, went to the archbishop to beg him to expose the relics of St. Januarius. 11
Therefore natural calamities, as of old, were met by public and national acts of religion. When Vesuvius erupted in 1794, the cardinal archbishop and his clergy, followed by a barefoot procession of penitents wearing sackcloth and halters round their necks, walked in procession to Magdalene bridge in Naples, and there turned the statue of St. Januarius face towards mountain, and cried for mercy. On the evening of 14 January 1703 an earthquake so shook Rome that the bell on the Pope's table rang without being touched. The Pope (Clement XI) held a consistory and urged the cardinals to works of penance, went to St. John Lateran and proclaimed an indulgence, cancelled the plays and fancy dress balls of the carnival. When a further and worse shock, severe enough to make cracks in St. Peter's, was felt on 2 February, he enforced the laws of modesty in women's dress and Sunday observance and of fasting. Soldiers paraded in churches with rosaries, processions walked barefoot over wet roads with sackcloth, chains on arm, crosses on shoulders, ashes on head. But (for this was also the eighteenth century), Pope Clement ordered the scientists to examine whether they might find ways of predicting earthquakes. A century and a quarter later the Te Deum then ordered to give thanks for escape was still sung annually, 12 and the litany still included a petition against earthquakes then introduced.
This strong popular conviction carried with it the axiom that natural disasters follow sin. And this axiom complicated the task of governments when they wished to help in disaster. The labourers on the states of the abbey of Callavena in the diocese of Verona represented to the Pope (1696) that they work very hard in the fields, they have had bad harvests for several years, and wonder whether it is the result of an excommunication unwittingly incurred. The Pope ordered the Bishop of Verona or his vicar that if the men fast three days and go to confession and communion and give alms and pay their debts, they are to be absolved from all censure, and to be blessed, and all their lands blessed, and they shall be given a plenary indulgence. The advisers of the government of Venice, in whose territory the abbey lay, were disturbed. The infertility of the earth, and the incidence of famine, fall upon just as well as unjust. They foresaw alarming consequences for government if peasants attributed hardship to ecclesiastical censure incurred unwittingly, and told their government that this was a novel doctrine in religion. Though they were understandably perturbed, the doctrine had deep roots in peasant life and was far from being novelty. 13
The worst of these natural disasters, and that which caused the European religious argument, was the Lisbon earthquake of 1 November (All Saints Day) 1755. It was only ten minutes in length, but a series of after-quakes, a tidal wave, and fire, completed the destruction of part of the city, with the loss of several thousand lives. Parish priests of the city behaved with heroism, putting up crosses outside their ruined churches, living by them in huts or tents, preaching open-air sermons exhorting the people to repent, collecting statistics of the dead and injured, and organizing relief; and it should not lessen admiration for this heroism to remember that the parish priests and most of their people believed this to be the only effective insurance against further shocks. One of the best of Spanish physicists, who enquired into the incidence of the seismic waves, nevertheless believed that the quake was stayed by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. All the city knew how a girl of fifteen was dug out of the ruins of her home after being trapped for nine days, still clutching a little statue of St. Anthony of Padua, who had been born in Lisbon and was patron of Portugal. All the city knew how St. Anthony's most famous statue, in the church next to the cathedral, was found undamaged though nearly everything else in the church was a heap of burnt rubble. Amid the debris of the Franciscan church where died twenty friars and some hundreds of others who took refuge, the one unharmed object was an image of our Lord of the Poor. With the king's approval the Patriarch of Lisbon organized two long penitential processions, and at the king's request St. Francis Borgia (died 1572) was appointed special protector of the realm against future earthquakes.
Again, government disliked some of what they saw. They disliked the inference that Lisbon must be as wicked as Babylon to deserve so terrible a fate. They disliked too much time dedicated to prayer when men should clear boulders and mend drains. Above all at a time when government must persuade men to stay and revive ordinary life, they disliked hell-fire sermons which raised an already emotional temperature and so increased desire to flee from wrath to come. The politician who later became the Marquis of Pombal laid the foundation of his future dictatorship of Portugal by practical measures after the earthquake, and no one hated emotional preachers so bitterly as Pombal. 14
The virtue of a good man passed into objects associated with his body or presence. If 'a saint' passed by, the people of rural Italy or Spain would lie in wait with scissors to snip a corner from his old cloak, if possible without him noticing. When he died they would ransack his house to find crucifix, or threads of his cassock, or holy pictures. If the saint lay in state before his funeral, mothers lifted their babies into the coffin to touch the corpse, or brought rosaries or scapulars or medals to be blest by the contact. A woman in dangerous labour clasped a crutch which a saint had used. A man who broke a leg while falling down a mountain used as painkiller a picture of the Madonna which a saint had given. At St. Nicholas in Bari (1777), which was one of the three great magnets of Italian pilgrimage outside Rome, the priest continued to let down a silver bucket into the hole under the altar, where bones floated, and give the water as a cure for sore eyes and disordered stomachs. The champion matador of Seville wore an amulet round his neck, probably with a print of the Carmel Mary inside; and also paid for a large number of candles to burn in the chapel of St. Joseph, next to the amphitheatre, during all the time of the bullfight. When the Saviour's handkerchief, which wiped the sweat from his brow, was held aloft at Oviedo cathedral, some 9,000 peasants lifted, as high as they could, baskets full of cakes and bread, and so believed that their food was made healthy.
On occasion this desire for physical contact became frenzied. Each year in the feast at Messina a procession of floats passed, and the time came when the girl who played the part of the Madonna climbed down from her float. Experience taught the town that at this moment she needed protection from over-reverent hands grasping at her for 'relics', snatching bits of garment, pulling at her hair. They had to give her a massed escort to ensure her safety. 15
One of the most curious signs of this deep popular sense of spirit in the physical was the practice whereby householders, in large Italian towns, put crosses low down on the outside walls of their houses in the street. European cities provided little in public sanitation, and men stopped to urinate without much thought of privacy. Householders disliked their house being fouled and knew that they could deter passers-by who would refrain from being irreverent to a cross. Authority resented this attempt to use or misuse the cross.
Bishops reminded their people of the rule that no cross nor crucifix should be inscribed on a floor because it was irreverent that it should be trodden by feet or get muddy or foul; how much more should the rule apply to this habit in big towns. In Bologna three successive archbishops issued strong warnings against the practice and demanded that all such crosses should be removed; but the continual repetition shows that householders found the custom a protection; and in a bizarre way it bore witness to a widespread reverence or affection for the cross among the common people. Another place felt to be unfitting for a crucifix was an inn-sign, which Italian bishops were known to force innkeepers to remove. 16
In the city society was devout; that is, the upper classes were prominent in cults and brotherhoods; in Naples they thought little of reason, were pessimistic about the world because it was wicked, and lived with a strong sense of sin, at times in a most terrifying sense of pressure from the depravity of the human heart. This genuine devotion was compatible with (probably) the highest number of prostitutes in any European city, steady and not particularly private consorting with mistresses, and willingness by professional men to fake documents in support of legal claims. Yet the genuineness is proved not only by the innumerable little signs of fervour and penitence and self-sacrifice, but by the social prestige of the powerful evangelists; Alfonso Liguori, as a missioner in Naples, was fashionable with society as well as the idol of the poor; and he was not a man to diminish by one iota his demands for the sake of popularity or influence. A French traveller thought that a quarter of the population of Naples never went to mass. That in so large a city—third largest in all Europe—a sizeable fraction never went to church except at family occasions or Easter is very probable. But this French traveller was the most superficial observer ever to record his Italian impressions in two volumes, 17 and the Italian evidence does not suggest so large a fraction, which in any case no one could count.
When strongly integrated communities had another small community living within their gates, with different and strange customs, it is hard to know whether the motive for maintaining separation is purely religious even when it is confidently stated by contemporaries to be religious. But whatever the mixture of motive, the religious difference between Jew and Christian was one important part of the social difference. Treatment of Jews which posterity found abhorrent and oppressive had in part a religious motive, the purity of faith and society before God. Here intolerance had the same root as intolerance against Protestants or atheists; the suspicion, for example, of the common man in Naples that the city could never prosper if books, wicked by their error, were sold in the shops.
The Jews had a bad time in the seventeenth century. The age of the Counter-Reformation and wars of religion was not liberal in its ideas. When Protestants suffered in Catholic lands and Catholics in Protestant lands, Jews could not expect happiness. And in the East, where most Jews lived, the clash of Catholic Pole and Ukrainian Orthodox threw them down between the warring parties and easily led to pogrom and massacre. Many fled into the relatively tolerant Turkish empire, but also into Germany, Vienna, Venice, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rome. By 1660 the size of Jewish communities in western Europe was increased by numerous refugees from Cossacks. They were not allowed by law into Spain or Portugal.
Catholicism was part of Polish nationality. Therefore Poles were intolerant of anyone non-Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, or Jew. But the Jews had a status confirmed by regulations of government. And they were very numerous, certainly too many to expel, and were necessary to the economy. About half the Jews of Europe outside Russia lived in Poland, some 750,000 people. Nearly one Pole in ten was a Jew. They kept inns, sold spirits and beer, and traded. A considerable part of Polish anti-semitism was as much by competition in trade as by difference of religion.
The Jew in Poland had to circumvent rules if he wished to travel, found certain posts or professions banned, and was liable to high taxation and capital levy. If he passed a church or a Jesuit college, he was watched to see whether he fulfilled his duty to drop coins in a box to maintain the building or the students. But the worst thing in Poland, worse than anywhere else in Europe, were sudden outbreaks of mob violence and judicial murder.
Polish common people believed in ritual murder; that is that Jews needed the blood of Christian babies to prepare for the Passover. An apostate Jew in 1710, Jan Serafinovitch, who was son-in-law to the rabbi of Vilna and had a record of mad fits, gave evidence in court that Christian blood was needed not only for the Passover meal, but for the eggs given to the newly married, and for anointing the eyes of the dying. He described how a rabbi collected the blood, first by pricking the baby's finger, then by stabbing its back, then rolling it in a barrel with protruding nails, and finally nailing it to a cross.
Catholic leaders in Poland seldom believed these lies or hallucinations. But bishops are found taking part in the prosecutions. And popular superstition was shown by repeated cases brought to court. A child born out of wedlock, and exposed by a mother seeking to preserve her name, could easily be palmed off as murdered by Jews. Because Poland had no strong central government, the fate of Jews varied from region to region. They kept the inns over most of Poland and Lithuania, in Minsk and Brest-Litovsk a numerous Jewish community flourished, Catholic authorities rarely made the expected efforts to compel them to Christian sermons. But in other places they were at the mercy of mobs, and then of evidence extracted under torture. The fate of rare Christians who became Jews was brutal. The authorities needed a ghetto and its walls as much or more to protect a Jewish community from Christians as to protect Christians from Jews. A series of fearful trials for ritual murder, with torture, swept the country in the fifteen years after 1747. That church officials did not do all that they should was shown by the repeated efforts of Jewish leaders to get instructions out of Rome. From the Dominican general they won an order to his Polish friars to restrain the people in their sermons from persecuting Jews or believing slander. From the Carmelite superior they won an instruction to his houses that the stories of ritual murder were legend and that the friars ought to fight the superstitions of the mob. After a trial for ritual murder in Volhynia the Jews sent an emissary to ask protection from Pope Benedict XIV. The Pope was dying. The case was referred to Cardinal Gangan lli (later Pope Clement XIV), who asked for documents on ritual trials and finally produced a report full of charity and good sense, one of the most humane documents to come out of Rome during the eighteenth century. In January 1760 he recommended Pope Clement XIII to condemn the slander. The nuncio in Warsaw was instructed that the Pope would do everything possible against false accusations over blood. The nuncio was tardy to publish, but at last (1763) the King of Poland confirmed the Pope's orders.
This was the worst area of Europe for cases of persecution. From Silesia to the Urals public order was more insecure than in all the rest of Europe. And much the largest Jewish population lived in eastern towns. In Italy they were safer.
In Padua Jews from Poland studied medicine. They were listed at the university with the designation Hebraeus Polonus. Though they had to pay a special fee for 'protection' and were supposed to lodge in the city ghetto they were among the few Jews of that age to benefit from a normal education at a university. Their families at home were often anxious lest these non-religious courses were unfitting in a Jewish student, but their communities needed them as physicians and clubbed to pay their fees and travelling expenses.
Padua was in the republic of Venice, one of the most tolerant states of Europe in the eighteenth century. The port of Leghorn in Tuscany was the other great centre of Italian Jewry, where they lived freely without special clothes and could be represented in the city council. In Venice and Leghorn they took an important part in the trade with the Levant which made the prosperity of both towns, and although like most Jews in Europe the majority were traders, a few owned merchant ships. Occasionally the memory of a Shylock burst forth in mob demonstration as when officers of Venice took down a vast picture of ritual murder which Jew-baiters erected at the Rialto. In Genoa the city made an agreement with the Jewish community (1752) whereby Jews could live outside the ghetto and wear black and not go to sermons. In Italy as a whole the social relation of Jew and Christian was the most civilized in Europe until Prussian Protestants led by Lessing started to be liberal if not admiring.
An attempt by the government of the two Sicilies to (re-)introduce Jews into Sicily and Naples failed. In 1740 King Charles of Bourbon published an edict, which allowed them to reside and did not oblige them to wear distinctive dress or to live in a ghetto. Several Jewish traders arrived in Naples and Barletta and Lecce. The crowds had a violent opinion against these newcomers. Father Pepe denounced in Naples, popular preachers excited congregations, merchants were split in their opinion. By 1741 the Jews of Naples had to have a special quarter because they were not safe elsewhere. A few months later there was fierce argument over the need to oblige them to wear distinctive dress. Shop windows were broken, passers-by rabbled. When Messina was struck by plague in 1743, the government had lost. The people were stronger than their king. Three years later he repealed the edict. By then it had long been a dead letter and repeal was formality.
The Papal State felt a duty to preserve its sacredness as Christian and Catholic. But like other states its authorities knew that the existence of Jewish communities diminished the taxes on its own citizens. In Ferrara and Ancona lived sizeable Jewish communities (328 Jewish families in Ferrara in 1703) who must wear yellow badges except on journeys but were hardly molested and owned shops outside the ghetto.
The ghetto in Rome by the Tiber had a high wall with several gates. By the main gate hung the pessimistic inscription, Isaiah 65: 2: 'All the day long have I stretched forth my hands to a gainsaying people.' Outside was a guardpost. Jews were not allowed to own land or house, and therefore must rent houses in the ghetto from Christian landlords. The city government fixed the level of rent that might be charged. That Jews prospered was shown by increasing numbers (1699, about 10,000; 1732, more than 12,000). But they were liable to specially high taxes for the privilege of residence. They had a few bankers. But a majority of canonists now agreed that usury was as illicit for Jews as for Christians. Most of the Roman Jews were engaged in small trades, with a proportion of jewellers and goldsmiths, or dealers in cloth from the Levant. They must wear yellow (badge on hat for men, bandeau for women); and when the yellow grew more orange and then more red, so that at last it could almost be mistaken for a cardinal's hat, government ordered nothing but yellow. They traded outside the ghetto walls but must sleep inside.
In the Counter-Reformation Pope Gregory XIII laid upon them the duty of hearing sermons. Every sabbath afternoon a 'representative' congregation of some 500 men and women, separated by sex, paraded to listen to a sermon, if possible by a preacher who understood their languages or even who was Jew by race and Christian by religion. Most of the ghetto avoided sermons by paying a small fee. Rich hired poor to attend as their proxies. Eye-witnesses reported that this parade had a formal air. External reverence was maintained. If a member of the congregation fell asleep, or was shocked at what the preacher said and publicly stopped his ears, he was poked by a beadle's staff. Rome preferred these occasions to take place in a hall rather than a church.
Outside the ghetto stood a 'house of catechumens', where Jews were prepared for baptism. This house always had residents, and a steady stream of converts was baptized. A visitor of 1724 reckoned the number of baptisms that year at about 5,000. Doubtless a number of these conversions were change of heart. But a voluntary convert received 100 scudi, which payment drew destitute Jews to Rome. Pregnant Jewish girls might seek the house of catechumens to hide their shame; young Christian men, falling in love with a Jewish girl, need only tell the authorities that she was considering baptism, and could get her out to the house of catechumens or a convent; and if a Jewish baby were baptized by a Christian midwife because its life was in danger, and then it lived, it was legally Catholic and must be educated as Catholic. Pope Benedict XIV had to decree (1747) that a Jewish child must not be baptized if its parents were unwilling. He also had to take precautions against Jews who wished to desert their wives and therefore sought baptism.
Clement XIV befriended the Jews of Poland when he was a cardinal and kept the policy of government from being rigid. His successor Pius VI immediately (20 April 1775) codified the old Jewish laws of the Papal States and in theory drove back the Jews into the ghetto, prevented their riding in a coach in the city, insisted that they always wear the yellow patch, declared it illegal to hold conversations with Christians in the streets. Like much legislation in the Papal States, the law must be understood to signify hope and theory more than exact practice. Eleven years later, moved by the new toleration in the Austrian empire, the Jews of Rome asked for relief, and were given a commission to review their plight. The commission met, and took evidence. It saw no need to hurry. Nothing was done before soldiers of the revolution marched into the city.
As late as 1781 an excellent bishop, Cardinal Mattei of Ferrara, prescribed rules for Jews in his diocese (Synod of Ferrara, June 1781). No clergyman or layman may eat, drink, play, stay the night, sing, go to a funeral with Jews. No one may take employment in a Jewish household, especially as maid or wetnurse. Everyone must be out of the Jewish quarter by midnight. No one is to summon a Jewish doctor to attend him at his house. Notaries are not to give Jews honourable titles in legal documents. Jews must wear the yellow marks on hats, and during the last three days of Holy Week must stay indoors. If a Christian procession approach, they must disappear. They are not to go near the porches of churches, and their street-cries must be silent near churches. Their shopkeepers are not to sell books about the Catholic religion, or sacred images. Nuns and girls' schools are not to buy their wares. Nevertheless, wrote the cardinal, they 'are to be embraced with Christian charity' and are not to be treated with abuse insult or mockery.
So upright a prelate could not see how the conditions which he decreed (in conformity with general law) rendered his exhortation to charity vain. This is curious. The Ferrara minutes nevertheless show how relatively free were the Jews, crying their wares through the streets, selling anything in the shops provided the goods were not specially Christian, using Catholic lawyers for legal documents, and rich enough to employ servants.
Holiness was power—over health, food, crops, babies, death. Holiness was God's way of judging the people. The saints therefore had power to influence God by their intercessions, as the priests said, to work miracles as many of the people thought. Therefore the high points in much religious life of the people were saints' days. Even taverns and cabarets displayed portraits of saints.
A saint might become revered, and heal the infirm, so that afterwards the day of his death became an unofficial festival of that town; and if the cult passed beyond his town, he became more than a local power, and men might beg the bishop to establish his day of death as a feast for the diocese, and kings might ask the Pope to make his day a feast for a kingdom. And as one holy man rose in repute among the people, by natural course he took the place of some earlier holy man, once revered but now becoming a memory in history or a survival in the ritual of the Church. Spanish insurance companies, rivals in insuring vessels at sea, each had a patron saint. Their saint was no mere title of a company. The patronage might mean protection.
Here are two examples of cults changing during the eighteenth century.
St. Anthony of Padua was believed to be the protector against fire and diseases of cows or pigs. His day was not a holiday of obligation, that is, by law of Church and State men might freely work. But in Italy of the seventeenth century most villagers did not like to work on St. Anthony's day, lest their cottage burn down or cow die, or lest their neighbours blame them for like disasters. By the middle of the eighteenth century this refusal to work was much less common. This is an example of the way in which popular cult varied; not because the people turned less to saints, but because they altered their idea of what a saint demanded from them by way of reverence, or because they found new or different saints to invoke.
No one should exaggerate such signs of fading. St. Anthony was still the patron of lovers and marriage, mountaineers and glass workers, ship-wrights and donkeys. Still he was the saint to help in the recovery of lost property. He was thought to have taken part in the capture of Oran by the Spanish fleet (1732), and a picture from the middle of the century shows him in admiral's uniform freeing Alicante from the corsairs of Algeria. In Padua itself his relics lay, his day a tumultuous feast. As late as 1800 the government of Naples got leave from Rome to make his day a feast of obligation.
A second example was St. Christopher. He was patron of travellers; because travelling was perilous, and (it was said) whoever looked upon him was saved from the danger of an unprepared death. To attract or help their people, therefore, Italian parish priests of the seventeenth century often hung a giant painting of St. Christopher over the porch of the church where any passer-by must look. By the middle of the eighteenth century, though Christopher was still patron of travellers, no such custom existed; to the relief of educated Catholics afraid of superstition. But large pictures of St. Christopher could still be seen in the twentieth century, painted on the west front of an occasional church in Italy.
The historian's lot was not easy. Newer historical studies were more discerning about the nature of saints' lives and the date of documents. In Tuscany of the 1740s a group of learned critics started demolishing the legends of local saints and doubted the authority of famous relics. In a city like Florence this caused no trouble, because countrymen hardly knew or cared what professors wrote in the city and continued to revere the Madonna's girdle in the cathedral at Prato or the tunic without seam. But academic demolitions were bound in time to upset the countryside, and deepen the gulf between the religion of the people and the intelligence of the educated.
