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Aspiring Saints: Pretense of Holiness, Inquisition, and Gender in the Venetian Republic, 1618-1750
Published in Hardcover by Johns Hopkins Univ Pr (2001)
Author: Anne Jacobson Schutte
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Anne Schutte's Masterpiece
Aspiring Saints by Anne Jacobson Schutte, a professor of history at the University of Virginia, presents an interesting look at the peculiar phenomenon of pretense of holiness. Anne Schutte is an established historian, her other works include The Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint; Time, Space and Women's Lives in Early Modern Europe; and Heavenly Supper: The Story of Maria Janis. Aspiring Saints is an expansion of her previous work about Maria Janis, one of the women accused of pretense of holiness. In this work, Schutte focuses on twelve cases, which she discovered while working in the Inquisitorial archives of Venice. A total of nine women and seven men, sometimes working in collusion, were accused of either being "false saint" or aiding them in their cause. The cases that Schutte examines are from the period of 1618-1750 and take place in the Republic of Venice. A majority of the cases she cites are those of beatas, women that are virgins or widows who have dedicated their lives to being holy. Surprisingly, nearly all of these women also had an accomplice, usually a priest that was their confessor, who would also propagate the belief that this person was holy. Piecing together the facts of each case from denunciations and trial dossiers, Schutte attempts to understand the similarities and differences that exist with each of these "living saints".

Schutte starts by explaining, in brief narrative, each of the cases that she will examine. She then goes on to describe the role and function of The Roman Inquisition, the institution given the responsibility to judge the crime of pretense of holiness and then administer an appropriate sentence. With a firm background established, Schutte begins her comparative analysis.

Features common to must of these false saints were vows of celibacy, holy wounds such as the stigmata, the ability to live solely on communion for extended periods of time, the ability to go into ecstasy and receive visions, the creation and use of relics, and the power to perform miracles. These people were not saints by Catholic definition because, at the time of investigation, they were still living and had not been canonized by the church. Schutte identifies the possible causes of the pretense of holiness: possession, illness, or willful fraud. She shows many similarities between people charged as false saints and those charged with witchcraft or sorcery. She also explores the roles of exorcists and physicians as used by the Roman Inquisition to investigate this phenomenon. Schutte then examines how gender played a significant role in the occurrence of pretense of holiness.

Displaying great command over her sources, Schutte effortlessly switches between the different aspects of each case. Her methods are excellent for comparing the minute details of the cases, but sometimes this approach overly fragments the flow of information. Although Schutte supplies short narratives of each case, expansion on each narrative would have reduced the confusion caused by an overwhelming cast of characters. Trying to keep the facts straight between twelve cases proved very challenging. To add to confusion, the paths of multiple stories cross on occasion as a person takes on a role that affects one of the other cases.

Schutte accurately portrays the situations in the context of their times. Not once does she project onto any circumstance a viewpoint or conclusion that would be an anachronism. She judges each of the cases using the cultural views and methodology appropriate for the time. Schutte also brilliantly uses spiritual manuals and medical texts of the period. While in today's secular world filled with medical science it would be easy to say that no one could live for years on communion alone, but Schutte cites experiments of the 17th and 18th century that demonstrate that this type of fasting could be possible. This perspective allows the reader to see the situations as people of that time would have viewed it.

The book is well organized and contains many extra features. A map of the Republic of Venice at the front of the text identifies many of the locations discussed within. Illustrations placed throughout the text break up the monotony and add an extra visual component to the work. The book also contains an extensive index, which proved to be extraordinarily helpful when having to identify specific people and event mentioned previously in the text. Her citations are accurate and well organized, and there is even a section of the book with the explanations for the abbreviations used in her footnotes. The footnotes themselves were helpful and often went into further detail on events mentioned in the text.

In all, Aspiring Saints is a wonderful analysis of pretense of holiness. Schutte presents her research in a scholarly, yet interesting manner. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in religious phenomena or the Roman Inquisition in Venice.

Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint (Other Voice in Early Modern Europe)
Published in Hardcover by University of Chicago Press (1996)
Authors: Cecilia Ferrazzi, Anne Jacobson (Editor & Translator) Schutte, and Cecelia Ferrazzi
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Mental Illness, Religious Vigor, and the Inquisition
Cecilia Ferrazzi was certainly a woman who did not slip through the cracks of 1600's Italy. Some say she was blessed with the stigmata and visions of the Holy Mother, others that the Devil had his grasp within her mind and led her through acts of temptation and corruption. She ran a home for "girl in danger" those who were in danger of becoming prostitutes or falling into disgrace with a man. She was denounced to the Inquisition by a rival woman who ran the same kind of home and her trial testimony recounts all of the incidents of divine interaction throughout her life. In the introduction we are given background and relevant facts, by the editor, that are needed to lay the scene, but the text of the volume is solely in Ferrazzi's words as taken by a scribe of the court.
An intriguing woman for certain, she was afflicted with visions, and times of blankness that could not be accounted for when she gave testimony. However, for all of the ills she claimed (be it fevers, falling, beatings by her confessors, stigmata that made her side bleed, beatings by the devil, malnourishment, the vomiting of blood) she lived until the age of 73, quite the accomplishment for someone under the stresses she attested to enduring.
I found this book highly engrossing and a better read than most films or novels that have tried to take this internal religious war as a topic. It is the raw truth of the perception of her life and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the course of the Inquisition and what it is to be caught in the void between heresy and sainthood, between grace and insanity.
It is extremely well edited and very accessible to the modern day reader, there is no language stylistic to keep it from being clearly felt and understood.
While I did not agree with Ferrazzi's interpretations of things that she experienced, to hear the passion in her conviction towards the belief she held in her religion, in redemption, obedience, and punishment for her vices, was impressive and at times, mind boggling. After reading all of her testimony it was the first time in all of my study that I thought "I would have had to denounce this person to the court as well." And she denies nothing.
This was a very powerful book and I understand why it was chosen to lead the series.

Heavenly Supper: The Story of Maria Janis
Published in Hardcover by University of Chicago Press (1991)
Authors: Fulvio Tomizza and Anne Jacobson Schutte
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Time, Space, and Women's Lives in Early Modern Europe (Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies)
Published in Paperback by Truman State University Press (01 September, 2001)
Authors: Anne Jacobson Schutte, Thomas Kuehn, Silvana Seidel Menchi, Silvana Seidel Menchi, and Silvana Sidel Menchi
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