Christian Discourses of the Holy and the Sacred from the 15th to the 17th Century

by Teresa Hiergeist (Volume editor) Ismael Del Olmo (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 406 Pages


The chapters reconstruct the values, norms, experiences, material manifestations, and power structures underlying the understandings of the holy and the sacred in early modern Christian contexts. They intend to gain a characteristic profile of the associated concepts and ideas, persons and social groups, objects and texts, times and spaces, and behaviours and performances, in order to provide insights into the identities and hegemonic structures developed around them. They trace the interdependence of religion and society, highlighting the constructiveness, transformability, and diversity of the sacred culture from the 15th to the 17th century.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Christian Discourses of the Holy and the Sacred in the Early Modern Period. Introduction
  • 1 Trying to Define the Unattainable
  • 2 Why Early Modern Christian Discourses?
  • 3 Contributions
  • Works Cited
  • Désacralisation et résurgences du sacré dans les Églises réformées françaises
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Des hommes: les pasteurs
  • 3 Des lieux: les temples
  • 4 Des cérémonies: les funérailles
  • Ouvrages cités
  • La monstrance eucharistique après le Concile de Trente. Discours et pratiques d’un objet liturgique aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles
  • 1 En guise d’introduction
  • 2 Emergence d’une nouvelle pièce liturgique
  • 3 Discours, usages et représentations de la monstrance eucharistique aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles
  • 4 Conclusion
  • Ouvrages cités
  • The Saint Bartholomew’s Factor: Juan de Maldonado and Hugues Sureau Before Religious Violence
  • 1 A Jesuit, a Huguenot, a Massacre
  • 2 Maldonado
  • 3 Hugues Sureau Du Rosier
  • 4 The Jesuit and the Huguenot
  • 5 Skeptics Modes, Mystic Ways
  • Works Cited
  • Protestant Martyr Saints: The Sacralization of Protestant Victims of Catholic Persecution in Texts of Spanish Reformers Living in Exile
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Francisco de Enzinas and Juan Pérez de Pineda: Two Spanish Reformers
  • 3 Protestants, Martyrs, and the Cult of the Saints During the Reformation
  • 4 Protestant Witnesses for the Gospel as Real Saints in Enzina’s “Verdadera Historia de la Muerte del Santo Varón Juan Díaz” and Pérez de Pineda’s “Epistola Consolatoria”
  • Works Cited
  • Jesuitical Theological Poetry and Baroque Poetry – Francisco de Quevedo’s Un Heráclito cristiano (1613)
  • 1 Replacement and Internalization of the Monastic Rule: Ignacio de Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises
  • 2 Basic Structures: The Rhetorization of Meditation
  • 3 An Ignatian Cycle: Francisco de Quevedo’s Un Heráclito cristiano (1613)
  • 4 Meditation on the Evil and Onomatopoeic Lament: Psalm 5
  • 5 Crucifixion and Allegoric Cataclysm: “Tuvo enojado el alto mar en España”
  • Works Cited
  • Procedimientos teatrales de sacralización en el auto sacramental El divino Orfeo de Pedro Calderón de la Barca
  • 1 Procesos de sacralización en las festividades del Corpus Christi
  • 2 La performance teatral de lo sagrado en El Divino Orfeo
  • 3 La visualización de la escritura sagrada a través de cuadros escénicos
  • 4 La fuerza performativa de la voz de Dios
  • 5 La representación abstracta de la escritura en la performance teatral
  • 6 La ambivalencia del Orfeo divino entre la apropiación católica y la manifestación de la arbitrariedad
  • Obras citadas