For example, in the valley of Trent in southern Tyrol a people's saint was St. Adalpreto. Girolamo Tartarotti, whom we have already met assailing witch-trials, set about proving, not that St. Adalpreto did not exist, but that evidence about him was worthless or erroneous, and that so far from being a martyr he was schismatic and perhaps died discreditably.
This proof had not the least effect upon the people of the Trentino, except to persuade them that Tartarotti was a heretic. When he died (16 May 1761) Rovereto decided to put into St. Mark's church a monument with an effigy of so famous a citizen. The vicar-general of the diocese banned the monument, and then laid upon the church an interdict which he maintained though the Empress Maria Theresa from Vienna threatened to confiscate his property. To this day that monument to Tartarotti stands not in St. Mark's church but in the town hall of Rovereto. The argument over St. Adalpreto continued into the nineteenth century. The cult of that saint is dead. Probably but not certainly Tartarotti's work of demolition was one cause of the death. 18
Occasionally the people found a new saint.
Benedict-Joseph Labre (1748-83) was a French boy who formed a fierce spirituality of atonement by suffering, partly from reading sermons of a stern near-Jansenist preacher. He tried to be a Trappist and then a Carthusian; but when he was rejected by different houses of these demanding orders, because they feared for his reason, he became a wandering pilgrim to the shrines of Europe, begging his way, kneeling long hours before pictures or statues—to the House of Nazareth at Loreto (which was to become his favourite retreat after Rome), the cave of the Archangel Michael on Monte Gargano, the shrine of St. Nicholas at Bari, Moulins, Our Lady of Montserrat, Saragossa, Burgos, St. James of Compostella, Besançon, Einsiedeln, Rome—shrine to shrine, rosary at belt, cross in hand, breviary in knapsack. In 1777 he settled in Rome, a tramp in rags, body covered with lice, begging at the gate of the French ambassador for scraps the morning after a banquet, prostrate before a crucifix or the reserved sacrament, sleeping in an archway of the Colosseum, so that he was known as the beggar of the Colosseum, silently present wherever a church held the Forty Hours devotion, so that some knew him as the beggar of the Forty Hours; living off orange peel or apple cores from garbage bins, or occasional charity, or scraps amid the cobbles after a street market; serving irregularly in hospital, or reading books of devotion at the Minerva library; receiving communion so rarely that a priest or two suspected him of Jansenist heresy. When his legs swelled, he was taken into a hostel for the destitute.
His death turned the city upside down. A contemporary who passed through the emotion of those days compared it to an earthquake in a people's soul. It was Holy Week. They took the body into the church of the Madonna dei Monti. Children cried, 'The saint is dead', sick came to find healing and were not disappointed, and on Easter Sunday crowds so packed the church that priests could celebrate neither mass nor evening office. Corsican mercenaries, fetched from a neighbouring barracks, could not control the crowds which wanted to snatch relics from the bier. Their violence could not stop people snipping off half the beard and tearing out the hair and cutting little pieces of cloth from the shroud. The church at last was cleared by the troops, and shut for four days. Not everyone was pleased. The French ambassador Cardinal de Bernis reported to his government that the sight edified some and scandalized others. 19 But de Bernis was not the kind of cardinal who could understand that Labre was anything but a lice-ridden tramp.
Another example of popular feeling to discern a new saint was found in Don Gaetano, a monk of Palermo. He lived a penitential life, and shortly before he died told his confessor that at the consecration of the sacrament he was always embraced by the incarnate Lord. He died gently as he knelt before the Host. The confessor told the congregation about this holy soul, and said that men found in him evidence of power to work miracles. The people begged the bishop to lay out the corpse to public view. Soon a crowd of infirm, lame, blind, queued to be in contact with the corpse. One was healed, a youth with a twisted leg who never before walked without crutches. Sick babies were passed over the heads of the crowd to the guardian of the bier who lifted them down to touch the saint. From all about came cries, 'Thank you, thank you, Don Gaetano.' Hands tore away the garments, twice they needed to clothe the body anew. This discovery of a saint was watched by a stiff German Protestant who was both incredulous and moved at what he saw. 20
All visitors to southern Italy and Sicily were astonished by the feasts of the Church. St. Rosalia, at Palermo, lasted five days; St. Agatha at Catania, four; Corpus Christi at Syracuse, a week. No normal work; far into the night meetings in the street; milling crowds, where dukes or higher clergy lent a cheerful hand with beggars and labourers; a mixture of pre-Christian Saturnalia with Christian veneration for the holy; ardent work for the decorations, chariots for processions, triumphal arches, floats; women buying new clothes, scarlet bunting everywhere; fantasies (by candles and glass) of artificial light in churches; salvos of cannon; trumpeters, pages, halberdiers; parades with tambourines, escorted by urchins whistling through their teeth; northern visitors, if they regretted the expense and doubted the friendly tumult, found the experience noble and not tasteless. Patrick Brydone though a Scot was proud of being a John Bull, suspected southern emotionalism, and was a rationalist with a streak of irreverence. He felt a sudden movement of the heart when confronted by St. Rosalia. He said that he had never seen anything which so affected him, and was not surprised that she won the allegiance of Sicilians. When he joined the feast in the streets, he confessed to a feeling of ecstasy; and thought that if this was the effect of superstition, he wished the British were a little more superstitious. For a moment he wondered whether the triumphs of philosophy were insipid. 21
This was the true, and primitive, experience of sainthood. By comparison the formal canonization of saints had less spontaneity. For a man to be a saint of the Catholic Church, he needed a posthumous group of people determined that he be entitled saint, with money or power. Politics, kindness, loyalty might enter the process and verdict.
Nevertheless the saints made during the eighteenth century, in number twenty-nine, reflected popular sentiment.
Of the twenty-nine, all but two were monks and nuns. The other two were a great archbishop (Turibio of Peru) and a university professor who however was not made saint because of what he taught from his chair. One of the twenty-nine had been married, for Jane-Frances de Chantal (sainted 1767) was a widow with four children. But afterwards she founded a religious order. This predominance of monks and nuns was a sign of the special links which bound the religious orders to Rome, and a sign how a member of an order was more easily brought to official notice because the order had continuing organization, a corporate memory, and the money to take a cause through the requisite courts. Five of the new saints were founders of religious orders (Piarists, Somaschi, Lazarists, Servite nuns, and Camillans). But although the high percentage of religious derived from the administrative structure of the Church, they also showed the people's opinion. Monks and nuns were too many to be respected because they were monks or nuns. But ordinary people could hardly imagine a saint who failed to live the sort of life, or practise the hours of prayer, only possible to monks and nuns.
Twenty-two of the new saints were male, and seven were female. The presence of the women showed how the people had no expectation that a saint should be a priest (still less a bishop, for only two of the twenty-nine were bishops). Several of the new male saints were not ordained, but lay brothers. St. Felix of Cantalice, who died in 1587 and was canonized by Pope Clement XI in 1712, was just such a people's saint—once a cowherd's boy till he was trampled by bullocks and then a Capuchin lay brother from the far south of Italy, who could not read and was given the duty of begging for the friar's livelihood through the streets of Rome and whom the common people of Rome came to love, and at his shrine found healing after he was gone. Such a saint was not only a religious ideal, but a manifestation that ordinary people mattered.
Out of the twenty-nine new saints, ten others besides Felix of Cantalice were members of branches of the Franciscan order. Educated opinion sometimes despised modern Franciscans. But the ideal of the little man of Assisi lived strong among the people's devotion. No other order could compare—among the twenty-nine were three Dominicans, three Jesuits, one Carmelite.
This popular aspect was partly seen when a state's patron was made a saint. Among the twenty-nine three patrons of states or peoples were canonized, Turibio for Peru (1726), Stanislaus Kostka who was regarded as a second patron of Poland (1726), and Johann Nepomuk (1729) whom the Czechs revered as their patron. All these had other claims, Turibio because he was one of the two out of the twenty-nine who served as missionary in the Americas, Kostka because he was a mystical visionary, and Nepomuk because he was the patron saint of bridges, and after his canonization his statue often appeared on bridges as an aid to stability against floods or bad engineers.
The mystical visionary (seven out of the twenty-nine) was not popular in the same way, unless his or (more often) her shrine became a place of healing (as at Cortona with St. Marguerite, canonized 1728). These were the saints of tranquillity and remote cells. They were too contemplative, too withdrawn, and too rarefied to make impact upon the people. But their causes were promoted by religious orders, and their writings valued as reading for modern monks and nuns. John of the Cross, with his pure allusive poetry, was an intellectual saint (canonized 1726) and could never be a magnet for the people. The devil's advocate argued that he showed no evidence of heroic virtue; but of all the canonizations of the eighteenth century, his received most approval from posterity.
John of the Cross was one of five Spaniards out of the twenty-nine. The administrative structure of the Church was reflected by the majority of Italian saints (sixteen) among the twenty-nine, though two of the Italians were more venerated in Austria than in Italy. Three were French, three Poles, one Czech, one German. Only eight of the twenty-nine were not Italian nor Spanish. In the previous century, when Spain was dominant in Italy, more Spanish than Italians were made saints. Catholic governments used to press more vigorously for their subjects as possible saints. During the eighteenth century they still asked from time to time, but ceased to mind excessively if they failed. They were still ferocious if the Pope wanted to make a saint out of someone whom they disliked. France thundered so loud against the plan to canonize Bellarmine that he failed to become a saint until 1930.
If the mystical tradition was as eminent as ever among the new saints, the tradition of care for the sick was more in evidence. Only one saint of those canonized during the seventeenth century had much to do with hospitals. Five of the new saints of the eighteenth century were specially concerned with nursing, and two of them were the two most celebrated founders of nursing orders, Vincent de Paul (died 1660, canonized 1737), and Camillus de Lellis (died 1614, canonized 1746) whose nursing order has been seen as a predecessor of the Red Cross. Catholic Christianity maintained the mystical and contemplative inheritance but took a step further towards the recognition that doing good to the needy is an equal mark of holiness.
St. Mary was a central figure in the piety of the later Counter-Reformation. To her were dedicated 214 of the churches of Naples, all with various sub-titles; and the next most numerous patron of churches was St. Peter with only fifteen. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the city of Naples had eleven miracle-working Madonnas. 22 In 1708 Pope Clement XI ordered all Catholics to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, but did not narrowly define what was meant. A Servite father, Cesario Shguanin (died 1764) asked Rome to define the doctrine of the Assumption of St. Mary. Pope Clement XIII referred it to the Inquisition, who put the petition among their minutes.
The historians had scruples about all such proposals. Muratori wrote a passage of his essay On a Well-Ordered Devotion criticizing the exaggerations of the cults of his day. Under Benedict XIV men discussed whether the word assumption did not encourage the belief that a pious opinion was a dogma of faith, and whether it would not be better to revive old names like falling asleep or passing over.
In a direct reply to Muratori's doubt, Alfonso Liguori wrote a book The Glories of Mary (1750) which has a claim to be one of the most influential books to come out of the eighteenth century. We may call her mediatrix, advocate, guardian, salvation. It is the divine will that she is associated with her Son in the work of redeeming mankind. She is all-powerful with the heart of God and all merciful with his children. 'A true servant of Mary cannot perish.'
In the country towns of Spain it was the habit to awaken labourers with a hand bell, tinkled through the streets an hour before dawn, since most labourers lived in a town as much as 6 or 8 miles from the fields which they cultivated. But religion made this civic alarum beautiful. It was called the Dawn Rosary. The bell-ringer was chosen for his voice, and knocking at each door he would melodiously sing a couplet inviting the inhabitants to leave their beds and join him in a procession in honour of the Mother of God. 23
Hard life though he might lead, up early, late to bed for small reward, the working man had many holidays because the calendar brought frequent holy days on which no one might work.
In addition to the feasts of the Church and saints' days, most communities kept special days—for good crops, against bad weather, in case of epidemic. It was no more than the holidays of some modern workmen with five weeks in addition to bank holidays. To farming communities it felt excess of leisure when much was to do in the fields. Tarragona in Spain (1727) had ninety-one days of obligatory holiday during the year, the people could not work crops from bad land, could not pay their taxes, and therefore disregarded the rule. 25
Economic pressure drove the 'beneficiaries' to want fewer holidays. Religious motives pressed for fewer saints' days. The leaders of the Church were continuously uneasy, not about devotion to saints which was part of Catholic faith, but excess of saint-worship found among backward communities. Conversely they worried about the inability of peasants to earn their living. In cases of 'necessity' people could get leave to work in the fields on feast days after mass and in some Italian dioceses this leave was not hard to get, though the labourer did well to get a certificate which he could show to passing policemen or indignant neighbours. No one was allowed to carry merchandise, or thresh grain, or use loaded wagons; no muleteer could work. A particular difficulty lay in mills. Defendants, accused of milling on Sundays, said that they were not working, the only thing working was wind or water, but courts were unimpressed with this type of argument. The system of licensing still operated in Italy of the mid-century. 26
When the learned Prospero Lambertini, afterwards Pope Benedict XIV, wrote his work on the canonization of saints, he argued for fewer saints' days because so many could not be celebrated aright and because they made it hard for the poor to earn bread. In his earlier career as an archbishop he made this opinion known. The moment therefore that he became Pope in 1740, he received numerous requests to act—from King Charles of Naples, the Bishop of Bamberg who gave evidence from Germany that Protestants were less poor because they could work on days when Catholics must be idle, the Archbishop of Trani in south Italy who wrote that once mass was over these days of 'religion' were days of idleness and drunkenness which issued in gambling and blasphemy and bloody brawls. 27 From Modena the historian Muratori conducted a campaign to press the Pope to act.
Benedict XIV asked the opinion of some forty cardinals, bishops, theologians, canonists. Was reduction needed for the people's sake? Should the bishop of each diocese, or should the Pope decide for the whole Church? Should feasts be divided so that work after mass was allowed on the days of many saints? Should some saints' days be moved to Sunday? The result of this enquiry showed that most saints' days meant inebriation and debauchery, but that people were attached to their familiar days of holiday, might not wish to offend a saint by neglect, and would not easily accept abolitions. Almost alone among the Pope's advisers, Muratori wanted to abolish days which provoked popular superstition. The bishops hardly thought that even a Pope could act against a people's wishes. While Muratori wanted to destroy days for which common people cared passionately, bishops recommended the Pope to make possible the abolition of days for which people cared little. Others, like Archbishop Vidal of Messina, wished to change nothing. And some of both sides raised the most interesting of all the questions: whether this revived demand for more working days did not show a new desire, at least in some working men, to gain a higher standard of living? Archbishop Davanzati of Trani was sure that most people would be glad and grateful for fewer feasts.
Strong opposition to reduction came from the townsmen of northern Italy. Places and people who had not enough work could see no reason to reduce holidays. Here working men wanted to lessen hours of labour, not extend. Cardinal Quirini, who was to make himself the leading proponent of no change, was bishop of just such a city, Brescia. Pozzobonelli of Milan was his ally. In such cities men were often half employed.
Devotion to the saint, it is clear, was not the only reason for wanting to keep the saint's day.
Benedict XIV began to issue leave for bishops to apply to Rome for a lessening of feast days in their diocese, and during the next years advantage was taken by twenty-two Spanish bishops, as well as bishops from the Papal States, Tuscany, Naples, Poland, Lombardy. Archbishop Borgia of Fermo reduced his weekday feasts from thirty-five to sixteen. His decision was not popular. Most of his people took no notice. Devout men pressed bishops to keep their favourite saint.
Three years before his death the historian Muratori of Modena published (1747) at Venice pseudonymously (under the name Lamindus Pritanius) the noblest of his books about religion, 'on an ordered practice of devotion', Della regolata divozione de' Cristiani. Chapter 21 of this essay, which many Catholic reformers began to treat as a handbook, declared that feasts were far too numerous and appealed to the dissertation of Pope Benedict XIV. Muratori thought that conservative bishops could not have studied the question.
It is an astounding thing that charity, which one might imagine to be a special quality in bishops, has not lifted its voice high enough to make them listen to the supplications of at least half the human race, which is stopped by feasts from getting food for themselves and their families. The glory of saints cannot suffer in the least whether we pay them more devotion or less, while the poor cannot do without bread. Can anyone suppose that saints, filled with charity, can take pleasure in seeing poor people deprived of necessities so that they can receive honour? . . . An ill-regulated piety (from people in easy circumstances who will not suffer in consequence) demands a new feast of obligation and so imposes a new burden on the poor. . . . Is not this excess of feasts the reason why our country has the most beggars and mendicants? . . . Finally, this plethora of feasts, far from ministering to the devotion of working men, usually leads them towards damnation, because most of them spend the day in bars and illicit gambling and spending the week's wages while wife and children starve. . . . If they go to church, it is only because they have nothing else to do. . . . Honourable men who want to work spend half the day bored.
The book was full of this concern for the working man.
Muratori's pseudonym was penetrated, and a war of pamphlets arose. Cardinal Quirini, who on a journey happened to come across the argument raging over the decision of Archbishop Borgia of Fermo, led the field against Muratori, going so far as to claim that doctrine was in question and that no feasts should be abolished or made days when anyone could work. The argument grew so hot that Muratori for a time was at risk of condemnation.
He became passionate on the question, even accusing the bishops of Naples and the Papal States of not reducing feasts because they made a tidy income by issuing licences to work, and denouncing their police for scouring the countryside to spot an illicit worker and levy a fine for their own pockets. When he collected other essays on the question, he could not persuade publishers at Trent, Venice, or Modena to take the risk. When he tried to issue an appeal to the bishops of Italy he could find no one who dared to print.
Two decades later we find evidence that discontent among the people outran any endeavour to meet their needs by altering the calendar. Parish priests in southern Germany started to take independent and unauthorized decisions because their people disregarded the calendar. German bishops wanted to change dates because they were afraid of being attacked as 'Protestant' if they abolished saints' days. Bamberg (1770) abolished eighteen feasts by transferring them to the previous Sunday, and left eighteen feasts as well as Sundays. Under the same papal brief Cologne drastically restricted the number of feasts. Venice failed to reduce feasts till seventeen years later; when the Senate won the Pope's approval, cited the example of other Catholic powers, abolished twenty feast days and ordered all shops to remain open, and all farm labourers to work, on the ex-feast days. 28
To remove eighteen days of holiday from working men could not be achieved in the twentieth century without machine guns or double pay. Preachers were enlisted and pamphlets circulated to prove that the Church had this power, printers were compelled to print new calendars. Common people rumoured that work on one of the abolished days would be visited with divine punishments, crops sown on that day would perish, sick cattle were the result of men working and so offending a saint; the Pope is a heretic, we are turning into Lutherans, it's the fault of our parsons and we won't go to confession; even in the nineteenth century some countrymen still refused to work on feasts which the Church abolished during the eighteenth century. In Auerbach in the Upper Palatinate, when the pastor announced the new orders (1770) the congregation stood up and shouted, crying 'Drive him from the pulpit, the seven sacraments are abolished,' and thumped out to hold protest meetings in the bars. The pastor of Schnaittach feared for his life. In 1786 peasant unrest forced the Elector of Bavaria to restore ceremonies on feast days and rescind the decree which ordered work on the abolished feast days. Tipsy undergraduates at Bamberg made a demonstration (1770) on Whit Tuesday because it used to be a holiday and now was not. Police officers who were ordered to make people work on an ex-feast sometimes kept quiet at home or went out into the country so as to see nothing.
Archbishop Trautson provoked riot in Vienna when he tried to reduce feast days. Twenty years later feast days in Vienna were reduced without anything worse than a grumble. Benedict XIV's act caused him to be suspect. In parts of Catholic Germany ran the saying 'The Pope's become a Lutheran.' Even in 1768 Joseph Baretti described to the ignorant English how this Pope 'once offered all the Italian princes an utter abolition of all holidays, Sundays excepted, which offer procured him the appellation of papa protestante, the Protestant Pope.' 29
Amid the drama of the streets on high days of the Church, processions were an invariable centrepiece.
We have the order of procession at the celebration in Cologne of the canonization by Pope Benedict XIII (31 December 1726) of the Jesuits Aloysius Gonzaga and Stanislaus Kostka. At the church porch was a picture, 28 feet high, of the two new saints kneeling before the Holy Trinity. Towards this came in solemn order: (1) two genii, (2) three flags, (3) a choir of secondary-school boys, (4) drummers and trumpeters, (5) the triumphal car bearing St. Stanislaus, (6) a silver statue of the Mother of God with angels, (7) a group of women, (8) a silver statue of St. Ursula patron of Cologne, (9) nuns carrying lighted candles, (10) a statue of St. Joseph with angels, (11) a youth club making music, (12) a silver statue of St. Gerold with angels, (13) 600 members of a brotherhood, (14) drummers and trumpeters on horseback, (15) the triumphal car of St. Aloysius drawn by six dapple-grey horses of the archbishop's ceremonial carriage, (16) students with torches, (17) the Jesuit fathers, (18) the choir, (19) genii with flowers and incense, its canopy carried by students of the law faculty. 30
In this way the procession was a tremendous popular event, spectacle, devotion, theatre, good work. If it was reverent, this was the reverence of whole-heartedness and naïveté, not the restraint of awe. The Corpus Christi procession at Barcelona about 1770 began with an eagle dancing before the holy sacrament, then two giants who danced and leapt, then a mule, then an ox, then a dragon which formerly was escorted by little devils, then a lion and flag followed by other animals, then twenty-four kings in 'historic costume'—apostles—angels with musical instruments.