  • “Holiness Begins with the Hands”: The Moralization of the Chivalric Novel in Francesco Berni’s Rifacimento of the Orlando Innamorato
  • 1 “Amend the Inamoramento”
  • 2 Reforming the Readers’ Hearts: Allegory of the Holiness in the Chivalric Novel
  • 3 After Bembo and Ariosto: Some Linguistic Principles of Rewriting
  • Works Cited
  • El seno desnudo de María. La Virgen de la leche en el arte del Siglo de Oro español
  • 1 Introito
  • 2 El significado teológico de las Vírgenes de la leche
  • 3 Las Vírgenes de la leche en la España del Siglo de Oro
  • 4 Las vírgenes de la leche a debate
  • 5 Lo sacro desnudo: ¿contradicción o convivencia necesaria?
  • Obras citadas
  • Paysage sacré, paysage spirituel et désert réformé: Sébastien Bourdon (1616–1671) et les pasteurs de Charenton
  • 1 Le dernier sermon de Charenton
  • 2 Désert et pérégrination
  • 3 Modalisations du désert
  • 4 Conclusions
  • Ouvrages cités
  • The Stirring of the Religious Soundscape. The Auditory Experience in the Antwerp Church of Our Lady (c. 1450–1566) and an Iconological Analysis of the Altar Bell
  • 1 Setting the Scene for a Dynamic Religious Experience
  • 2 Orchestrated Soundscapes: Ringing the Altar Bell
  • 2.1 Mobilizing Quality
  • 2.2 Unifying Quality
  • 2.3 Hierarchical Quality
  • 2.4 Spiritual Quality
  • 3 The Question of Orpheus: Iconographic Analysis of the Altar Bell
  • 4 Et Alors?
  • Works Cited
  • Las horas canónicas en la primera evangelización del Nuevo Mundo
  • 1 Introducción
  • 2 El oficio divino
  • 3 La liturgia de las horas en la primera evangelización
  • 4 El oficio divino en el catolicismo postridentino
  • 5 Conclusiones
  • Obras citadas
  • Del rito al pecado. Construcciones y negociaciones discursivas de la corrida de toros en el siglo de oro
  • 1 La corrida de toros a lo largo de la historia
  • 2 La corrida de toros como rito cristiano
  • 3 La decadencia de la corrida de toros
  • 3 Un cambio de la cultural sacral
  • Obras citadas
  • Parroquias rurales e identidad en Castilla al final de la Edad Media. El caso del Campo de Calatrava1
  • 1 Introducción
  • 2 El templo parroquial, espacio social y referente comunitario. Hacia una religiosidad cívica19
  • 2.1 Los templos como centros de vida social y espacios cívicos
  • 2.2 El espacio del templo y la escenografía del culto, configurados por las gentes
  • 2.3 Parroquia y honra de la comunidad local
  • 3 La vida religiosa parroquial: una liturgia participada y socializadora
  • 3.1 Las celebraciones parroquiales como cauces de vivencia religiosa comunitaria
  • a) Actos de devoción
  • b) Cultos litúrgicos
  • 3.2 El culto como acto social
  • 4 La parroquia, comunidad de vivos y muertos
  • 5 Conclusiones
  • Obras citadas
  • Between Sin and Virtue. The Archbishops Don Alonso de Aragón (1478–1520) and His Son Don Juan de Aragón (1520–1530)
  • Works Cited
  • Variaciones del discernir: Michel de Montaigne, Reginald Scot y los demonólogos
  • 1 Discernimientos
  • 2 El sustrato demoníaco del discernimiento
  • 3 Montaigne en la periferia del discernimiento
  • 4 Discernir demonológos: Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) de Reginald Scot
  • 4.1 La crítica teológica y filosófico-natural a la demonología
  • 4.2 El discernimiento de espíritus en el Discoverie
  • 5 El espíritu de la demonología
  • Obras citadas
  • Repensando con demonios. La lucha contra la superstición en la Baja Edad Media y la Primera Modernidad desde una perspectiva cognitiva
  • 1 Introducción
  • 2 Hacia un “giro cognitivo”
  • 3 La corrección teológica y la campaña contra la superstición
  • 4 Conclusión
  • Obras citadas
  • Illustrations
  • List of Contributors

Christian Discourses of the Holy and the Sacred in the Early Modern Period. Introduction