Thus the procession gathered to itself all sorts of fun, or theatricality, or bright ideas, which a popular sense of drama might suggest. The customs from various Spanish churches were collected by a Jesuit critic. Christ was represented by the president of the 'Guild of the Cross'. On Palm Sunday he came riding into the town on a she-ass, escorted by twelve elders dressed as apostles, in coats of different colours down to their heels. The townsfolk brought their blankets and coverlets to spread them in the way and in the churchyard boys climbed olives and mulberries to cut branches. On Monday three crosses were set up by the altar rails. On Tuesday, the scene of St. Peter's denial was played in church, with a girl dressed as kitchen maid singing 'You too were with Jesus in Galilee', and a bald old Peter thundering out in harsh and angry tones, 'I know not what you are talking about', until from behind the organ in the gallery a piercing voice crowed like a cock three times; and the bald Peter retired into a 'shed' prepared under the gallery and sat there weeping and blowing his nose. Early (4 a.m.) on Good Friday the preacher showed the Christ with a 'Behold the Man' and loud commotion from the congregation, and when Pilate gave sentence the town notary informed the prisoner. At 3 p.m. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and St. John the Evangelist appeared with towels and hammers and pincers and ladders, with an image of our Lady in the midst, worked by wires. On Easter Sunday at 5 a.m. was 'the Sermon of pleasantries'—when the preacher was expected to change the atmosphere by telling a string of funny stories and behaving like a buffoon in the pulpit. It was a popular relief, and attracted a vast congregation.
Not all these customs happened in a single town. Our informant collected them from various towns in Spain. 31
The old hooded processions of flagellants were less common. But in Italy and Spain and Portugal and south Germany they might still be seen, and as late as 1719 Trier witnessed a procession of more than a thousand flagellants, bearing chains on their body, carrying skulls, and wearing crowns of thorns.
The scourging devotion fell into a measure of disrepute during the later Middle Ages, being condemned by a Pope and falling under more than a suspicion of being associated with heresy. But in monasteries and nunneries, the discipline was enshrined in the rules; a self-scourging, for example on Fridays, during the time it took to say a Miserere, after a devotional reading on the Passion, to remind of the Crucifixion, chasten the body, and make satisfaction for sin. Jesuit devotion was in one of its aspects an encouraging of laymen to make use of experiences found edifying in monasteries, and they were willing to encourage such self-scourging, under conditions and in a devotional context. Therefore the practice had a revival during the Counter-Reformation, and the classical statement of its value was written by a German Jesuit, James Gretser, to defend a procession at Augsburg which Protestants criticized. The defence showed that public processions began to repel. Private monastic edification was one thing, blood visible in the streets was another. The French Parlement banned public use after a case at Bourges in 1601, and henceforth public processions of flagellants were less common in France than anywhere else in Catholic Europe.
The main cause of the persistence of public processions was the dramatic representation of Holy Week. On Good Friday, or (more often) Maundy Thursday the village would make its representation of the Passion, during which the Lord's scourging was acted—more than acted—by a group of flagellants. In most areas of Catholic Europe, the procession of flagellants was confined, by the eighteenth century, to the ceremonies of Holy Week; unless at some special mission to a parish in southern Italy or Spain.
In Spain Maundy Thursday was the high day of discipline. The 'disciplinant' wore a full skirt streaked with red ochre, a starched upright triangular cap yards in height, a hood that covered face and head and ended in a point below the chin, white shoes with black heels and toes. The procession moved down the street between balconies with decorated carpets whence women admired. The sources show that many bystanders still watched without any sense of repugnance, and some watched with edification. In the cathedral at Girgenti in Sicily a French traveller saw 200 middle-class citizens striking shoulders with whips of cord and changing hands when the arm grew tired. Another Frenchman walked by the church at Licata and heard a curious din. The French consul tried to discourage him going in, but he insisted. In a dim light he could see the nave full of people flogging themselves, and heard moans and sighs and convulsions. Suddenly a priest called 'Enough', a little bell rang, silence fell. 32
That the consul tried to dissuade him from entering is a sign how not everyone expected to find the occasion edifying. European taste was changing. By 1700, it is clear, some spectators were so far from being edified by what they saw that they found the occasion irresistibly comic. French bystanders mocked. Urchins of the streets in Rome began to mock. A visitor to Rome saw a great procession of 500 flagellants in 1707, marching from San Marcello to St. Peter's by torchlight, escorted by Capuchins with lumps of sugar and cakes to strengthen the weak. He observed that the passers-by cried mockery—speculating on protective covering underneath the shoulder cloth, shouting 'leathern doublet' or 'corset' or 'breastplate.'
In fact, spectators slowly ceased to believe that the rite was wholly real. Its function as public ceremony started to replace its function as act of devotion. Nearly twenty years before, a spectator in Madrid reported that gallants took part in the procession because it was a social occasion but no one really hurt himself, it was more like ritual dance. A brotherhood of flagellants often hired extras to make the ceremony more impressive, and these extras improved neither the reality nor the morality of the rite. The public practice became suspect as show. A Dominican saw a ferocious missioner at Civita Vecchia using a chain scourge repeatedly on his body and could not at first understand how the man could endure—until he perceived that though the noise of flogging terrified the flesh was unscarred. 33
A few perceptive men already perceived another objection. Experience began to tell them of a mysterious connection between flagellation and sex. An amused Spanish observer noticed how prolific in engagements to marriage was the rite of Maundy Thursday. 34 And the medical science of the north began to be possessed of enough case histories to give pause to people who argued about the practice. In 1700 the French abbé Jacques Boileau, brother of the poet, published the first big Catholic assault against it and, though vaguely and unconvincingly, could use medical evidence.
But this evidence was the property of few. Catcalls did more than doctors to discourage the devotion. Nevertheless, even the people were shocked by certain forms which formerly they welcomed or endured. At the Holy Week procession of flagellants in Civita Vecchia early in the century appeared two men called Hieronymos, St. Jeromes, naked but for loincloths, who fearfully beat their whole body with instruments of metal and glass. They tried to appear in the following year but were stopped by police. Distaste grew. A diocesan synod at Naples (1726) condemned 'the barbarous custom' of St. Jeromes, a procession of naked men flogging themselves to blood. The missioner at Civita Vecchia tried to make all the clergy of the town join his flagellant procession. All refused except the Franciscans, and the incumbent, because he had the traditional honour of carrying the crucifix—but even he refused to go barefoot or wear a crown of thorns.
In Spain government discouraged all public rites of flagellation. As a devotion in monasteries or in congregations it continued frequently, especially at private meetings for flagellant brotherhoods. A description has survived of such corporate devotional flagellation in a crypt at Cadiz, almost at the end of the eighteenth century; and of another in the Oratorian church at Barcelona (1786), this last from an English tourist who was not edified. 35
Taste moved against the dramatic. State governments and a few bishops of Germany moved against Christmas cribs as childish, or elaborate holy sepulchres in churches on Easter Eve, or statues girt with clothes. It was expensive for country churches to undress saints, because some statues were only carved in bare parts and undressing meant destruction and new figures.
Social ideas moved against the beggar and therefore the mendicant friar. An odd by-product of this swing of opinion was the end of an old Christmas custom. As a form of seeking alms, poor men in southern Germany went round the houses at Epiphany singing carols, and rotating on the end of a stick a big star made of gold paper. Authority made no exception of its dislike of this form of begging. Carol singers of the nineteenth century were a bourgeois revival of poor men's begging in the older world. Other old customs can be seen dying. In 1700 south-German Catholics decorated doorposts at Epiphany with three crosses and sometimes with the letters CMB, initials of the three wise men. By 1795 the custom was only found in clergy-houses or convents. 36 Such change was not due specially to 'enlightenment'. In all ages the customs dear to families changed, cults died, new cults were born. The taste even of the common people now expected more plainness of ornament.
Educated Catholics could hardly bear to see the toy donkey drawn up the church on Palm Sunday, cherished by their grandfathers and now, like the crib, but worse than the crib, seen as childish. Town by town and then village by village the living tableaux representing the Passion were changed into processions which carried pictures of the scenes of the Passion, popular art instead of popular 'play-acting'. They found pictures more prayerful than theatrical scenes. But one motive was cost. Pictures were cheaper to produce and carry. They needed neither costumes nor scenery. Pictures might not be great art but were likely to be more artistic than scenery which a village could afford to build. The costumes of such processions, at least in villages, had not been specially preserved in a 'theatrical box' but were lent by villagers for the occasion. Some educated men wanted even to get rid of pictures, and thought it best of all if the procession carried nothing but a simple cross.
At Herzogenaurach in Franconia the pastor instituted about 1680 a procession on Good Friday. A century later a Protestant critic wrote a scornful description of this event, and said that we have no need to visit Hottentots to see barbaric customs. About 1 p.m. a cavalcade of 600 people started out. Nearly 2,000 spectators watched ten groups pass by, the history of salvation from the fall of Adam to the Cross, each group with a scene of the Old Testament and a New Testament counterpart. They dared to include Jonah singing out of the mouth of a whale, and flagellants, and blue-cowled moaning penitents bearing crosses round the scourging scene. The Protestant onlooker inferred that the actors were of the lower classes but was specially disturbed to see the Countess of Bayreuth among the spectators. This Protestant article shocked the bishop of the diocese, Erthal of Würzburg, and the pastor of Herzogenaurach was summoned to a court of enquiry. He defended himself that he tried to stop the use of church vestments by actors, and the flagellants, and the cross-bearers. The superior of the near-by Ursuline convert told the court to take no notice of such an anti-Catholic attack, and said that many Protestants came over to be edified by the spectacle. The diocesan authorities would have liked to ban the procession but feared or respected the opinions of the village. They ordered it changed into a cortège of penitents carrying pictures of the passion with an open-air sermon. The police were warned to intervene if necessary. It was not necessary. The villagers celebrated their new duty without disturbance. 37
This distaste for the dramatic, or sense that it was irreverent, made a difference to popular processions before the end of the century. The Council of Castile (1780) banned giants from processions and ordered that no one dance. Six years later the Bishop of Barcelona suppressed the centurions who watched over the sacrament on holy Thursday and Good Friday, because 'they execute absurd drills which interfere with the prayers of those who come'. 38 Such restrictions may be found in that age throughout Catholic Europe. Processions continued to be social events of entire communities, retained parts of their drama or their colour or even their clothing. But Catholic taste grew more sensitive, or more austere, or more bourgeois. It moved away from an older freedom of popular devotion because that freedom did not edify. They began to dislike flagellants, and moaning penitents, and 'soldiers' who gambled too gleefully, or 'Jewish' mockers who jeered too noisily at the foot of the cross. They wanted minds to be lifted to prayer; and for a time did not easily see what the village of Oberammergau in high Bavaria taught a more modern intellectual world, that theatre can lift to prayer.
A procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets, whether on a feast day or to the sick, did not stop traffic in a city as formerly. The busy street went on bustling—waggons moved on, coaches drove by, horsemen failed to dismount, passers-by, instead of kneeling for a time on both knees in the street, made quick genuflection and went their way. Italian bishops issued proclamations that vehicles should stop and riders dismount and men kneel properly till all the procession had passed.
In Spain, especially in Andalusia, the custom of reverence lasted longer. As the sacrament passed, anyone who failed to kneel in the street and beat his breast gently was looked upon as a probable heretic. A noisy party would be silent if it heard the tinkling in the street outside and kneel till the tinkling died. If the tinkling was heard inside a theatre, the actors stopped, the audience knelt. A Spanish exile who heard the postman's evening bell in London wanted instinctively to kneel. 39
In every Catholic town could be found clubs, part religious part secular, known as brotherhoods, confraternities, or sodalities. They were not only male. People united in a common object, for almsgiving or prayer or Sunday-school teaching or insurance. They reached back into the Middle Ages but differed from the old medieval guild where the members belonged to the same profession and made a (usually middle-class) trade union. They might arise because a group of like-minded people formed a particular reverence for a new devotion, like prayers for the gift of a holy death, or for the release of souls suffering in purgatory. Often they were called by a saint's name, St. Andrew's, St. Anthony's, St. Mary's the commonest. They could arise in consequence of crisis in the state, like war or siege or plague. Brotherhoods existed to encourage the use of the rosary, or devotion to a particular saint, or agreement to make an annual pilgrimage, or to print good books, or to pay the cost of a funeral or a physician or a hospital bed. The Brotherhood of the Cross in Cologne was dedicated to the conversion of Protestants and Jews. In services members of brotherhoods usually wore a uniform, sometimes a penitential pilgrim's robe with pointed hat. In size they varied from several hundred to a handful. Some had a fixed number like twenty, and elected a new member only when one died. They might apply to a magnate, bishop or archbishop or cardinal, to be their 'protector'. Where the brotherhood had an aspect of social insurance, even Protestants applied for membership but were rejected if known.
Some brotherhoods had their pious duty in the consolation of prisoners condemned to death. At Civita Vecchia, for example, the Brotherhood of Death walked in procession in front of the victim, singing Miserere sadly. Round the victim walked several religious with large drawings of scenes from the Passion which they held in front of his eyes. At the square the brotherhood lined up from one side to the other and no one else but guards and religious and other convicts were admitted. While the victim stood on the scaffold, the brotherhood knelt in the square saying aloud the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary. Meanwhile Capuchins who were chaplains to the parade of convicts preached sermons 'to bring them to hate their crimes and to lead a life which would not force justice to make an end of them like the end of this their comrade'. 40
Brotherhoods rose and fell in numbers and popularity according to time and fashion and need. Old brotherhoods of the Counter-Reformation vanished and left hardly a trace, new brotherhoods were formed for new needs all through the eighteenth century. Cologne had four brotherhoods for the care of domestic servants who easily became destitute or turned into prostitutes.
All through the eighteenth century the motives of social care and insurance were more and more evident in the begetting and practice of brotherhoods. In city states like those of the Rhineland government sought to control them as part of its system of welfare.
Some brotherhoods were poor. But members left money or property, many brotherhoods exacted entrance fees, some fined their members for cursing or brawling, by the eighteenth century a few brotherhoods had enough capital even to lend to their municipality.
The confraternity processions still to be seen during Holy Week in Malaga or Seville, with each bearing a platform or float for an ornate statue of the Madonna or saint in a scriptural scene, were then to be found in many more towns and on other days, with special costumes marking social events of the year.
A brotherhood had a social life as well as a religious duty, and evoked a loyalty which adhered as much or more to the club as to the devotion. To a parish priest a brotherhood could be a nuisance because it was an independent kingdom which overlapped with his jurisdiction. Brotherhoods were specially important as escorts at funerals. They therefore might claim the right to tell the parish priest what to do, who was to carry the corpse, which route the procession should take. . . . The conflicts between parish priests and brotherhoods were neither so frequent nor so fierce as the disputes between rival brotherhoods, but the natural constitutional antagonism could not but generate heat.
Brotherhoods competed to show rich ornaments in their procession, or the most disciplined parade, or for precedence. Through the church or the saint this loyalty was linked to faith. As a social act it could produce odd consequences, like fighting in the streets. Bishops tried to order the ceremonial of processions down to the last detail, but brotherhoods were very insistent on their rights and, if they thought that they were being put upon, a solemnity might be disturbed by hissing or blows. At Policastro in south Italy the rivals destroyed the solemnity of Corpus Christi by using their banners, and even the statue of St. Nicolas, 41 as weapons. The altercation was not trivial. It commanded religious as well as social loyalties. It could be compared to the violence of otherwise good Protestants who broke up Methodist religious meetings of the same age.
When Benedict Labre was buried in Rome on Maundy Thursday, his body was escorted to the grave by the Brotherhood of Madonna dei Monti, all armed with knives and ready to resist efforts by two rival brotherhoods to snatch the corpse or relics of the saint. Nothing untoward occurred, and the cortège passed into church with reverence. 42
Most citizens of Rome practised their religion solely by means of a brotherhood. Their brotherhood was attached to a church, and therefore gave them a loyalty to a parish and its priests. But membership of the brotherhood, not membership of the parish, was what mattered. The brotherhood in Rome might, but did not always, consist of members of the same trade; mingled well-off with poor; had very little religious instruction—these were not educating bodies—but went through Latin psalms as part of the brotherhood ritual. The better side of a brotherhood was, first, its mingling of classes, and second, its charitable works, subscribing to decorate the chapel, visiting sick, caring for prisoners, decent funerals for members.
Throughout Catholicism brotherhoods continued to flourish almost all the century. They played a public role in dramas of the Passion, in processions, and in saints' cults, and lost function where the tremendous scenes of the street were pruned or destroyed. They were prominent on pilgrimage, and lost function as pilgrimage was restricted. They were powerful corporations of laymen whom authority eyed with doubt. As bishops increased control over their dioceses, they limited the independence of brotherhoods. But their function at funerals remained; a procession of brothers in their cloaks, with coats of arms and burning torches, following a member to the grave, was impressive enough to be a strong motive for enrolling as member of a brotherhood. The insignia might be placed on a member's coffin at his burial.
Meetings of brotherhoods were accused by certain reformers of becoming rivals to church services. Permission to found a new brotherhood was sometimes given only on condition that no one was thereby drawn away from church. Like any enclosed group they were criticized for being cliques, or persons pretending to holiness while they only kept rules and ritual. Preachers kept reminding them that insignia get nobody through the gates of heaven. Though their members were married, they had a whiff of the monastery or nunnery, and shared a little in the declining reputation of monks during the last decades of the century. But for the most part they were seen as a natural way of life inseparable from Catholic faith.
Here was an ancient fountain of charitable endowment. It still garnered gifts and bequests. Some of the endowment was well used, some was not used for utility by intention of the donors, and some was misused by the corrupting passage of years. As benevolent despots started to provide better welfare in their states, they looked at the property of brotherhoods with interest and envy.
Near in idea to the cult of the saint was the practice of pilgrimage.
That God blessed a particular place, as a source of grace or healing, was ancient in Christianity and before. The medieval pilgrimage continued into the eighteenth century. Men travelled fewer miles than in the Middle Ages, but that was not because they disbelieved in going long distances but because they had newer and as powerful sources of special grace nearer home. Simple people had experience of healing, and spring, picture, statue, altar was a new source of grace. The number of places to which men went on pilgrimage always grew. That sometimes diminished the resort to older and more famous sanctuaries. But so far as we can discern pilgrims were just as numerous.
Authorities of Church and State agreed in preferring the shorter pilgrimage. They hardly minded about solitary wanderers or small groups. But when whole villages uprooted themselves for days in the year to visit some distant sanctuary, they perturbed those responsible for order, bishops and policemen and even prime ministers; overnight camping, food in transit, security, morality, sanitation. Hungarians made traditional pilgrimage to St. Ursula at Cologne—until the middle of the eighteenth century, when the stream of Hungarian travellers so troubled the states that the Austrian government refused to issue passports. Fifteen thousand Venetians a year visited Assisi to pray near St. Francis, until the Venetian government, concerned at the loss of currency, refused (1771) to issue passports. 43
Except on rare and exceptional occasion, pilgrims travelled ever smaller distances. One consequence was the declining use for pilgrim hostels. On the famous old route over the mountains and along northern Spain to St. James at Compostella, stood the most historic line of hostels in Europe. These hostels were now too well endowed for modern needs. The house on the Pyrenees had 9,000 pesos of annual revenue because formerly it must welcome a flood of pilgrims as they passed. But now no flood passed. An abundant income served a few travellers, a few tramps, a few wandering friars. The French King from 1671 forbade Frenchmen to make the pilgrimage without royal licence and the leave of the diocesan bishop. The correct inference is not that pilgrimage declined but that Compostella ceased to be so powerful a magnet to the faithful.
Late in the century an English tourist called at the pilgrim hostel in Oviedo on the Compostella road. He found the older inhabitants still able to remember how in former times 'all young men of spirit' from Italy and France (the locals exaggerated) would make the journey to Compostella before their marriage. And 'even now', observed the Englishman, 'it is not uncommon to see straggling some few old men, and many companies of young ones. . . . We saw twelve fine made fellows, who came from Navarre, singing the rosary.' But at Oviedo they told him how 'the rage for pilgrimage is much abated'. 44
Nevertheless, Compostella continued to attract, because it attracted some pilgrims at least who went there for motives less than the highest. A record has survived from a Picard peasant who went there during the reign of Louis XV because he was in debt after military service and wished to escape his creditors. He and his companions were beaten along the roads, stole grapes from vineyards, cuddled maids at inns, lived off public charity, avoided towns where they might have to pay, disturbed sermons in Spanish churches by loud laughter; and yet were moved by the Burgos crucifixion: 'You felt the blood running down before your eyes.' At Compostella they listed the relics and from the stalls bought 'hats, shells, metal badges and the rest of the nonsense', and yet revered the relics which they saw. 45
Therefore the wardens of hostels, or the police, demanded evidence not so much of identification as of good Christian status. A pilgrim might be asked for certificates that he had confessed and received communion, so that he would qualify to receive alms. Near the Holy House of Loreto a woman who kept a hostel for pilgrims gave a rough-looking pilgrim a mattress in her cellar. He had a French accent which caused her to suspect him of being 'a French heretic' (that is, a Jansenist). When she knew that he was saying his prayers at the shrine, she rummaged in his wallet to make sure that he had the two certificates of confession and communion. 46
By the middle of the century, bishops and many parish priests in south Germany started to discourage pilgrimages which took more than a day. Parish priests had an economic motive as well as a moral, for pilgrimages to distant sanctuaries took the money of the faithful out of the parish. Ministers of agriculture or economic affairs, landowners and squires, had similar motive, for they lost labour for several days. Nearly everyone responsible preferred to divert pilgrims to sanctuaries which lay within half a day's journey so that villagers returned inside the day and had no need to camp overnight. This was less easy to do by policemen than by encouragement of a new or lesser cult. If pilgrims tried to cross frontiers, they could be refused entry. But, for men to be persuaded away from a distant sanctuary, they must believe in a near-by sanctuary as an equal source of grace. Wise south-German bishops started to encourage local cults to diminish the magnetism of distant cults. The people could still go; but under the various discouragements, they would go by stealth, or in smaller groups, or without a priest.
The magnets of pilgrimage constantly increased without encouragement from bishops. Two religious of Steingaden set up a statue of the scourged Christ, which in 1738 was given to Wies. There miracles happened, a little chapel was erected, pilgrims came. Seven years later Abbot Hyacinth of Steingaden needed to build a big church.
In a snowstorm in the Black Forest a traveller was lost. After his rescue he erected a cross in the snow, soon a public chapel, and then the resort of pilgrims.
All through the century the great sites attracted many. Einsiedeln was host to about 100,000 pilgrims a year. In May 1761 it gave communion to 40,000, in May 1763 to 43,000, but some of these were parishioners. Mariazell in Styria was like Einsiedeln or Altötting as a goal of German and Austrian pilgrims. To run the parish, which without pilgrims had only 700 or 800 people, who were foresters or miners or shepherds, needed (1785) an incumbent and eighteen curates; and in summer and autumn, when the crowded pilgrimages came, they borrowed twenty or more monks from the near-by Benedictine house of St. Lambert to hear confessions and help with services. In the year 1725 it had 188,000 pilgrims, in 1757 373,000. Nearly all pilgrims came from within the frontiers, Bohemian, Moravian, Hungarian. Maria Taferl, second biggest centre for pilgrims in Austria proper, had 71,000 in 1702; 186,000 in 1751; 360,000 in 1760. At smaller sanctuaries: Mariastein (Tyrol) over 20,000 yearly; little Eldern near Ottobeuren, 24,600 communicants in May 1763. 47
In southern Spain the memory of a Muslim world made the life of a woman more restricted than in the rest of Europe. No woman might respectably go out of her own house on visits unless to a church or sanctuary or pilgrimage. To some women pilgrimage to a near-by shrine was the only escape into a wider world. They wore dresses and veils, and went on foot even if they were rich enough to own a carriage. But these distances were always small. 48
During the last two decades of the century the criticism of enlightened Catholic bourgeois became ever more vocal. God is a Spirit who may be found everywhere; to think of a single object as uniquely blessed is materialism; pilgrimage disturbs society and agriculture, brings danger to morals and health; the best destination of a pilgrim is the altar of his parish church. These critics had small chance against the popular conviction of a picture or fountain which (so peasants had experience) brought special blessing.
Austria banned overnight pilgrimage 1772, confiscated endowments to help pilgrims 1773, banned all pilgrimages unaccompanied by the parish priest 1784.
The critics could point to numerous risks attached to pilgrimage; and certain customs gave them ammunition. Over decades a popular and crowded event could develop habits which were less than edifying. At Cloppenburg on Maundy Thursday, the people had the custom of walking in solemn pilgrimage to a chapel of St. Mary, where they kept vigil all night in memory of the disciples who prayed or failed to pray in the garden of Gethsemane. A godly custom; to which over the years was appended the less godly custom that on the way home in the morning they picked up stones to batter down or damage the doors of houses where lived Jews. The clergy locked the chapel, the people took the key by force. The Jews appealed to the crown, which banned the pilgrimage. For several years more the people took no notice of the ban.
Critics could have no immediate success against such convictions.
Occasionally authority was frustrated because the spot turned out to be more important than the picture or statue. This was obvious when the goal of pilgrims was a healing spring. Normally it was a statue or picture, and when bishops moved the object into a parish church the people, not without a sense of loss, turned their devotions to the new site. But this did not always happen. At Lindenberg in the Upper Black Forest a shrine on top of a hill was destroyed by authority, a new parish church built with the stones in the valley, and the holy picture of the Blessed Virgin solemnly transferred. The peasants took no notice. They went on pilgrimage to the top of the hill and said prayers among the ruins. When they were asked they said that the place brought God's mercies, not the picture. The clergy could not persuade them to abandon the opinion. They kept asking for the chapel on the hill to be rebuilt.
By Ottobeuren the Bavarian commissioner broke down the shrine of St. Mary in Eldern, and moved the holy picture into Ottobeuren where it rests to this day. But the people of Eldern kept seeing a vision, of the commissioner's restless soul, condemned to go backwards and forwards in a cart of flame along the old route of the pilgrims which passed the cemetery. Even in the second quarter of the twentieth century men claimed to have seen the commissioner's ghost. And after a time the men of Eldern built a little new chapel on the place of the old. The spot did not lose its virtus when St. Mary's image left. 49
In German areas of mixed religion pilgrimage took a new aspect, that of political demonstration, and brought resentment and on occasion brickbats in Protestant streets through which it passed. The rival demonstrations of modern Northern Ireland are successors to this polemical use of pilgrimage. But a few Protestants took part in Catholic pilgrimage. Protestants also needed grace or healing and resembled a modern Protestant traveller to Lourdes.
A new church or monastery was not easy to build. Plenty of evidence survives of worry over half-built seminaries, cathedral façades in need of repair, leaking churches. Far the easiest places to build or repair were resorts of pilgrims. A steady income from the offerings of the travellers enabled new monasteries or new chapels and new shrines to be undertaken without too much worry about expense. Sometimes the clergy reached an arrangement that the builders should over a period of years receive all or part of the pilgrims' offerings until costs were paid—not everyone liked the idea of pilgrims thinking they gave their mite to a monastery when they gave to a firm of builders. 50
With the pilgrimage was bound the indulgence. Part of the devout gain of visiting some authorized and historic sanctuary was the resulting indulgence. All Franciscan and Capuchin churches possessed the right of the Portiuncula indulgence, asked for by St. Francis of Assisi for the day when the Portiuncula church was reconsecrated. Ordinary people had vague ideas of the nature of an indulgence. They associated it with remission of time in purgatory for their dead relatives or themselves. How important it still was at the end of the century was proved when the new Bavarian government of Würzburg tried (1809) to limit days of indulgences to two in the year, and received a protest from the church authorities that the measure would compel vast crowds to come together to confession and communion and therefore the discipline of confession would collapse. And how easy it was to misunderstand is shown by numerous sermons that warn the congregations, who came for an indulgence, that their indulgence is no substitute for penitence of heart.
Luther's assault upon the most famous of indulgences ended the worst abuses of the practice. No one tried to defend the penny-catching methods of late-medieval hawkers. The Council of Trent insisted upon the power of the Catholic Church to offer an indulgence and declared it a devotion 'very helpful' to Christians ('maxime salutarem'). The divines of the Counter-Reformation tried to declare more precisely what was permissible. Bellarmine (de indulgentiis) defined the indulgence as an act of judicial forgiveness accompanied by a 'payment', or gift in compensation, from the treasures of the Church. He stood by those old doctrines which Protestants repudiated, that this treasure was the overflowing merits of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints; that the Pope had sovereign power in giving; that the indulgence once given was unconditionally valid in the eyes of God, and saved a soul from a possible punishment which sin deserved. He left undecided whether this validity lay in God's justice—a reward of merit—or in God's overflowing mercy.
The Jansenists of the seventeenth century, with a deep sense of sin and of God's tremendous acts of forgiveness, had little use for the indulgence, which to them looked small. And in the faith of their Italian or German successors of the eighteenth century the indulgence had no part. But Italian and German Jansenists were all educated. In the devotion of the common people, the indulgence continued in an undiminished if not extended popularity. Every pilgrimage ended in an indulgence, every resort of pilgrims wanted the privilege of indulgence, every jubilee (a special form of pilgrimage) carried unusual gifts of indulgence; and apart from pilgrimage, an indulgence was attached to special forms of prayer, before a crucifix or a picture, with a rosary; and each brotherhood needed or liked to be allowed an indulgence connected with its own rites or forms of worship. Brotherhoods printed 'a calendar of indulgences' which listed indulgences and the circumstances in which they were available to the members.
In 1669 Rome sought to limit abuses by invalidating all indulgences which claimed to release from more than 1,000 years in purgatory; and simultaneously founded a Roman Congregation 'for indulgences and holy relics', which survived till 1904. This Congregation tried further to diminish popular abuses. Jansenist reformers of the eighteenth century sought to abolish the indulgence so far as it claimed to be other than the remission of penalties imposed by the Church upon the sinner. Their endeavours had very small success, and the people continued to expect an indulgence as one of the rewards of pilgrimage or of a particular practice of devotion.
Inside the Church Sanctuary
Every consecrated parish church was a sanctuary for suspects running from the police. A man accused of crime, or pursued by creditors as a bankrupt, could flee to the altar, whence he could not be removed; and if constables seized him they and those who ordered them to use force were at once excommunicated.
This was the old law of Christendom, rooted in centuries of history and memories of barbaric times. It arose from two different feelings within society. One was fear of injustice. The common people could not be confident enough about the just working of tribunals to trust their fate to judges. This feeling had not died in the eighteenth century. The tribunals of the age of the Enlightenment acted with more efficiency and impartiality than tribunals in the age of Chivalry. But in 1700 they still burnt witches and Beccaria published only in 1774 the great treatise that helped to end torture. Powerful men had henchmen in the mountains of Calabria or the Abruzzi and still could wreak their will like feudal barons. Ordinary people accepted sanctuaries in part because they still saw that poor people could be oppressed and might only be protected by havens of refuge.
The second feeling shows the nature of popular faith. The people had a sense of repulsion at sacrilege round the altar, rough hands tearing a human being away to death, in the very place where the priest sacrificed and where souls waited for the most solemn moments of their lives. In Italy or Spain of the eighteenth century this religious need of sanctuary was still as strong as the social need about justice for the oppressed. For example, a man who took refuge in a sanctuary could not waive his right to freedom from arrest. It was not he who was protected but the altar, and all that went with the altar. The right of sanctuary was more to do with the holiness of the place than with the need of the refugee. If a man was in sanctuary and decided to face trial, he could not ask the police to come in and arrest. He must walk out into the square.
The altar reached out to all the church building—choir and nave, porch and sacristy. If a refugee climbed on the roof, or touched the outside wall or the doors even if they were locked, he had sanctuary. Monasteries had it with their precincts, vineyard and baths and threshing-floor and stables. Consecrated cemeteries had it—whether a bell-tower had it was doubted by lawyers—hospitals or orphanages or seminaries which the bishop erected, the site of a church if the foundation stone was laid though the church was not built, the houses of canons (which must not be rented to laymen); the eucharist when it was borne through the streets under a baldachino between lighted candles, on its way to a sick-bed; the palaces of cardinals (if outside the city of Rome) and the houses of parish priests and that part of the bishop's palace in which he lived with his family—all had sanctuary.
So vast an extension of the rights of sanctuary was not compatible with public order. In the age of the Reformation Protestant states either abolished sanctuary or limited it so drastically that it became an unimportant survival. The same pressure came upon the states of the Counter-Reformation.
Violent criminals could not be allowed such escape if the least confidence in public order were to survive. The French king early acted to abolish sanctuary like the Protestants. Some other Catholic powers followed the example in Germany, Bishop Gottfried of Bamberg (1618) the first. Still other Catholic powers pressed the Pope for change.
In 1591 therefore Pope Gregory XIV issued the bull Inter alia which remained the fundamental law of sanctuary for Catholic states and caused revolution in the manner of its working.
The Pope withdrew all right of sanctuary from highwaymen, ravagers of fields, homicides who kill or mutilators who maim in holy places (churches and cemeteries), and traitors against their sovereign. If any of these persons took refuge in a church, the court could apply to the bishop that they be taken out. When the bishop received an application he must bring the accused out of sanctuary into his episcopal prison, there try him with the ordinary process of evidence to see if he had reasonable grounds for thinking him guilty, and if he found strong probability hand him over to the police for trial in the State's court.
This bull transformed the law and practice of sanctuary. By exempting classes of persons from any right to sanctuary, it allowed the possibility that rough hands would indeed tear away a body from the altar, and with the approval of the Church. It partially satisfied the governments of Catholic states in their obsession with treachery and their justified concern with public order. And it created for the lawyers, and therefore for the relations between church court and secular court, a series of doubts and quarrels.
Who was a highwayman? Anyone who robbed once on a road, or must he be (so to speak) a professional? Suppose that a man standing within the church porch fires a gun and kills a man standing in the road outside sanctuary—has he killed in church? Or suppose a man stands in the road outside sanctuary and shoots a man in the church porch—has he killed in church? Is a homicide only the man who kills, or is he also the man who paid to kill? What is a mutilator? Must he knock out an eye or cut off a tongue, or is it enough if he breaks several teeth or spills a lot of blood? If a boy runs away from boarding-school and takes refuge, is he to be sent back to the schoolmaster? If a man takes refuge in a canon's house and the canon's life is in danger, can the man be moved? If he occupies a hospital ward and starts to disrupt services to the sick, can he be moved? All these cases, and more like them, concerned crimes which occurred and which afforded argument between bishops and lawyers of government and sometimes led to small-town conflicts between Church and State. The Church insisted on the absolute rule, that in doubt only the bishop or his representative can decide whether a suspected criminal has the right of sanctuary and whether police have the right to arrest even in the holy place.
These never-ending local battles caused several Popes to give anxious consideration to the law. The first Pope of the eighteenth century, Clement XI, held an agonizing series of consistories to debate the issue, without result. Catholic governments in quest of order started little by little to disregard the rules; and even when they nominally accepted the rules, local sergeants had small patience if a murderer sat almost unprotected within their grasp. In 1701-2 the republic of Venice reserved the right to fetch suspected murderers out of church, and would not allow sanctuary for deserters from the army or for men banished. 51 Nor were the fights always broils of remote municipalities. Five years after a Spanish Concordat with Rome (1737) limited the right of sanctuary throughout Spain, a murderer fled into the Capuchin friary at Pamplona and was fetched out by force. The bishop's protest went higher until he excommunicated the royal council in Navarre, government expelled the bishop's officer, and it came to pitched battle between troops and bishop's men. 52 Even the city of Rome preserved so many sanctuaries that (it was said) policemen had to carry round a street map when chasing a criminal. 53
Against this pressure from Catholic governments, a priest of Rome published defence on penal grounds. He put sanctuary into the context of reform of crime and punishment in that age. It was part of the humanizing of the penal system, the chief instrument which protected a ruthless society from the too frequent infliction of capital punishment. The right to punish does not derive from revenge but must intend to reform, it is inseparable in moral law from compassion. At the lowest level the execution of a man may start a vendetta and society will be the healthier if sanctuary prevents the supreme penalty from being inflicted. Sanctuaries, however they are at times misused, tend to a chance of reformation. And if this is the duty and interest of the State, how much more is it the duty of the Church? Would a mother chase away a starving child, or fail to protect it from a wild animal? How much more barbarous would bishops be if they chase out of church men who have come to them seeking refuge and comfort? 54
But whatever the defence, and whatever the reluctance of Popes to depart from the 'uninterrupted' traditions of the Church, they must step by step concede. For if they refused a little, governments might take all. Therefore Popes gradually conceded until over the decades they conceded nearly all.
Popes removed the right of sanctuary from anyone whose act resulted in death or serious injury (except by accident or self-defence), forgers of papal letters, police officers who wrongly drag men out of sanctuary, men who pose as police officers to rob houses, bank clerks who embezzle funds, makers or knowing passers of forged or debased coins; 55 all homicides (except by accident or self-defence, not only those who kill with weapons in churches, and not only laymen—Clement XII, In supremo, 1735, applied only to Papal States but afterwards applied by his successor on the widest front, adding that to kill 'with weapons' including killing with sticks or stones). Benedict XIV considered the many cases where a criminal did not kill a man outright but gave him a mortal wound from which he died in the next few days or weeks. The criminal ran to church and had sanctuary because he had not killed before his victim died. Benedict decreed that a doctor should examine the victim and if he certified that the wound could be fatal, the culprit lost his right of sanctuary. Benedict's agreements with different Catholic governments, the Concordats, always carried concessions about the right of sanctuary. He declared (1752) that anyone who killed in duel was a homicide in this sense of having no right of sanctuary. 56
In the later nineteenth century Holyrood Palace at Edinburgh, the last surviving sanctuary in Protestant Britain, housed a few miserable bankrupts; a survival from a past age, unimportant in law or national life. The Catholic law of sanctuary had not reached so far, even when the revolution came. But that was the direction in which it moved, all through the second half of the eighteenth century. Once it was established that any suspected homicide could be dragged from the altar with the approval of the Church, the old law lost its religious importance, or became more a duty of the Church to maintain old privilege than an act of faith or a protection of the people against oppression.
Meanwhile the right of sanctuary disturbed the interior of churches.
A refugee, once inside the sanctuary, had rights. They might try to stop him getting into the sanctuary but once they failed they could not cheat to bring him out to arrest. In Civita Vecchia (1710) assassins beat a merchant and left him dying on his doorstep, knocking on the door before running away. The police not only put extra men at the city gates, but sent guards to ring the various sanctuaries. 57 Once the suspect was inside church, he was there unless he was proved to be a member of one of the categories which had no sanctuary.
Inside the church no guards were allowed. This clause was very often broken, a continual series of protests and enactments tried to keep out guards. But officers had too easy a method of keeping watch, for no one could easily distinguish a constable in plain clothes from an ordinary worshipper. If the guards could not guard, still less could they chain or handcuff. If a refugee escaped from the galleys wearing chains, no one need take off the chains when he reached church; though probably a friend from outside brought a file or a member of the congregation took pity. Guards could surround the church so long as they allowed everyone access. But they could not prevent kindred or friends of the refugee bringing food and clothing, for that would be to face him with a choice between dying of hunger or trying to leave the church, and so frustrate the purpose of sanctuary. If the accused had neither friends nor kindred nor money, and was destitute, the clergy of the church had the duty of feeding him and paying for the food out of the charitable funds of the church.
Nevertheless the pictures we have of men in sanctuary are of little groups squalid but not too uncomfortable. In southern Italy the worst part of sanctuary was the filth which they brought into church. This was not usually by the absence of sanitation, for the law said that refugees must be allowed to go outside to relieve themselves within thirty paces of the church wall. This may not have made the surroundings of the church sweet to passers-by but little Mediterranean towns of the eighteenth century were not grieved by streets that were not sweet. They were more grieved about dirt in church. In southern Italy refugees lit wood fires, so that walls were black and congregations coughed their way through the service. They brought in cooking pots and camping stools, and were not past setting up house with prostitutes and mistresses. In Naples one group of forgers set up their printing machine in church. Near Naples sixteen refugees together occupied a monastic chapel of such dimensions that monks could hardly get inside to say their offices. 58
Church authorities were entitled to make refugees work for their keep, for example by sweeping the church floor. Authority saw that idleness begot sin. But if the refugees were tough—and if they arrived carrying weapons no one easily took them away—they were not easy to set to work with happiness, unless they were that proportion of men who were innocent and true refugees from the threat of injustice or oppression.
A long list of cases and condemnations showed how police tried to circumvent these rules. A police corporal in plain clothes went to a refugee and suggested that they eat together and sent him out to the fountain to get water, where constables waited. At Ancona (1699) a disguised policeman pretended to be one of the refugees and persuaded a Jew to escape with him by saying that no police were in the neighbourhood, and officers in plain clothes were waiting outside. 59 Where the bishop succeeded in getting a captured man restored, the reinstallation in sanctuary was supposed to be a matter of due solemnity which the people must see, for they were presumed to be scandalized by breach of sanctuary. The habit of coaxing refugees out of sanctuary by craft was well established despite repeated protests.
But as the century wore on, and murderers left, the sullied huddles of refugees in churches became more passive and hopeless and older. Most of them were bankrupts. Perhaps they were also on an average more educated, for they sometimes took piles of books to read in church until authority realized that nothing in the rules of sanctuary stopped it confiscating books to pay off debts. But the books might not be taken, nor any other property even of debtors, until the bishop allowed a certain time in which they might pay their creditors—usually two months. He was also entitled to confiscate their accounts. The rule of two months was used to make time of grace—and afterwards churches could expel the debtor from sanctuary and throw him to the mercy of creditors. Therefore the debtors' sanctuaries of the decaying system of Italy or Spain did not resemble the debtor's prison of the British with its permanent residents.
Because sanctuary first concerned the holiness of the altar, and only second the saving of a man, no refugee need be a Catholic. (This however was strongly challenged by those seeking to limit the right of sanctuary. 60 ) Jews and heretics were entitled to seek sanctuary, provided that the heretic was not fleeing on account of his heresy. But Benedict XIV (1751), otherwise so humane a Pope, revived an ancient law against Jews who became Christians and then returned to be Jews. The age of Enlightenment, growing always more tolerant, was apt in fits to become less tolerant.
Here are cases which show the spread of popular ideas on the subject.
1. On 24 June 1705 a student of philosophy named Christen aged twenty, at the Raven Inn in Lucerne between 3 and 4 a.m., stabbed a girl five times in the breast. He ran to the Franciscan church but they refused to let him inside. Then he ran to the Jesuit church, which was quickly surrounded by fifty men with guns. Negotiations with the bishop's commissar and the papal nuncio took a little over a fortnight, while the Jesuits did what they could to save his life, and then Christen was executed. 61
The case shows magistrates very determined to get their man; Catholic enough to go through the forms to be observed; one religious order determined not to be entangled with so unpopular a matter, and another religious order convinced that, whatever the unpopularity and the guilt, it was the duty of good Christian men to hope that more blood might not be shed and therefore that they should help the young man to run away; and above all the bishop's court, reaching a conclusion patently wrong according to law—for stabbing a girl in the middle of the night was not in the least treacherous and this homicide was unquestionably a man with right to sanctuary as the law stood at that moment. Why did the bishop's court reach a verdict so glaringly out of keeping with the law? Because its members had no desire to see so gross a murderer escape, and because they shrank from open conflict on weak ground with the government of the canton of Lucerne.
2. How important it still was is shown by the simultaneous churches, that is, churches which since the settlement of the wars of religion were churches shared between Protestants and Catholics. Since Protestants rejected sanctuaries, had these churches the right of sanctuary? Catholics felt no doubt that they had. In November 1743 the Faculty of Law at the great Protestant university at Halle in Germany was asked to decide whether in towns of mixed religion government must observe the Catholic right of sanctuary. The faculty decided that it must. 62
But the question showed controversy growing. The powerful Protestant cantons of Zurich and Berne began to threaten that they would act highhandedly if any more cases of sanctuary occurred in shared churches. They started to do so; with the result that Catholic pastors or abbots, with the approval of their cantons, helped the refugee to escape before Protestant police could arrive. In 1752-3 this became a warm argument throughout the Swiss confederation.
3. At the annual fair at Bernegg a thief was arrested. The police took him towards the town hall, along a path across the cemetery. The Catholic priest looked out of his vicarage, saw what was happening, and shouted that the ground was sanctuary. When he got no reply, he came out and started to argue with the official, whose squad was already three or four paces outside the cemetery. While argument raged the thief slipped his captors, back into the cemetery; when they went after him the parish priest protected him and pushed him into St. Sebastian's chapel which was not shared but solely Catholic. A mob started to batter down St. Sebastian's chapel, the Protestant pastor in the shared church next door had to stop his baptism. The local governor came and said that as it was 'a little theft' the crime would not be capital, so the parish priest agreed for the sake of peace. Final peace was reached only two years later when the parish priest apologized to the governor for excess of zeal, and government compensated St. Sebastian's for damage wrought by the mob.
By now both sides would cheerfully have been rid of sanctuary in Switzerland. Catholics maintained it partly because they needed to show that they were not Protestants and partly from genuine loyalty to the laws of their Church. Trivial crimes did not matter, big crimes were excepted. Cases still occurred in the Swiss cantons, which did not reach final agreement till 1785.
Reduction in number of sanctuaries became common as a stage towards abolition. In old cities many little churches huddled together near the centre, a sanctuary stood round every corner. As exceptions grew, city governments began to ask whether they might declare one or two important churches to be sanctuaries, and withdraw the right from all other churches. Genoa asked for this privilege, explaining the inconvenience when streets were narrow and sanctuaries every few hundred yards, and pointing out the rising number of crimes. In its petition the city said, 'we want to join due reverence for the Church with law and order.' They asked that the archbishop be empowered to nominate one or more churches at the centre and one in each suburb, and then that the police might freely extract a refugee from any other church to transfer him to a nominated church. Pope Clement XIV (brief of 11 June 1773) accepted the plan, and added that if a man fled from one of the nominated sanctuaries to any other sanctuary he might at once be handed to the police if the magistrate (out of reverence to the Church) would promise to diminish his penalty by one 'grade'. 63 In Spain, where the government pressed harder, the same Pope (1772) reduced sanctuaries to a maximum of two in each 'city or place', which often meant one church for each diocese. The bishop designated certain churches, but it was a condition that extraction of accused from other churches must happen without irreverence, that clergymen might not be extracted without the bishop's leave, and that police might extract accused laymen only in the presence of the bishop's deputy or the parish priest. 64
Another stage, halfway to abolition, was the ending of the bishop's prison. According to law, if an accused took refuge and his case (if proved) granted him no sanctuary, he must be moved to the bishop's prison while the bishop examined the evidence, and only if the bishop was satisfied was he handed over to the police. Magistrates hated this part of the law. They regarded bishop's prisons as insecure, and they were right. They resented the long delay, and the longer chance of escape. No part of existing law was attacked more steadily. But bishops also disliked bishops' prisons, and some bishops preferred that if they had a prison it should be insecure.
Flanders, seeing the French to the south of them behaving like Protestants over sanctuary, developed a custom (supported by their more radical canonists) whereby magistrates could take criminals out of churches with only a courteous message to the bishop and with no obligation to send the bishop all the papers.
But other Catholic countries felt something irreverent in this way. Reverence for the altar still meant that the decision must be made by church authority and not by magistrate. They found an ingenious compromise. One cell in the state prison could be designated the bishop's prison. If an accused man were extracted from church with the bishop's leave, he could be put straight into the town gaol with the proviso that he go to a particular cell while the bishop considered his papers. This system was established, with most care about detail, in the Palatinate, where government got two decisions from Rome to approve. 65 But it happened more informally in other lands, until it was common. The happy form of words saved everyone trouble. Some bishops were freely willing to let the magistrate conduct the enquiry on their behalf, to determine whether the case was reserved.
A late Swiss case shows how the law at last became nothing but ritual to preserve reverence for the holy place. In 1795 the police of Rapperswil hunted a band of robbers and chased a man, suspected of being their chief, into the Capuchin monastery. They followed and arrested. The Capuchins protested to the papal nuncio. The nuncio demanded that the accused be sent back from prison to the Capuchins. The magistrate said that though he respected sanctuary he could not do what the nuncio wanted because the friars felt a religious duty to help the criminal to escape. So agreement was reached. The accused was taken back to the Capuchins and in front of their door had his chains removed. Then he was ceremoniously pronounced a case which could not claim sanctuary, sanctuary was refused, and he was led out again to his chains. 66
This story of the Capuchin friars pointed to another feature of a declining system of sanctuary. Clergymen and blood were bad fellows in the Catholic mind. We have just seen the Pope telling the city of Genoa that they could have some refugees from churches if they agreed to lessen the penalty by one 'grade'. Pope Clement XIII (1760) gave the Duke of Bavaria for three years the right that deserters from the army should have no right of sanctuary, on condition that they be not put to death. The forgiveness of a criminal was still seen as a Christlike act of grace. Catholic theory on occasion did not shrink from trying to apply to the State the gospel story about the woman taken in adultery. Where the Pope had power of government, as in the Papal States, he might put the doctrine into practice with sudden acts of absolution or amnesty. Pope Paul V (1612) gave the Brotherhood of St. Mary of the Purification in Spoleto the privilege, on the day of the beheading of St. John the Baptist each year, of pardoning one man, accused on a capital charge, provided that he was not yet in prison and was not guilty of the worst crimes, homicide, heresy, treason, forging money, sacrilege. The court of the brotherhood asked (1770) if they might extend the pardon to anyone already in gaol, and got what they wanted. At Sinigaglia the Brotherhood of Death, who had the special work of praying with criminals on their way to the scaffold and of burying corpses of the executed or corpses thrown ashore by the sea, received (1772) the privilege of releasing one criminal who was condemned to a sentence of life imprisonment. 67
Secular Catholic governments did not indulge in these sudden acts of grace, unconnected with political amnesty or a change of monarch. But the mood affected attitudes during those last decades when sanctuary was legal shelter. As the criminal, or refugee, was compassed about by closer entanglements of police or magistrate or law, monks or parish priests sometimes saw their Christian duty to assist in helping an escape. When sanctuary was secure, the refugee needed no such help. But now sanctuary was insecure. An abbot found in his abbey church, or a parish priest found by his altar, a refugee waiting miserably and desperately for the few days or hours which it would take the magistrate to bully bishop or nuncio into allowing arrest. Some abbots and priests asked no question about guilt. They showed a postern door, or provided money, or a horse, or a guide across the frontier by night. Driven into a corner by hue and cry, they were known to refuse to give evidence, or to prevent a corpse in their churchyard from being exhumed, or to stop policemen from looking into the register of burials.
This feeling among clergy was in part the religious respect for human life and the duty of compassion. But they could plead, or sometimes tried to plead, a duty in law; namely, that a priest who shared in the shedding of blood became by old canon law irregular and could no longer act as priest without dispensation from Rome. An Austrian cleric (1787) refused to tell the police the whereabouts of a criminal because, he said, 'that is incompatible with the character of a priest'. 68 Priests who heard confessions were recognized, by law of State as well as Church, to be debarred from repeating what they learnt in confession, and therefore could not give that evidence in any lawcourt. This law had no application to what a priest heard outside the confessional, where he was expected to do his duty as a citizen, like any other man. But a man who hears of a grave crime in private and knows it is his religious duty not to pass it on, would be a hard or complex character if the attitude failed to spill over into a general compassion for guilty men or women who came to him for help.
As governments modernized their legal systems they could not tolerate the attitude. A prisoner at Linz (1783) set fire to the gaol and in the confusion escaped to the Capuchin monastery. The Capuchins helped him on his way. The police asked the father guardian, 'Which way?' The father guardian refused to say. They appealed to the Bishop of Passau. The bishop backed the father guardian, for otherwise he might become irregular. Government had no patience with these pleas. They gave the father guardian four weeks to get leave from his ordinary to give evidence or they would close the Capuchin monastery. The father guardian gave his evidence. 69
Four years later the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II incorporated in his new code of law for Austrian lands the declaration that all subjects, of whatever character, must give evidence in criminal cases. (It was rescinded by his successor, but from 1803 was again part of Austrian law.) At the same time a new criminal order gave police the right to search all buildings, and did not exclude sanctuaries.
It hardly needs saying that of all the cases which reached Rome from all lands, the cases over sanctuary were among the most numerous and most troublesome. In the Curia was a special Congregation on Immunity, for the purpose of deciding these disputes. Its records are packed with staccato judgements which do not hide human tragedies beneath their legal language.
Giuseppe Mule, corporal, and the other constables of the Duke of Monteleone's squad ask for absolution. From the church of St. Nicolas outside the bishop's village they took Giuseppe Cavallo by force and when he ran away outside the church shot him dead with two arquebuses.
Absolution granted, on condition that they promise not to do it again, and perform the customary act of penance in front of the cathedral doors. 70
Before the end of the century most Catholics were as glad as Protestants to see the end of sanctuary. It reappeared, as a formal right, in a few Concordats of the nineteenth century. But no one wanted its old form, with legal strife, local bitterness, and accusations that vile men were helped to slip from justice. The revolution swept away its last traces. That Catholics could not care was shown when the Revolution in turn was swept away, and they revived much which it destroyed—but not sanctuary.
Instead, they diminished the number of offences which carried the penalty of execution.
Within the church were places of special reverence, altar with relics, sacred picture or statue, and the reserved sacrament in a tabernacle. But the centuries created two seasonal objects of special cult: sepulchre and crib. The sepulchre on Easter Eve grew to be an elaborate construction, and frequent focus of prayer. As late as 1752 the Holy Roman Emperor took his eleven-year-old son to pay devotional visits to sepulchres in eighteen different churches within a single week. 71
With the sepulchre was linked the Forty Hours devotion, 3 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Sunday, watching at Christ's grave. This started early in the sixteenth century, from the sufferings of the Pope at the sack of Rome, to be a form of prayer in which the faithful took part in times of crisis; and from moments of crisis it became normal, at least in the Rhineland and some other Catholic areas. In Cologne of 1700 the cathedral, ten collegiate churches, two abbeys, nineteen parish churches, and ninety-two chapels or places of worship regularly practised the Forty Hours devotion. 72
The crib, with the stable of Bethlehem and shepherds and wise men, descended from the sacred medieval drama. Its origin lay in a puppet form of the theatre.
The theory that St. Francis of Assisi invented the crib at Greccio has long been demolished. Greccio was but one stage in the growth of dramatic devotion at the nativity. Evidence that Franciscans encouraged the crib is hard to find. Some Franciscan churches are known to have possessed early cribs, but hardly more than churches of the Augustinians. And yet, without much evidence, everyone feels that the childlike devotion of the crib was fitting to a Franciscan spirit. The earliest genuine crib in the modern sense, of which we have knowledge, was made by Gaetano da Thiene (died 1547) who founded the order of Theatines. One Christmas in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, he had a vision in which the Madonna let him hold the new-born babe in his arms. So he manufactured a crib for himself, and perhaps kept it in his cell, for it is not said to have been placed in church. In front of it he used to weep and sigh and pray and give addresses. The evidence relates only that he had a child in a manger, not whether the child was surrounded with other figures.
Here we have the authentic devotion of a private individual before a manufactured crib. It was associated with no particular school, no characteristic theology. It was the art of the Counter-Reformation and congruous with the devotion of the Counter-Reformation. It grew so easily out of the old drama and the old art, and the Counter-Reformation gave it only that fervour which it imparted to every devotion that it touched.
Not only Jesuits, but every religious order, encouraged the crib. Oratorians introduced it to Marseilles. It is found in Dominican churches, Augustinian, Capuchin. The diarist John Evelyn went to Rome at Christmas 1644, and loosely attributed the scenes to 'friars'.
On Christmas eve . . . I went from church to church the whole night in admiration at the multitude of scenes and pageantry which the friars had with much industry and craft set out, to catch the devout women and superstitious sort of people, who never parted without dropping some money into a vessel set on purpose; but especially observable was the puppetry in the church of the Minerva, representing the nativity.
The word puppetry suggests the dressed dolls or waxworks which were common in older cribs, and sometimes more offensive to sensitive taste than the carved or porcelain figures which eventually rose to dominance.
At Altötting in 1601 was the first crib with moving figures of which we have certain knowledge. The idea was not new. It began in a succession of scenes placed one after the other, a graphic history, such as the six scenes of St. Michael's at Munich in 1607, with a nativity, adoration of the shepherds, circumcision, adoration of the kings, murder of the innocents, and flight into Egypt. Mechanical ingenuity—the influence of clock-makers with elaborate clock-dramas, perhaps even the influence of marionettes and puppet-shows—began to devise means of uniting the successive scenes into a single moving tableau. Sometimes the beauty of the clock was united to the beauty of the mechanical crib. In autumn 1616 the Archbishop of Cologne sent the procurator of the Jesuit mission in China a gift for the emperor in Peking; a clock with a mechanism which operated at 12.00 to bring moving figures out above the clock face. The shepherds came, then the wise men who made their obeisance almost in Chinese fashion, ox and ass lowered their heads, manger, Joseph rocked the cradle, and a concealed musical-box gave out gentle baby-sounds. 73
Such a crib was an expensive rarity. As the custom took hold of popular reverence—and this was in south Germany, Austria, and Italy—it was popular art. The figures must be crude to be cheap. By 1600 the crib was still confined for the most part to churches, and was not yet of the home. But wealthy noblemen of the sixteenth century placed it in their chapels, from their chapels it passed to another room, and so from homes of the rich it passed downwards towards homes of the poor. The custom of Christmas cribs in rich houses flowered during the seventeenth century. But it never became universal in houses or churches. And its geographical distribution was curious. From south Germany it was taken, not without criticism, into a few Lutheran churches of the seventeenth century. But in Catholic France, except Provence where Italian example prevailed, it was rare. In Italian houses gifts of chestnuts, apples, and tomatoes were often brought to the crib. The Piazza Navona in Rome has long been famous for the sale of little crib figures for the home.
The most celebrated of all cribs is the exhibition of the Infant at the Franciscan church of Aracoeli at the head of the stairs up the Capitol in Rome. The little statue was certainly revered by the third quarter of the sixteenth century. A Spanish friar of 1581 declared that the statue was carved at Jerusalem from wood on the Mount of Olives, baptized in the river Jordan, and then brought to Aracoeli. By it was a statue of the Emperor Augustus, to whom the Sibyl pointed out the star of the wise men. The child was brought in solemn procession to the crib at mattins of Christmas, and taken away in solemn procession on the evening of Epiphany. The people came to believe in its miraculous powers, and later it was given a carriage and servants to visit the sick. The wood from the Mount of Olives was believed to have been turned into the colour of flesh by a miracle. Before the crib was erected a wooden platform on which boys or girls made little speeches and blew toy trumpets. At the Epiphany procession it came to be the custom that the child blessed the city from the top of the long stairway.
In Italy, especially southern Italy, the crib was popular throughout the eighteenth century. In south-German churches it continued, though less frequently and with less complex machinery. Though in houses it was mostly of the middle class, it was an important variety of popular devotion. In 1744 the Jesuit church at Münster first installed a crib, twelve years earlier the Jesuits at Vienna, but it may have been their second crib. The close connection of government and culture between Naples and Spain brought it into the churches of Spain and Portugal, especially Portugal.
On occasion even educated men drew their knowledge of the Bible from the crib or from art and not from reading the text. Bernini was astonished when Poussin did not paint the Magi as kings in The Adoration of the Magi, because he insisted that artists should follow the text of the gospel where (Bernini was sure) the wise men were said to be kings. 74
Defenders of the crib needed to refute critics: not so commonly Protestants with their religious condemnation of statues as Catholics who objected to the devotion as childish, an affair of toys. No question but that representations of the crib, because cheap and crude, verged on bad taste; that some cribs in noble houses were ostentatious contraptions which elicited more praise of the mechanic than marvel for the works of God; that some of the objections, valid against forms of drama, were valid against forms of crib; and that even when the crib was of art and simplicity, the devotion never suited the senses of all worshippers, however devoted to the Christmas feast. Even devout men complained that it was not serious religion.
The criticisms became more vocal among Catholics as the seventeenth century passed into the eighteenth, and as the fervour of the Counter-Reformation gave way to the refinements of the Enlightenment. Pastors wanted cribs made simpler, so that human admiration might give way to prayer. For as the artists were allowed their chance, they built round the crib a range of figures, trumpeters and hawkers, and houses opposite with balconies. The more numerous the scenes, the more like a theatre, the more diverted the attention. In 1782 Salzburg, in 1789 Regensburg limited the representations to the centre pieces of the nativity. The Lutheran churches of Germany which accepted the crib during the seventeenth century were nearly all rid of it by 1700. Before the end of the eighteenth century, especially in Mainz and Austria, some authorities banned cribs as out of keeping with the spirit of the times. In 1782 the Austrian government forbade them in churches, but the decree was not universally observed and was withdrawn in 1804. In 1803 the administrator of the bishopric of Würzburg declared that cribs were now abolished in churches and were only kept for the sake of children.
Mrs Thrale (Hester Piozzi) travelled in Italy during 1786 and expressed a characteristic view of the rational but romantic stranger in Naples. 75
There is a work of art peculiar to this city, and attempted in no other [she was wrong], on which surprising sums of money are lavished by many of the inhabitants, who connect or associate to this amusement ideas of piety and devotion. . . . In many houses a room, in some a whole suite of apartments [is she exaggerating?] in others the terrace upon the housetops, is dedicated to this very uncommon show. The figures are about six inches high and dressed with the most exact propriety.
She complained that the scenes were so various that the nativity, though central, was obscured, so that sometimes I scarcely saw it at all; while a general and excellent landscape, with figures of men at work, women dressing dinner, a long road in real gravel, with rocks, hills, rivers, cattle, camels, everything that can be imagined, fill the other rooms, so happily disposed, too, for the most part, the light introduced so artfully, the perspective kept so surprisingly.—one wonders and cries out it is certainly but a baby house at best; yet. . . .
The owners altered and improved them each year; some gave for them the equivalent of £1,500 or £2,000; and according to Mrs Thrale some families, rather than omit them, would fall into ruin. She found a house where the three wise men wore anachronistic 'Mohammedan' clothes. When she mentioned it to the proprietor he said that he would alter it next year 'if there was nothing heretical in the objection'.
The romantic movement of the nineteenth century revived the crib. Several churches which abolished their cribs between 1780 and 1800 recovered them between 1820 and 1840. But there came to be a difference. When German Protestants at last accepted the crib, they imagined it to be part of children's Christmas, and linked it with Christmas tree and toys. But in Catholic origin, and still during the eighteenth century, the crib was not a toy for children. It was of the altar, not of the children's corner; attracted not toymakers but famous designers; was of universal devotion like the medieval drama, not of children's art like the doll's house. The more Christmas became the children's feast, the more childlike the crib. In Protestant parts of Germany churches ceased to receive it, but it came into homes, and the little figures shone by the Christmas tree instead of the altar.
Christmas trees were almost unknown in Catholic churches. By the end of the eighteenth century they penetrated from the Protestant homes into a few Lutheran churches of Germany. Catholics looked down on the innovation.
The Sacred Heart
Among mystical writers the use of the heart of Jesus as a symbol of affection in the God-Man is found as early as the later Middle Ages, and was extended by the devotional theologians of the Counter-Reformation. These devotions, practised in the cloister, were the food of pious meditation, and the exercise of minds which needed mental image to aid their prayers. The more feminine of the gentle guides to spirituality, like St. Francis de Sales, used the thought of the Lord's heart as a way to elicit pure affection in nuns whose souls they directed. It stood for the sweetness and kindness of the divine love. The Oratorian Father Eudes (1601-80) ordered for his French nuns special exercises of devotion to the heart of Jesus and the heart of Mary, and marked a stage in the cult because he instituted (1646) a liturgy for the Feast of the Heart of Jesus, which was celebrated not only within his convents but at the cathedral of Autun, and later in dioceses where the bishop approved. Rome (1669) was asked for approval and refused.
The devotion was still of nuns, some clergy only, brotherhoods organized by favourable priests. They contemplated a wounded heart, from which flowed a stream of grace. At the age of twenty-nine Marguerite-Marie Alacoque entered the convent of the Visitation at Paray-le-Monial and two years later, on St. John's Day 1673, while praying before the Sacrament, began to see a vision, of rest upon the breast and of gifts from the heart. Her symbolism was of flames and of brightness, and accompanied by the sight of a crown of thorns. Soon the Lord in her vision began to ask that a public liturgy be established. At first her convent was divided, but after a few years made a chapel of the Sacred Heart.
Three years before Marguerite-Marie died in 1690, Rome was asked for a mass, an office, and a feast day. It refused. Then the exiled Queen of England, Marie d'Este, wife of James II, who learnt to pray with a Jesuit friend of Marguerite-Marie, asked the Pope to allow the Visitation nuns their feast. In 1697, perhaps more for the sake of the queen than for the sake of the nuns, the Sacred Congregation of Rites approved the use of a mass for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, but no mass proper to the cult. In 1704 the Roman censor placed the most important book, advocating the cult, on the Index of prohibited books: the work by a Jesuit father, Jean Croiset, Devotion to the Heart of Our Saviour (published first in 1691).
A bowdlerized version of Croiset's book was translated into Italian (Venice, 1731) and Spanish (1734). The cult began to make headway in Italy, but among convents. Yet its widespread growth could not but impinge on popular beliefs. At a plague in Marseilles the people associated the staying of the epidemic with devotions in honour of the Sacred Heart, and now (1720 onwards) the cult began to spread among townsmen of Provence.
Rome was again asked to approve; this time petitions came from Spain and Poland as well as Provence and the Visitation nuns. But, argued Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the cult supposes the heart to be the seat of feeling, a doubtful opinion which casts a question upon this mode of devotion. Rome (1729) refused its assent. But when Queen Marie of France, who was Polish, asked the Pope for the feast, Benedict XIV (formerly that same Cardinal Lambertini) sent her models of the Sacred Heart made of gold and silk, but still refused the application.
From Provence the cult spread into Italy. Paul Danco was one of sixteen children of minor nobility from Piedmont. He joined the Venetian army to be a crusader, but left after a few years, was confirmed at the age of twenty-five in 1719, and was clothed by his bishop in a simple black habit of no religious order. He was associated with Capuchins, and the order of Passionists which he founded had strong similarities to reformed Franciscans. His first name for his order was The Poor of Jesus. He saw a vision of the Virgin in a black tunic with the emblem of a white heart with cross above, and within the heart the words JESU PASSIO with three nails. No evidence shows a direct link between the Passionists' heart upon the robe and the development of the cult of the Sacred Heart during those years, but it is hard to think that no connection existed.
The Passionists obtained a provisional rescript from Benedict XIV in 1741. The Rule appeared in 1746. Clement XIV gave them full recognition in 1769. Their centres at first lay in Tuscany and the Papal States near the Tuscan border.
By the third quarter of the eighteenth century brotherhoods existed, in honour of the Sacred Heart, at Rome and Venice and in Tuscany. When Rezzonico became Pope as Clement XIII in 1758, he was known to have founded such confraternities in the north. The Polish bishops applied again for a feast. In 1765 the Pope granted a feast of the Sacred Heart. Not all the Catholic Church was yet clear in its mind. Though the Spanish early received the cult from France, they associated it with the Jesuits, and when they expelled the Jesuits from Spain they carefully erased from their churches all emblems of the cult. 76
The Parish Service
So many priests, on so many endowments to say mass for the souls, meant many altars in churches and many masses. These masses were not supposed to be said simultaneously but to overlap in time. In the parish church of St. Columba at Cologne the high altar had a series of masses including a chief mass or 'high mass' at 9 a.m. (Sundays 9.30 a.m.) but about twenty other masses at side-altars. On Sundays one of the masses had a sermon not at high mass, but at early sung mass, so that the sermon, which lasted one hour, was preached from 7.30 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. At 1 p.m. on Sundays they catechized children, at 3 p.m. daily they had vespers and compline but this was not a people's service. In St. Columba's at Cologne, and over most of Catholic Europe, no communion was given to the congregation at the time of communion in the mass. Communion was almost always given apart from the mass, usually after the end of the service. This arrangement aimed to keep the people in church until the end of the mass, labourers who lived afar or domestic servants or nursing mothers being unwilling or unable to remain for a distribution of the sacrament which to a big congregation might take half an hour. Cardinal Quirini of Brescia wrote pastoral letters (1742) to revive the practice of communion at the proper time of communion. Argument ensued, and Pope Benedict XIV allowed both practices.
The custom whereby men sat on one side of the church and women on the other, which was maintained in most places for most of the seventeenth century, faded during the eighteenth century at least in cities and areas not remote. Some Italian and Spanish communities had allowed women into church only if they were veiled, but this also faded. Many bishops and parish priests sought to preserve both customs, but especially the separate seating.
The atmosphere of a people's mass was not silent. Men and women moved about, freely, in and out, simple worshippers ejaculated, groaned, rocked to and fro, beat the breast, or prayed their private prayers aloud, sometimes too loud. To the horror of intellectuals who cared about an atmosphere of devotion, bags were passed to collect money. Beggars were not supposed to be inside the church, their place was the porch or the steps outside. In Vienna beadles patrolled the churches, parts of Germany and Belgium almost managed to maintain this discipline. But keeping out beggars was far from easy, and kindly worshippers disliked rejecting them in a sacred place; so they might harass penitents who queued for a turn in the confessional, or communicants who moved towards the altar; and their importunate laments added to the noise and the distractions of prayer. Dogs followed masters or mistresses into church and made messes and noises, though the poor at the porch were supposed to keep them out. Boys were inclined to be noisy, lovers inclined to use their eyes, babies were discouraged but still came. In one Italian diocese parents who brought babies under two years old into church were excommunicated. In many towns and villages young men showed pertinacious reluctance in preferring not to enter church but to hear mass crowded in the porch. This was especially common in country villages.
To go to confession as often as once a month was thought by the eighteenth century to be abnormally frequent. The evidence, not from statistics but from eye-witnesses of queues, suggests that women went to confession more frequently than men.
Spitting in church was not uncommon. In Padua diocese they provided that a spittoon should be placed on the steps of the altar, and cleaned eight times in the day. This was partly caused by chewing tobacco, which some people took to masticate and others as snuff. Authority continued to be against all forms of tobacco in church but succeeded in preventing it only as smoke. Even celebrating priests could be observed to take snuff, and were not thought irreverent by the people, only by priests who cared for clean linen.
In a crowded city church a man of property needed to beware. Dr Burney, when he visited Italy to study its church music, suffered too often from pickpockets in church. He was a foreigner and easier prey. Yet Italian confessors at a monthly meeting needed to argue whether a thief who stole a handbag from a worshipper who was rapt in prayer committed only the sin of theft or also the sin of sacrilege. 77
Where the choir gave no musical rendering, the people joined in singing the Nicene creed. This and the Lord's Prayer were the only parts of the liturgy where in a majority of churches people joined with priests. (At catechism children were taught to recite in Latin the Apostles' Creed, Our Father, and Hail Mary). Muratori provided a vernacular Italian translation of all the mass, not because he expected mass in the vernacular (though he hoped for readings of Scripture in the vernacular) but as a way of enabling the people to become a congregation. 78 Other such aids to worship existed, but no evidence suggests that they were common until south German Catholics made them common towards the end of the century.
Besides the clergy, the verger (or sacristan, or sexton, or caretaker) was an important officer. He was usually responsible for keeping the registers of baptisms, marriages, or deaths, and the inventory of vessels and vestments. In various churches he was elected by the parishioners, though canon law ordered the priest to choose. His election was celebrated with the ringing of church bells, and for loss of church property he might be fined. He knew the people, sometimes better than the priests, and could therefore be useful to a city council and in his function as registrar give information about statistics. Exceptional vergers might be found—the verger at the sanctuary of the Madonna of the Oak in southern Holland was a member of the Franciscan third order who won such name for his way of life that others wanted to join, and he founded a little order called The Penitent Little Brothers of St. Francis. The bishop moved the community to another sanctuary where they made a contract with the rector (1723) to maintain their verger's house and look after the garden, serve at mass and train boys to serve, provide bread for the sacrament, and generally keep the church in good order; while joining in the hours of prayer and often receiving the sacrament. Finally they started to keep a school because Catholics found schooling hard in Protestant Holland. 79
A country priest still had to think what to do about the old rule that no one could bring weapons into church. In Italy and Spain the rule was disregarded because sword and dagger were part of costume and in certain regions insignia of rank. But countrymen, if they travelled far to church, took with them guns and brought them into the nave because it felt as natural as bringing in a hat. Bishops minded little about swords and daggers because they accepted the fashion of the age but did all they could to be rid of firearms. They might seek to persuade the parish priest to find somewhere, if necessary in the ground-floor room of his vicarage or his veranda, where artillery could be put during time of service.
The squire in a country parish often had his rights in church, a special seat or pew, his coat of arms and//or motto, a window from his private apartment looking into the altar. In north Italy these private windows were often found. Authority disliked them. A rich man who built a church was known to include his window in the plan, and then won a form of founder's privilege by his generosity. But if more than one family of squires lived in the parish this caused faction. The Bishop of Mantua, in trouble with two noblemen over the privilege of a window, referred his trouble (1726) to Rome and was ordered not to allow the window. 80 Southern noblemen also tried to get thrones in the choir, for it needed a series of decisions to keep them where they belonged. But if outside the choir, the seat might lawfully be 'elevated' and nothing could stop peasants making genuflections in that direction. Some noblemen wanted the throne to be grand like a bishop's so that they sat under a canopy, and this dignity also had to be banned.
The Sunday School
Parents were liable to punishment if they failed to bring a newborn child to baptism within a few days. (A just comparison is with states of the twentieth century which exact penalties from parents who fail to register a new birth within a few days or weeks.) They must choose a Christian name, that is a name in the calendar of saints; not a name like Diana. Authority discussed whether to allow, but finally consented, when a squire of historic family wanted to revive an old family-name not in the calendar.
After mass the boys and girls of a parish went to church to be instructed in 'Christian doctrine' or 'catechism' as the exercise was indifferently known. Early in the century two or three boys used to run through the streets of an Italian city ringing handbells to remind families, but the custom faded or lapsed. Attendance was regarded as compulsory for any boy or girl aged between seven and fifteen inclusive. The parish priest was ordered to keep a register of those who ought to attend, and to mark them off when they came. He was permitted to keep them after the age of fifteen if they wished or he thought it needful; but the commonest attendants over the age of fifteen were parents who felt themselves as ignorant as their children or who refused to let small boys or girls come alone.
That attendance was not universal is easily proved by the anxieties and arguments on modes of persuading parents to do their duty. Priests were exhorted to exhort parents 'constantly' from the pulpit. Confessors were told to ask parents in the confessional whether they always sent their children to catechism. Schoolmasters were ordered to keep their lists of children who ought to be present.
In the early part of the century, at least in some towns, boys and girls met at a chapel, formed two processions divided by sex, and marched to Sunday school, greeted at the church porch by the parish priest. This custom also lapsed or faded. The clergy used lay assistants to teach and tried to keep the classes to small numbers, if possible not more than ten. In certain towns parishes reached an agreement whereby boys went to a Sunday school at one central church, girls to another. But this arrangement displeased bishops and others who cared about the parish system. Canon lawyers were known to lay it down that every parish priest was bound to teach his children, and that the law was not obeyed by central Sunday schools at separate churches.
An adult who was not mentally deficient and who did not live in remote country, and yet could not say the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments was regarded as guilty of grave sin. Most adults allowed priests small occasion to know whether they could say the Ten Commandments. But sometimes they were asked in the confessional and then could not dodge, and might be sent away to learn the words. A town priest who in his confessional invariably asked all persons, whatever their education or social class, whether they knew the Ten Commandments was regarded by experts as rash and imprudent. 81
What catechism should be used was not quite agreed, and became slowly more controversial. Germany and Austria normally used a form of the famous catechism written by St. Peter Canisius in the Counter-Reformation. The official catechism approved by Rome, especially from 1726, was that written by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, also in the Counter-Reformation.
But the French, divided into Jesuits versus Jansenists, used various catechisms. And since the catechisms of the Counter-Reformation looked dated, and Italian priests yearned for something simpler, more pastoral, more devotional, and sometimes more Biblical, French catechisms began to be used in Italian churches. By the sixties of the eighteenth century the parish question 'Which catechism?' was an issue in high ecclesiastical politics.
The rite of confirmation was supposed to be administered every year in the see town and at time of visitation in the country. It was held in the morning early, candidates and bishop fasting, males sitting separate from females, godparents present if possible. Children must be not less than seven years old, and were expected to be between seven and twelve, and must know the Lord's Prayer, Apostles' Creed, Ten Commandments, Hail Mary, sign of the cross, and the act of contrition—they might know more because they were expected to go to catechism on Sundays. In outlying parts like the Maremma, where bishops were seldom seen, parents were even allowed to bring babies to confirmation. Since visitations happened less often than the rules expected, they were crowded when they happened, and were noisy irreverent tumultuous affairs. In the country many children could grow into adults without receiving the sacrament.
If an adult was confirmed he must first go to confession. This was not a rule for the children everywhere, but was usually treated like a rule. When the candidate was confirmed, his godparent (in many places) laid his hand on his shoulder as the rite was performed. The candidate must carry a certificate from his parish priest, and a clean white bandage which was tied round his head after the anointing, and which he was not supposed to remove for four hours so that the chrism could dry. Authority took trouble to see that children came with brushed hair and not barefoot in tattered clothes. They also took precautions against ostentatious clothes. The candidate was allowed to change his legal name at confirmation. The change was recorded in the parish priest's confirmation register. 82
Despite all these provisions, confirmation was not usually a profound moment in the lives of boys or girls or their families. The first communion was much more ceremonious, more moving, and an important feast within the family.
One Spanish boy's Sunday in Seville towards the end of the eighteenth century ran thus: before breakfast he went to the Oratorian chapel for confession and communion. He arrived at 6 a.m. in summer and 7 a.m. in winter. The church was full, with queues at some ten confessional boxes, and he needed to wait half an hour in his queue, kneeling uncomfortably. Immediately after confession he went to a priest in a stole to receive communion, given every five minutes to any persons who had finished confession, without any liturgy. Then he heard a mass celebrated at one of the side-altars, thence home to breakfast. The morning he spent with other boys, or even at books, after dinner he played the violin for the Oratorians' orchestra in the gallery of the church, where music was excellent, and therefore he listened during the afternoon to an hour's sermon. This musical part of Sunday, unlike the early morning, gave the boy much pleasure. Then he went out for a walk with other boys whom he met at church. 83
The common people hardly found the centre of devotion in the rite of communion. Mass was a spectacle, which baroque taste made ever more dramatic and colourful; and, for prayer, they accompanied the rite with personal devotions, private prayer book (if they could read), rosary, lighting of candles, devotion to picture or statue or crib. In Catholic parts of Germany flourished the most congregational of these side-devotions at mass, the German hymn.
The later Middle Ages knew German hymns as well as Latin, and macaronic verse, hymns of mixed language. From this source Protestants, searching for congregational ways of devotion, adapted their most fruitful innovation in Christian worship. The Lutheran hymnody which stamped Protestant Germany and was both beloved and an evident aid to worship, could not but attract pastors in Catholic Germany. The Counter-Reformation was a time when the German Catholic hymn flowered. The first diocesan hymnbook was approved in 1756 for the diocese of Bamberg. The hymns were intended (like early Protestant hymns) for private devotion in the home; and for processions, pilgrimages, special services, devotions of brotherhoods; but also, at least in some places, accompanying mass at its beginning or before and after sermon. German village churches, which could not provide singers for high mass, started to use hymns as music for mass without choir. In atmosphere, however, hymns were no integral part of mass. They were songs of special devotion which when they came into church did not quite acquire the Protestant status of integration into the liturgy, but still were a form of private devotion.
Because their origin was popular, they were not chosen for good taste.
They were private lyrics, emotional, stark, individual, even at times comic. The best English parallel in tone would be a more fey group of Christmas carols. Here is an example (1657) from one of the few true poets among the authors:
O Love, who formedst me to wear
The image of thy Godhead here;
Who soughtest me with tender care
Through all my wanderings wild and drear:
O Love, I give myself to thee,
Thine ever, only thine to be. 84
Here is a later example which gave most offence to Catholic critics of taste:
In whom I trust
I salute Thee with my heart
Sweet Jesus. 85
In this way the hymn, still bearing its stamp of personal and individual prayer, was not adapted to mass or integrated into mass. It remained like the rosary, though more congregational than the rosary, personal prayer during or outside mass.
Catholics in areas of mixed religion well knew the Protestant use of hymns. That knowledge led to diverse attitudes. Educated Catholics often wanted to make their hymnody congregational, adapt it more fully to mass, and be prepared to use the best of Protestant words and tunes. Villagers, faced with a proposal, or an order, that they should sing German hymns or even new hymns, could be suspicious: 'They want to turn us into Lutherans.' In towns the change was easier. When a Cologne choir started German hymns (1730) a lady in the congregation appealed to the Jesuit superior, then the mayor, and finally the archbishop. The choir said that their innovation stopped the incoming of Lutheran hymns, and got their way. 86
During the last three decades of the eighteenth century the German Catholic Enlightenment made a serious effort to reform hymnbooks. They purged archaisms, lessened the mystical, drove out the fey, increased moral teaching, tried to make hymns congregational. In these same decades Protestant reformers attempted precisely the same with Protestant hymnbooks, that effort which the Protestant nineteenth century later ridiculed as prosy, rationalistic, Christianity and water. As Catholic reformers found it not easy to see the virtues in simplicity or emotionalisms they sometimes fell into equal traps of style and taste. Here is the same verse in two editions, divided only by twenty-three years:
The second author was a priest working in the Protestant city of Nuremberg and ready to use Protestant phrases or hymns. 87 The 1777 version was much the more successful in Catholic dioceses. Some new hymnbooks stank more of the study than of the people's mind.
This series of new books met various fates. In many parishes they were quietly and successfully introduced. Wise bishops were careful not to force new hymnbooks upon parishes which did not want them, but allowed their use if parishes wished. Unwise efforts to enforce new hymnbooks could—as in Protestant churches during that age—be met by murmuring, catcalls, or rebellious counter-singing. In Mainz (1787) a new hymnbook, which contained no Protestant hymns, was numbered and arranged in columns like a Protestant hymnbook. In a few towns, especially Rüdesheim, the resulting battle between pastor and people led to violence and the arrival of police.
This émeute at Mainz made other bishops prudent. The enlightened Bishop Fechenbach of Würzburg was asked (1802) whether they might use hymns of Protestant origin. He replied: 'On both sides old prejudice has not yet faded. A book which printed Catholic and Protestant hymns indiscriminately would very easily offend; would divide people from priest, make them indifferent to worship, and on the whole cause more evil than good.' 88 Such a remark, and indeed the entire history of these attempts to reform Catholic hymnody, proves more conclusively than any other evidence the depth of affection which hymns of the Counter-Reformation had already won among the Catholic population of Germany.
Nevertheless, the attempt to reform was not vain. These hymnbooks offended a later romantic Germany. But they took a long stride in turning the hymn from private aspiration into part of public liturgy; and thereby were important in making the mass more congregational and so more plainly central to a people's devotion.
A difference between northern Catholic Europe and southern lay in the reading of the Bible in translation instead of Latin. Literate Frenchmen and Germans and Poles could easily buy French or German or Polish translations. Literate Italians, Spaniards, and Portuguese could not. Some translations were banned because they were Protestant, some because they were Jansenist. The bull Unigenitus of 1713 condemned the proposition 'the reading of the Bible is for everyone' and the proposition 'Sunday should be kept holy by reading good books especially the Bible—it is damnable to want to stop a Christian from such reading' (propositions 80 and 82). But in the north laymen with enough money could easily buy translations and use them for devotions. This is not to say that the practice was yet widespread. Very few seminarists possessed a copy even of the Latin Bible. The university press at Ingolstadt possessed no Hebrew letters though it was 300 years old. The number of hours devoted to Biblical study by ordinands declined before the needs of other subjects (in the Augsburg diocese: 1609, three hours a week; 1691, two hours; 1713, one hour).
Since the Counter-Reformation the Roman Catholic Church as a whole had no conscious with to discourage the study of the Scriptures by persons capable of study. But persons capable of study could (and on the whole should) use the Latin.
The difference between north and south arose partly because popular education was more advanced in the north; and partly because in Spain, Portugal, and central and southern Italy censorship was more effective. But the chief cause was the indirect influence of Martin Luther. If German Catholics were not given a German translation by a Catholic, some of them would find another. Pious Catholic laymen wanted to understand the Bible, and the Church refused to deny them that chance.
Those who disliked Bible-reading—except by Latinists in the Vulgate version—saw an illiterate people and had no wish to place in their hands a book which they could not understand. They inherited a tradition from the Counter-Reformation which refused to appeal against Church to Bible, and was content to accept the Scriptures so far as the Church presented them to the faithful people, and stood in line of the terrifying 1559 Index which prohibited the printing or ownership of all vernacular translations without leave of the Inquisition. Pope Pius IV (1564) amended this rule, so that permission could be granted by bishop or Inquisition on the advice of the priest of a would-be reader. Clement VIII (1596) made the bishop's leave depend on Pope or Inquisition; and this was till 1757 the law of the Church. Northern Catholic Europe paid small attention to this law.
Early in the eighteenth century an Italian traveller crossed the Alps into the Tyrol and, going to mass, was astonished and gladdened to hear the priest first sing the Latin epistle and gospel from the altar, and then come forward to the chancel steps and read the same epistle and gospel in a German translation. The traveller wished that Italian churches could follow the same custom. 89 All the century this habit spread in France and Germany. And in the fifties it began to spread southward. In a meeting of clergy held in 1755 the Bishop of Campagna in south Italy told them that all the evils of the church came from too little attention to the Bible, and recommended them to buy a New Testament, and especially to study the Epistles of St. Paul with the Commentary of the Frenchman Natalis Alexander. But the bishop had leanings towards Jansenism. The leading Jansenist in Rome, Giovanni Bottari, wrote a paper, never yet printed, in favour of the reading of Scripture in the vernacular. 90
Since law badly observed was likely to be bad law, Pope Benedict XIV considered change. Perhaps the decree was not due to him (for in his last two years he was so gouty as to be hardly capable of work) but to men whom he chose for their liberal outlook. On 13 June 1757, the Holy Office allowed translations of the Bible to be printed and owned if they were approved by Rome or furnished with Catholic notes. Henceforth, anyone was free to buy or use a Bible in his own language provided the version was approved by authority.
Southward spread of the use of Bible in translation was slow, because the approval of authority was not easy to get. Under Pope Clement XIV a Turin translation of 1769 was freely sold in the Rome bookshops. Antonio Martini undertook a translation of the whole Bible into Italian—New Testament 1769-71, Old Testament 1776-81. The Italian version was printed in parallel columns with the Latin. He justified his work by appealing to the 1757 decree. Rome never gave this Italian translation its formal blessing. But Pope Pius VI (17 March 1778) sent Martini a letter in language remarkable in the light of past history:
You believe that Christian people are much to be encouraged to read the Bible. It is an excellent opinion. The Holy Scriptures are like springs of water that bring life to the soul, and their use ought to drive away errors widespread in this corrupt age, and show the way of truth and righteousness.
Some people said that this letter of the Pope was heretical, and should be censored by the Inquisition. But the Pope did not object when Tuscany made Martini (1781) Archbishop of Florence.
The first Catholic translation into Portuguese began to appear in the year of this letter of Pius VI; the first Spanish translation by a Catholic not until twelve years later. On 26 December 1789 the Spanish Inquisition suppressed the decree of the Index which banned the reading of the Bible. It allowed vernacular translations if approved by the See of Rome and published by Catholic authors with commentaries from the fathers or approved doctors. If these conditions were not fulfilled, the ban remained. But in the last decade of the eighteenth century Spanish churchmen paid less heed to the rules of the Inquisition.
That Bibles could be bought does not prove that men read Bibles. Even the New Testament alone was bulky in its two languages and if a man wanted a pocket Bible he must still go to one of the Protestant translations. It took another century and more before a Pope (1893) recommended the faithful to read the Bible with more attention and freedom, and in consequence the Naples edition of Martini's St. Matthew was brought out at a cost of 25 cents. But the publishing record shows how the habit grew. By 1800 there were seventy-one different vernacular translations.
Those who taught priests in seminaries began before the end of the century to show their pupils how they should foster the reading of the Bible among their parishioners; but only in some seminaries, and among men of open mind like Johann Michael Sailer, for many priests continued to think the private reading of the Bible useless if not harmful. Even Sailer wanted only the New Testament to be placed in the hands of the people and thought the Old Testament too abstruse to be safe for popular reading. Among superstitious and illiterate Protestants the Bible was used like an amulet, to be put in the cradle of a new baby or laid upon the head of the sick. Such practices were hardly found in Catholic countries, even though Biblical mottoes were used as charms, and when the Catholic priest of south Germany wanted to ward off damage from a storm, he might still come before the people and recite the first verses of the four gospels to the four points of the compass. 91
Art and architecture follow their laws, and the traditions of the schools. But they must speak to the mood of their generation, or lead their generation towards new ideas so far as such fresh inspiration is consistent with the wishes of clients who control commissions and employment. Therefore the art of an age, so far as it appeared in churches, made a rough guide not only to the aesthetic mood for the artist, but to the religious expectations of his employers.
Through all the middle years of the seventeenth century Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) ruled the architecture and statuary in papal Rome. To this day, despite ancient excavation and high modern flats, the Rome which gives the city its enchantment is the Rome of Bernini and of his successors in the first half of the eighteenth century. Roman art moved away from the austerity of the Counter-Reformation. The Council of Trent wanted reality, a bleeding Christ, ugly and lacerated. The fathers wished to strip the truth of its idealized beauty, and its acceptance in the world of the Renaissance, and show it naked and shocking. The ending of the wars of religion brought a mellower mood. The artists did not turn their backs upon truth. In the age of high baroque, as in any age of art, we find much that is insincere or is conventional. But the best men realized that artistic truth sought to portray not just reality seen by the naked eye, but the emotion which it evoked. They tried to bring an immediacy of act and feeling into the mind of the beholder.
Therefore they must portray movement. Bernini and his contemporaries subtly developed the use to this end of colour and garments. Flowing drapery upon statues was used to bring life to the figures, colour direct or indirect was used to heighten contrasts and elicit feeling. Though they sought to portray emotional moments, their work was not emotional in the way of excess or sentimentality. This art was one of the strongest in the Christian centuries. The emotion which they sought to show was intelligent; an uplifting of the worshipping mind towards mysteries beyond the objects which the eye could see; to group or frame statues or church ornaments so that they pointed towards a reality not themselves. The bodies of statues grew more slender, the folds of their garments more abundant and tumultuous, the saints more agonized or more exalted, the touch of guardian angels more delicate and kindly, the flight of cherubim and seraphim more restless. Bernini used light in a more direct way; no longer a tranquil background of colours but a sudden illumination, a vision of the moment. When he applied (1645-52) this technique to a chapel like the Cornaro chapel in the church of St. Mary of the Victory, the 'effects' reached their climax—above the altar St. Theresa entranced in her ecstasy, half-conscious but clothed in a robe of such turbulence as to make her experience felt as alive, and touched by the gentlest of boy angels with his arrow: and rays of light shining down upon her from the magnificent gilded canopy of the altarpiece, while aloft in the vault the heavens open, angels push clouds to left and right, and through the space of light falls the blessing of the spirit-dove as though inspiring from on high the ecstasy below by the altar.
Bernini has been said to be the first artist who sought to unite in a whole the painting, the sculpture, and the structure of the building. 92 Between 1656 and 1667 he built the greatest of his works, the piazza of St. Peter's. He designed a square to embrace 100,000 or more pilgrims before the steps of the basilica, to receive a Pope's blessing; surrounded by colonnades to protect processions or pilgrims from heat and rain, but not so high as to prevent a blessing Pope from being seen by all the crowd; incorporating the old entry to the papal palace and the royal staircase. He himself imagined the arms of the colonnades to be like the arms of Mother Church reaching out to embrace her children. At first he meant to enclose the whole piazza with the colonnade. But his patron Pope Alexander VII died, and the last arm of the colonnade was never built. No church was ever given a more beautiful forecourt than the piazza of St. Peter's. Those with memories claimed that it was more beautiful still before the improvers of the twentieth century pulled down the buildings of the Borgo to make a wide road to the Tiber, for in former days men had the gay surprise of coming out into the piazza from an overcrowded cluster of little streets and houses.
One mark of high baroque was the fresco in the domes of churches. Rome and Italy began early in the seventeenth century but the habit became common only during the later seventeenth century. The biggest of all such frescoes were those painted by Father Pozzo in St. Ignazio (1691-4) and by Gaulli in the Gesù (1672-82); both Jesuit churches. These frescoes showed a momentous component in the baroque sense of movement. The artists began to avoid, or at least to seem to avoid, pattern or regularity.
Cherubim were sprinkled over the vaults as if haphazardly, angels flew in no formation, individual freedom was used to bring excitement into the ornaments of the church, the eye can find no centre and nowhere to rest, each casual figure is seen for itself and yet as part of a whole which is not just the vault on which it is painted but the whole church interior. This individuality had extraordinary consequences in the rococo churches of Catholic Germany.
The course of the Counter-Reformation opened south Germany to a strong influence of Spanish and Italian culture. Before 1700 Spanish influence disappeared. But the Italian grew stronger than ever before. Until after 1700 all the leading builders of churches in Bavaria and Austria were Italians. As German architects developed their own schools of baroque and rococo, they leaned upon Italian models, though the best of them quickly transformed the style into a unique and independent mode which became one of the wonders of church architecture. In secular building French models became the fashion; in religious building Italian, especially Roman, models remained dominant.
In south-German lands the people's religious interests entered. The time when princes or prince-bishops built noble churches was passing. The only cathedral to be made new in these decades was Salzburg, though baroque modes of restoration were introduced, not without incongruity, into cathedrals like Passau, Freising, and Würzburg. Prince-bishops won more fame by building palaces.
But in the parishes, religious houses, and pilgrimage churches, a wave of church restoration swept over Bavaria and Austria (it was less marked in the Catholic Rhineland, less marked in city parish churches than in the countryside).
According to one estimate of Italian building during the whole eighteenth century, some 2,000 churches, oratories, and palaces were built in the single Italian province of Treviso. 93
How money was provided for these labours is still not clear to history.
It is certain that the Catholic south preserved less of the medieval inheritance, in church interiors and exteriors, than the Protestant north; for the Reformation appropriated endowments to other uses, while the Counter-Reformation sought to preserve old endowments intact. The existence of these endowments made possible the wave of church building and restoration which was in some part, though probably not a large part, caused by the destructions of the Thirty Years War, and economic depression in the decades which followed.
Several churches were beautifully restored as pilgrimage churches. These were characteristic of the devotion of the people. They were not parish churches; often lay distant in the woods; had money from the offerings of the numerous pilgrims; provided exceptional and tremendous services for special days or occasions, pulpit occupied by a passionate mission-preacher. Sometimes like Einsiedeln in Switzerland they lay under the protection or patronage of an abbey, and the abbot used his endowments and his knowledge of architects to help the people and the peoples' money to a rich restoration or construction.
The way in which these south-German churches were restored throws light upon the worshipping ideals of the generation.
The church interior must be a unity. It was no longer a place where a congregation could stand passive in the nave while behind a screen priests and choir conducted prayers. There was no separation, no division from the choir, no long chancel which kept the high altar away from the people. This was partly because they wanted the church to show the community of all Christian people; partly because the dramatic, theatrical effect of what went on in popular liturgies made the church floor feel almost like a stage set for divine drama; and partly because the missionary revivalist preacher must be able to feel the people about him and his voice must reach to the furthest corner. All the late baroque and rococo churches have a large dominant space in the centre, with side-chapels between the pillars but with nothing to distract attention from the openness of the centre and its all-embracing quality as focus. The pulpit was given amazing new ornamentation. To emphasize the importance of preaching the word, the way up to the pulpit was often concealed by a door in the pillar or a stair hidden from the congregation so that the preacher appeared without warning. As he stood in the pulpit, he was surrounded with ornaments round the woodwork, and above his head the sounding-board, sometimes in two or three tiers of cherubim. At Irsee monastery the pulpit of 1725 was made in the shape of a ship, with St. Michael as its figure head, and the preacher spoke from the bows, while above the sounding-board the sails were set; the staircase was hidden behind the pillar in such a way as to make the pulpit float in space. Likewise the high altars were magnificent with ornaments or statues (usually with halos), and like the preacher in his pulpit were felt not to be remote. In the Austrian pilgrimage church of Mariazell a silver Christ looked as if he floated in the air above the altar. 94
In many rococo churches ornaments could emphasize the office of preaching by seeming to give weight to the pulpit. But another kind of rococo pulpit is unique in Christian history: the pulpit so light in seeming construction that it floats, near the angels and saints. The marvellous example of these airy pulpits was made by an unknown woodworker for the little country church of St. Johann in Oppolding, (south Germany), so delicate and fanciful in its scrolls and curves, cherubs and flowering roses, with the divine but quite domestic dove lighting from above the mind of the preacher. The utility of the rostrum, in elevating a speaker so that he and his audience could see and hear, almost disappeared before the desire to show the preacher as lifted by his office towards God. Such light and airy pulpits were imitated, though less simply, in certain churches of Latin America, the church of Popayán in Colombia, or at Jujuy in the Argentine. 95 At Popayán the pulpit was made to look like a chalice, its sounding-board the chalice lid with masks and urns, and the preacher looked to be sustained by little pilasters which rested upon the heads of cherubs. The stair to the pulpit at Jujuy has angels ascending and descending in Jacob's dream, and above the preacher's head a winged angel summoned the congregation with a blast upon his trumpet.
This rejection of remoteness sometimes tamed reality. The crucifix stood upon the altar, or hung from the rood. But in the late baroque it looked at home, horror vanished, the cross was taken up into glory. The aristocratic tranquillity of a pre-revolutionary world was reflected in the mellow colour of church interiors.
Into this wide central space under its dome shone light. The awe of rococo churches was achieved by their use of light. In making a home for worship, builders may decide, like the builders of Chartres cathedral, that they need darkness to set the little rays of light which are all that is given to a fallen world. On this view the sense of awe and devotion cannot be helped by too much openness, by excess of illumination, by glare; but rather by shafts of light coming down upon the worshipper in his privacy. Bernini and the baroque masters had not quite abandoned this doctrine. They still used subtle contrasts of darkness with light, to provide a general indirect light which made the church less shadowy than a Gothic church but still fostered a sense of mystery.
Late-baroque and rococo artists wanted light, almost dazzling light. It was the age of the last of the great Venetian painters, Tiepolo, whose genius lay in the use of this transparent light. They still used contrasts to set off the light, especially at the altar which with all its ornaments was usually kept dark and therefore prominent amid the diffusion of light. But he who enters a rococo church can be overwhelmed by brightness, white walls, white light from the windows, filling the open space under the dome. Sometimes they concealed the windows to give mystery to the incoming light. But this light was intended to suggest glory, the wonder of heaven, the vision of the divine. Silver rays pointed down at the altar, shiny surfaces glinted, there was occasional use of tricks, like mirrors in the roof to pick up reflexions. On a sunny day this brightness could startle the worshipper as he entered.
A large central space, and whiteness, and lightness, could be hard, or cold, or glaring. No dark corner remained, and if they left the church so bare they would banish mystery. From this danger they protected themselves by the most extraordinary use of colour and shapes known in the Christian centuries. Stucco made this possible. Fine and easy to work, it could model reliefs freely, of every shape and size. Though architects used it in Roman times, Gothic builders of the Middle Ages discarded it, and when Raphael started again to fashion ornaments in stucco, he made conscious revival. In baroque art came its full flowering. Bernini and Borromini were masters of the craft: as may be seen in Borromini's decoration of the church of St. John Lateran. The need created Italian schools called plasticatori or modellers in stucco. The medium was so light and easy that it afforded infinite variety in ornamenting walls. The decorator in stucco could create on the walls of his church every flower in the encyclopedia, every animal known to the zoologists.
This use of stucco reached its zenith in the rococo churches of south-German Catholicism. They needed shapes, lines, figures, excitement, to contrast with the austere whiteness and prevent it becoming harsh. By multitudinous colour and shape they brought back the sense of mystery which light alone would banish. Pillars and capitals, pulpit and altar, walls and ceilings, were covered in grapes or foliage, lozenges or escutcheons, crowns and mitres, inlay of jewels, fawns and flying creatures, angels garlanded with roses. The material allowed a large object to be supported on very little; and therefore they could deepen the sensation of airiness by making objects look as though they flew without support—angels by a pillar, cherubim peering down at an altar. In Rohr (Austria) the Blessed Virgin flies through the air at the east end, sustained only by an iron prop hidden in a cloud and by a near-by angel. The rococo artists gave the worshippers a sense of the nearness of heaven by seeming to set at nought the laws of gravity. 96
They followed the Italian school, in not leaving any focal point at which the eye could rest. Ornaments were scattered with what looked like abandon. No strict pattern must be apparent. Gaiety and exuberance were friends of charming disorder. In a magnificent building like the abbey of Ottobeuren, the richest rococo church in Germany (1737 onwards) the white marble space could still be so dominant as to have the feeling of austerity. In a pilgrimage church like the Wieskirche, built far out in the woods by a local abbot and the piety of peasants between 1746 and 1757, blood-red pillars set off such a host of other patterns and colours that the church was later christened 'the dance floor of God.'
These Catholic rococo churches introduced the worshipper to the symbols of Paradise. They were far from the south-Italian missioner lashing with his scourge in the pulpit. For all their exuberance and vitality, they were tranquil. The vileness of the world was put out of sight. The blood-red pillars of Wieskirche were symbolic, for it was the pilgrimage church of Christ's scourging. But the blood-red colour lost its ferocity, as though the cruelty of whips was forgotten before the redemption to which they led. Angels smile, cherubs are childlike in affection, the Blessed Mary shows her loving nature upon her countenance.
In Spain and Portugal bright sunlight made this dazzling use of rococo impracticable. Spanish rococo workers, though influenced by Bernini and Borromini, drew as much from France as from Italy. The art was more aristocratic; less popular in its feeling. The Spanish contribution was the development of the high altar. Ever since Bernini erected a baldachino canopy over the altar of St. Peter's in Rome, the baldachino became always commoner and in later baroque churches it was almost a rule. The Spanish built up the high altar further, with twisted columns and a mass of gilt and extraordinary shapes. In the Transparente chapel at Toledo cathedral (1721-32) Narciso Tomé 97 played a charming rococo game with the beholder, seeming to rest the heavy and fantastically ornamental super-structure above the altar upon the light figures of two angels kneeling reverently at each side of the altar. Above the altar is an intricate disorder of archangels and clouds, cherubim and divine rays, swooping and mingling; and the eye goes to an alabaster Last Supper, and then to a vision of the Virgin, and still higher to the virtues, and then into the Biblical scenes painted in the frescoes on the vault. Tomé's meaning could not be mistaken. He sought to show the Lord's Supper as the way to the open gates of heaven far above; and all the company of heaven comes down to rejoice in the sacrament of the altar.
Though later Catholic writers condemned these rococo altars, part altar and part reredos, as luxurious clutter hiding the simplicity of an altar, suitable for museums or art galleries but not churches, they remain an achievement of Christian architecture. The high altar in San Martin Pinario at Santiago de Compostella (1733), the novitiate altar at St. Luis in Seville (1730), were but two outstanding representatives of a type to be found in many places in Spain and Portugal and Latin America. They were art for the people's heart as well as for the connoisseur's sensibility.
The Counter-Reformation, puritanical in its attitude to art, demanded simplicity in music. This attitude was canonized. Church music must follow the simplicity of plainsong. Palestrina, who was in charge of the papal chapel during the later Counter-Reformation, showed how this simplicity could be made beautiful and not monotonous by the colouring of its tone and its purity. For Palestrina's successors this form of church music was the received tradition. Anyone who introduced variety or modern harmonies must overcome the feeling that he departed from the authentic custom of the Catholic Church, and was usually accused of introducing secularity where it was unfitting.
Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Catholic music made inroads upon this tradition dominated by Palestrina. But it remained at the base of Catholic church music. An English visitor to Flanders in 1772, Dr Burney, noticed how the singing of the people, at their work or in the streets, carried the hint of the plain chant, because this was the music on which they were nourished at church. In south Germany and Austria many choirs would only allow this type of music at the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. In Italy visitors commented on the musical taste of peasants. The reason was believed to be, that they heard so much plainsong performed, however ill, that they had a yardstick by which to judge more elaborate musical performances. 'It seems', wrote that excellent judge Dr Burney as he studied the music of Vienna, 'as if the national music of a country was good or bad, in proportion to that of its church services, which may account for the taste of the common people of Italy.' Town churches provided the equivalent of free concerts, some of high quality, two or three times a week (depending on the incidence of saints' days). At Bologna (24 August 1770) an itinerant band stopped under the window of Burney's lodging to greet the visitor with a serenade. 'Twas the best I had heard here. However the music of the churches here, which the common people hear every day, is a good school for them and enables them all to sing with taste and expression of the right sort.' Elsewhere he heard a couple of peasants who said to each other in the middle of a mass, 'This music is execrable' and decided to leave. Dr Burney approved their discrimination. At one of the Naples churches where choir schools took turns to sing, members of the congregation hastily left when they discovered that on that day it was the turn of an ill-favoured school. 98
For Palestrina's followers lived in a world of musical revolution, the flowering of European music which led to Bach and Handel and Haydn. Until 1600 church music was the guide to music outside church. After 1600 church music looked conservative while music outside church was free to experiment; and therefore music played at concerts or operas affected taste and so changed the atmosphere of music at mass and other services of the church. All through the seventeenth century, though more quickly during its second half, the new methods and variety began to appear in church—anthems, motets, Passion narratives, Magnificat, Te Deum, even the mass. Choirs were moved away from the altar into galleries or organ lofts.
Composers wrote for two or four (on a few grand occasions even twelve) choirs, carrying the idea of antiphonal singing to its limit and producing sounds which might be rich and luxuriant but could also be over-complex manoeuvres. The oratorio, introduced by St. Philip Neri in the sixteenth century, and really a concert of music using sacred words and performed in church, grew ever more common and popular, until after 1700 it became one of the frequent uses of any Italian city church with a famous choir.
Conservatives, and sometimes men who were not conservative but cared about religious worship, fought a losing battle against these innovations. They disliked the use of churches as concert halls; offered a burlesque derivation of the word oratorio—'oratorio a non orando' ('a performance of prayerful music is so-called because no one prays'); declared that the new music was profane or theatrical, or operatic, or even sensual; used the many bombastic efforts by second-rate composers to show how empty and ridiculous was the novelty; and persuaded Popes and synods to stop the trend by authority. As early as 1643 99 Pope Urban VIII condemned a state of affairs when the mass was for music instead of music for the mass. A succession of decrees condemned the singing of words in church that were not the words of the liturgy or the Bible—and still the composers found lovely emotional moments in the lives of the saints, which they used increasingly. A Roman Congregation (1665) tried to ban solos in church, a provincial council at Avignon (1725) tried to ban the singing of carols in church at Christmas, Pope Benedict XIV (1742) even recalled the Catholic Church to the rules of the Council of Trent.
The people—especially the people of Italy—were too strong for authority. They wanted to hear in church the kind of music that they learnt to love, their ears were no longer attuned to the strictness and austerity of a Palestrina. And the composers no longer wrote music exclusively for performance in church. Even the lesser men, and beginners, might be in the predicament that they could not make a living in church alone. Young Haydn kept himself from starving in Vienna by playing first violin at the 8 o'clock mass in the chapel of the Brothers of Mercy; then going to a nobleman's chapel at 10 o'clock to play the organ; then hurrying to sing in the cathedral choir at 11—and on weekdays he gave piano lessons and tried to sell sonatas. Not the church fees but one of the sonatas enabled him to buy a decent suit of clothes. In Italy money began to be in opera. Bernardo Pasquini who was organist at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome till his death in 1710 was also pianist at the Capranica theatre. When the composer wrote both for opera and for church, he might divide himself and have two different styles. Or he might, like Pergolesi (1710-36) at Naples freely allow an operatic style into church and plan solos and melodies and runs and repeats. Even if he were not whole-hearted like Pergolesi, he would be a rare composer who did not allow the need of one group of clients to affect the need of another group of clients. And by the second quarter of the eighteenth century opera brought him more reward than mass.
Good judges of that age blamed this trend for a decline in Italian church music. Opera hired lovely voices, churches hired what was left. Even the music of the Sistine chapel was criticized because its choir, never paid to excess, could no longer attract the best singers. Church choirs improved themselves on special occasions—the patron saint's day, the greater festivals—by hiring virtuosi as soloists. Sometimes a church was very lucky. The violinist Tartini fled from Padua because authority disapproved his marriage, and took shelter in a monastery at Assisi; and then visitors started to swell the congregation of the monks' chapel when they heard such otherworldly sweet sounds which came so mysteriously from behind a curtain. When he returned to Padua the church was lucky to keep him against every sort of offer from all over Europe, because his wife was delicate and preferred Padua. But churches could not easily keep such star performers, especially if they were singers. We have another Italian instance in a nun of Milan who being a nun was not open to the musical market. At the convent of St. Mary Magdalene (1770) she sang with a voice of such rare sweetness that men travelled to hear her sing solo motets. 100 The Counter-Reformation would have had qualms allowing a nun thus to sing solo before visitors; though this nun was hardly before the visitors, because she was kept invisible to her audience.
In Palestrina's day the members of the choir must be ecclesiastics. Women were forbidden and boys' voices less commonly used. The Sistine choir had thirty-two voices (eight soprano, eight alto, eight tenor, eight bass) and its musical college kept understudies so that the number was never less than thirty-two. But this was large for a choir. St. Stephen's cathedral at Vienna in the middle of the eighteenth century had only six boys and nine men, though with ten members of a strong orchestra in addition to the organist and the sub-cantor (instruments were banished during Lent). 101 St. Anthony at Padua, a famous pilgrimage church, had sixteen voices, but accompanied by four organs, eight violins, four violas, four violoncellos, four double basses, and four wind instruments. One of the string players was for a time the most famous violinist in Europe, Giuseppe Tartini (died 1770), himself an eminent composer. Two choirs of four voices each was not uncommon for a lesser Italian church. Always the choirmaster could be seen beating time, usually from the organ loft.
Because women were not permitted, and boys not always up to their task, castrati became indispensable to Italian music. The full quality and range of their voices, the ability of the experienced male singer to encompass complex vocal effects, became necessary to Italian opera during the seventeenth century and unquestionably contributed to the ecstasies with which it was received by the connoisseurs of Europe. During the eighteenth century castrati singers like Farinelli won the highest reputation and wealth. To castrate small boys was illegal, and the operation did not ensure that the adult castrati would be able to sing with purity. The story went that the castrati suffered an accident in childhood. But Italy was so peopled with musical castrati that no one believed the legend. The choir of St. Anthony at Padua, sixteen strong, had eight castrati. Florence cathedral had a choir of eight, of whom three were castrati. When Venice fell to the Revolution in 1797 the choir of St. Mark's still had twelve castrati in a choir of twenty-four persons. Saint Onofrio, a choir school with ninety boys at Naples, had among them sixteen castrati who needed to sleep in a specially warm dormitory. When enquirers asked where such illegal operations were performed, every city denied knowledge and guessed at its neighbour. Dr Burney, who pursued their investigation, found reliable evidence that some of the Naples boys came from Lecce 102 in Apulia. This was probable, for the South was desperately poor, and parents who allowed their boy to be made a eunuch could probably ensure him afterwards a comfortable existence in material terms, and the chance of fame and fortune.
The moral theologians weighed the moral doubt and were not agreed. Those who reproved the practice argued thus; the Church condemned a literal interpretation of the text 'those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven', and what is immoral if done for the sake of the soul, must be more immoral if done for the sake of stipend and career; further, that preservation of a beautiful voice is not so important to a man as to justify such interference with nature; further, the existence of castrati makes church services sound theatrical. To the contrary, those who allowed the practice (provided that the boy was willing and there was no danger to life), argued thus: (1) the divine praises are sung in church more purely, and must therefore draw men's souls towards God, (2) the preservation of a good voice is far from trivial if its possessor escapes poverty and wins comfort and distinction—the operation is no different from any other surgical operation which helps a man to enjoy life, and (3) because the Church commonly uses castrati in choir and what the Church tolerates widely cannot be immoral. Even St. Alfonso Liguori, though he preferred the strict opinion, would not wholly condemn when sensible men held the contrary. When Pope Benedict XIV was preparing a papal bull on music, he came under pressure to include a total condemnation. He was against castrati, but refused to put a ban into his bill. He understood the limits of power in his office. 103
Some 'traders' even invested money—adopted orphan children, had them castrated, educated them, and in return received part of their pay while minors.
The most famous of all castrati, and most successful because he became favourite of a King of Spain and a kind of prime minister, was Farinelli, whose real name was Carlo Broschi, and who was born (1705) at Andria near Bari, and probably castrated in Naples at the age of nine or ten. His father was no poor man, but a prosperous musician. A count of other famous Italian castrati does not make the South their common home. Some of the best —B. Ferri from Perugia, F. A. Pistocchi from Palermo, P. F. Tosi from Bologna—were like Farinelli sons of musicians, Tosi the son of the cathedral organist. Several of the most celebrated were natives of Bologna or Lombardy where musical opportunity was plentiful. But Caffarelli was the son of a poor workman of Bitonto and sang so beautifully in a church choir that a musician who heard him persuaded his father to send him to a surgeon at Norcia and then paid for his education and training under N. Porpora at Naples. Porpora was the first of all international singing masters.
An extraordinary change in moral sensitivity or taste passed over Europe in the sixty years after 1770. Dr Burney, a most humane man, showed no sense of repugnance. Sixty years later a castrato could not safely sing before an English audience, and when Mendelssohn heard one of the last of the famous castrati he was filled with a sense of loathing. But the change was partly of fashion in music. The castrati of 1820 lived into a world where the orchestra had risen in importance compared with the solo voice. The bell-like purity of the male soloist fitted the Italian tradition of the earlier eighteenth century, where instruments were always subordinate to voices. The fashion of opera was now different, Mozart wrote a big part for a castrato in the opera Idomeneo (1781). When he came to Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782) where the principal male singer is a eunuch from the Turkish harem, he gave him a deep bass voice.
Italy was the home of European music and the fount of Catholic music. The Pope and other heads of the little states encouraged court music, like the numerous little German courts of the Empire. But in Italy this was not music only for the aristocrat, not only for the middle class. Church music was part of the way of life for the people. In Florence clubs of artisans rose early each Sunday morning, dressed in white, and under the name of laudisti (singers of praise) moved from church to church, singing a psalm outside the portals. Dr Burney attended at Figline, 20 miles from Florence, the feast of the patron saint, and found himself among 20,000 people. After mass, where he found the music 'pretty', he attended the 'games', an acting of the story of David and Goliath, for which costumes were borrowed from theatres for miles round, and 1,500 peasants divided into two armies to play Philistines and Israelites, and marched to old instruments like cymbal and systrum, and carried out a sham battle which they had rehearsed for three months; and when David cut off Goliath's head a stream of blood poured out and many spectators shrieked with horror; and in the evening Dr Burney went to church again and heard the story of David and Goliath sung as an oratorio, until the feast ended with fireworks. Wherever he went in Italian churches he stood among crowds to listen, and realized that these crowds were habitual when three times a fine cambric handkerchief was picked from his pocket during services, the last time though the pocket was carefully buttoned. 104
Italians dominated south-German music until well into the eighteenth century. Between 1729 and 1757 another Italian, the younger Scarlatti, controlled the music of the Spanish court. The first eminent Austrian musician at the imperial court, Johann Joseph Fux (died 1741) was a composer in the austere tradition of Palestrina. In Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and to some extent in Spain and Portugal, church music was more bourgeois in its appeal, and therefore under less temptation to introduce excitements and flourishes derived from Italian opera. Dr Burney was not impressed with the music of the Catholic Netherlands, decided that Antwerp violinists were mere scrapers and the high mass there, for all its elaborate ceremony and gorgeous vestments, a model of dreariness. In parts of Austria and Tyrol, and in Bohemia, the people's music was celebrated. Burney met a group of 'gypsies' near Ips in Austria on pilgrimage to a hill shrine of the Virgin, and heard them singing plainsong chants in unison as they walked. On Sunday morning in Vienna he was delayed by a chanting procession 2 to 3 miles long. In a Bohemian village he found a schoolmaster who had four clavichords in his room to teach the children, and was told that the farm labourers, after learning music at school, liked to sing in the parish choir as their recreation. The village schoolmaster was almost always the choirmaster. At the little walled town of Hainburg in Austria the schoolmaster taught seventy children, paying two assistants from his salary, conducted the choir, was sacristan, guarded the church registers, kept the church clock in repair, and rang the church bells as a protection against thunderstorms. His church had a fine organ, accompanied by two violins. On feast days he introduced 'cello, double bass, horns, trumpets, and drums.' 105
The village choir of Spain was not unlike the church band in Protestant England. In one village 106 the singers included three parish clerks, a bass who was the parish carter, a boy treble who had been castrated to qualify him for a more famous choir; they sang in a low balustraded gallery over the west door, to the accompaniment of pipes. The psalms were sung to plainchant.
Musical masses divided into two types: Missa brevis ('short mass') and Missa solemnis ('solemn mass'). This division corresponded in the musical sphere to the liturgical distinction between low mass and high mass. But it became the more necessary for musical reasons. As musicians poured their art into liturgy, mass became intolerably long for normal days or occasions, so that full musical mass or Missa solemnis could only be performed on one or two special feasts of the year. The Missa brevis became mass for ordinary days, and usually contained only Kyrie Eleison and the Gloria set to music, though in south Germany it might mean a short and plain version of all the musical portions of the mass. Some of the solemn masses were so long that they could hardly make part of a liturgy. Johann Sebastian Bach, though a Protestant, hoped that the longest of his masses might be used in Catholic liturgy. If that had happened, the sacrament would have been lost in a tremendous musical experience. No Catholic church is known to have used it in the liturgy.
In the Lutheran north musical genius began to change the conditions of Catholic music and worship. Bach and Handel, writing for Protestant churches, learnt from the flourishing tradition of Catholic music. But they were not restricted by decrees of popes and synods, or by the feeling among heirs of the Counter-Reformation that musical innovation was somehow unCatholic or by the wishes of an Italian working population for music which they could enjoy. They had freedom to develop a tradition to its height. The flowering of Protestant church music during the first half of the eighteenth century brought to bear upon Munich and Vienna a new kind of influence. Slowly the Italian dominance of Catholic church music faded in northern lands before new names and a different art, Haydn, later Beethoven and Schubert.
Compared with the tradition of Palestrina or even Fux, this new church music was more 'secular' in spirit. For most of these composers church music was the lesser part of their composition. Within a mass by Haydn might be found solos which, if removed from a church, were suitable in concert hall or on stage. The more worldly Mozart, obliged to set masses by employment at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg, put a melody for the Kyrie into a C major mass of 1779, and eleven years later used the same melody as a beautiful aria of the soprano Fiordiligi in the comic opera Così fan tutte. His setting of the Agnus Dei in the same mass reappeared seven years later in one of the songs in Figaro. 107
The Palestrina tradition at last was broken. The distinction between two kinds of music, one suitable in church and the other outside church, was blurred. The old guide-lines were gone. The new Austrian composers were as free as Bach or Handel to experiment. And part of their experiment was to recapture the old structure of counterpoint for other uses.
The world of Catholic music was broadened. The new composers, though at times so 'secular' in the feeling of their music, were often deeply Catholic individuals. Haydn made a miserable marriage and was unfaithful to his wife. But he would not begin the day's composition without kneeling in prayer to God and the Blessed Virgin, and if inspiration failed was sure that his sins had forfeited the grace of God. He started his manuscripts with the words 'In God's name' and ended them with 'God be praised'. If in the midst of a composition he stuck, he would walk up and down telling his rosary until a new idea came. Yet even Haydn underestimated his church music by the side of his worldly music. When he was told that his Stabat Mater was successful in Paris, he said absurdly, 'The Parisians have heard nothing yet; if they could only hear my operetta L'isola disabitata. . ' He produced eighty operas in fifteen years and would have been astounded to find posterity hardly knowing that he wrote opera.
The religious world of Haydn and Mozart had this characteristic of the Catholic eighteenth century, that it was a world of happy religion. Haydn's Creation (1796-8) corresponded in the Catholic sphere to Addison's The Spacious Firmament in the Protestant sphere. Though the Protestant wrote a brief lyric and the Catholic a masterpiece; all God's world rejoiced in its Maker. 'I was never so devout as when I was at work on The Creation,' Haydn said. 'I fell on my knees every day and begged God to give me strength to finish.' At one of the last Viennese performances, part of which he was well enough to attend (1808), the audience started to applaud the C major And there was light; and the old man lifted trembling hands and could be heard saying 'Not from me—it's all from above.' It was cheerful religion. Sometimes Haydn's masses were attacked as too gay for religious music; and when he heard the criticism he said that his heart leapt for joy at the thought of God and he could not help his music doing the same. In such writing, words like Lord have mercy were sung to music which in losing all the quality of lament seemed to lose most of the quality of penitence. The Benedictus qui venit in the so-called Mariazell mass of 1782 is a beautiful melody, but Haydn lifted it straight from an aria in one of his operas. 108 Like rococo architects, these were not men of an otherworldly religion, or (if they were) the other world was close to this world and penetrated all its being. This was not just the mood of musicians. Mozart's first employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, demanded jubilant and even dashing services at high festivals.
Mozart was an Austrian Catholic, but was never at ease with the human race, resented the Archbishop of Salzburg, and in the last years of his short life (1756-91) was attracted to the freemasonry which Popes condemned. He only wrote three works of church music after he left the archbishop's service. But despite the restlessness and sometimes misery of his personal lot, his musical genius lay in all that was blithe and bright and gay. The works most Catholic in feeling were the series of 'short masses' which made a form of chamber music for churches. Mozart's church music touched heights, not because he was profoundly religious, but because he possessed genius for purity of sound, so that it was religious neither because it was majestic, nor because it was mystical, but because it rang with humanity in a mood of exhilaration. The publican is not very penitent, the burning bush does not affright, the thunder of Mount Sinai is muted, awe is so confident that sometimes it approaches irreverence, but never did the Lord's friends so happily and so chastely enjoy the wedding feast at Cana. It is an epitome of one strand in the religion of the eighteenth century.
When Mozart was hired by a stranger to write a Requiem he was already dying, probably of uraemia, and imported into the work a new feverish quality. He failed to finish, and we can never know how much was his and how much was due to the composer who afterwards completed. Certainly the harmony and happiness of music had not deserted him in these last months; and though into it came nobility and solemnity and searching of the heart, its tone was unlike that of a requiem which the Church expected. The hope of immortality was closer to the hopes of mortality than Catholic faith taught. But the prayer for the dead from this Requiem (Let light perpetual shine) was sung at Haydn's funeral.
Decades before Catholic Europe was conscious of an Enlightenment, the habits of popular religion were affected. The mingling of magic with the religion of the common man was as evident as in the Middle Ages. This mingling was fostered by materialistic moments in the cult of saints, by certain forms of faith-healing, by the use of holy objects like relics or Biblical texts in the manner of charms, by the more superstitious goals of pilgrimage and the crudities of a mental haze about indulgences.
Witches were less persecuted; Jews less uncomfortable, but still they were not comfortable and were not allowed at all into Spain or Portugal or southern Italy; good Catholics were soon to ward off storms with lightning conductors as well as bells, in places instead of bells; pious Catholics were to seek scientific means of predicting earthquakes, in parts of Italy medicine advanced as fast as anywhere in Europe; saints were beloved, but historians criticized their lives and documents, and governors who wanted workmen to work attacked the number of their days with success; sanctuaries were sacred through the century, but in the end sanctity was all that was left of their former power, until Catholic countries hardly differed from Protestant; public opinion moved against the beggar and therefore the mendicant, but haphazardly, and much more in towns than in the countryside; educated opinion grew ever more confident in assailing the childish (as they supposed) in cults, dramas, processions, cribs; and used the power of local governments to expel whatever was not (as they supposed) adult and edifying.
The congregation became, almost imperceptibly but still surely, weightier in the structure of worship; in the constant endeavour of parish priests to stop brotherhoods from being rivals to parish churches, in sporadic efforts to make the people understand by the use of readings in the vernacular; or in the rare encouragement of Bible-reading by laymen; or in the various attempts to revive the receiving of communion at its 'proper' place in the liturgy, or in Germany by the use of hymns which, though hardly ever taken from Protestant hymnbooks, were nevertheless sung in the vernacular and almost integrated into the liturgy; or in the 'popularizing' of some forms of church music.
These slow changes were hardly visible even to informed contemporaries. But they made a turning-point towards the later history of the Church. None of them was due at first impetus to what a later age agreed to call Enlightenment.
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