Teresa Hiergeist and Ismael del Olmo

1 Trying to Define the Unattainable

The holy1 is vague, it does not have a fixed time or space, it is not materialized in a unique, determined way.2 Nonetheless, it appears in the midst of the world in an indirect manner, leaving identifiable marks, which religious communities and the faithful seem to be able to perceive and to name.3 At times, these traces suddenly and unexpectedly invade the profane world, they ensure a transformation of the perception of space and time, they transcend the lines between subject and object,4 and can evoke intensive and even ecstatic states of mind.5 They, and the experiences they convey, are mostly culturally handled or made productive in a number of ways. They are symbolized in texts, images, objects, and places, or performed in rituals and liturgies.6 Such sacral-cultural manifestations have a central social function: they produce cohesion and identity, creating meaning for a community.7 Furthermore, what is considered ‘holy’ and ‘sacred’ within a community is often codified and governed by an institutional administration, which ←7 | 8→punishes and stigmatize deviance.8 Thus, three levels of investigation regarding the holy and the sacred can be differentiated: the experience, the materialization, and the administration. All of them vary depending on the culture, the epoch as well as the social and religious context and consequently sustain and create values, norms, identities, structures of meaning and power, and the knowledge bases of the society, in which they appear.

Discussions over these points concerning the holy and the sacred have been part and parcel of human sciences since their emergence and professionalization in the late 19th and early 20th century. We can see these debates in works of sociology, anthropology, and religious studies. Should we want to schematize the main approaches to the subject of the holy and the sacred, we would encounter three major points of view. On the one hand, there are the traditional explanations from a theological, religious-philosophical, and religious-sociological point of view. This includes, for example, Emile Durkheim’s Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912), Rudolf Otto’s Das Heilige (1917), Roger Caillois’s L’homme et le sacré (1939), Mircea Eliade’s Le sacré et le profane (1965), and René Girard’s La violence et le sacré (1972). These authors address the topic with a quasi structuralist objective, presenting universal constants of the holy and the sacred, aiming at the investigation of their nature or at the outline of religious thinking in general. This approach has been criticized, since precise cultural-specific or epoch-specific manifestations and variations of the holy and the sacred are oftentimes overlooked. On the other hand, the fields of history, art history, literary studies, musicology, and religious studies have produced numerous works with regard to diverse means of expression of the holy and the sacred. These studies tend to focus on a micro level, on local, social, gender-specific and situational particularities. However, in these approaches, larger contexts and their influence are often taken into account only in a limited way. Recently, scholarship has developed a third position, attempting to combine these both levels. Works as those of Robert Pfaller’s Das schmutzige Heilige und die reine Vernunft (2008), Alain Cabantous’s Le dimanche, une histoire (2013), and Hans Joas’s Die Macht des Heiligen (2017), intends to write a cultural history of the holy and the sacred tracing their spatial, temporal, and societal specificities, as well as their diachronic variations.

This book positions itself in this last level of analysis, between structural considerations and in-depth approaches. The chapters connect both aspects in ←8 | 9→order to reconstruct the values, norms, experiences, material manifestations, and power structures underlying understandings of the holy and the sacred in early modern Christian contexts. Taking individual examples as a starting point, the intention is to reach an overall view about epoch-specific and spatio-cultural-specific views and developments. Thus, the aim of the book is twofold: First, to outline the baselines of what counts as ‘holy’ and ‘sacred’ in early modern societies affected by Christianity, in order to gain a characteristic profile of their associated concepts, persons, objects, and behaviors. Second, to provide some insights of the identities and hegemonic structures developed around this cluster of notions. We will then be able not only to trace the interdependence of religion and culture, but to highlight the constructiveness, transformability, and therefore vibrancy and diversity of the holy and the sacred in early modern Christianities.

2 Why Early Modern Christian Discourses?

Early modern Christianity, extending roughly from 1450 to 1700, is certainly an age of religious, philosophical, political, and cultural crises.9 Traditional historiographies relate the period to epochal changes: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the first breaths of Globalization, and the processes of secularization and disenchantment of the Western world.10 Although these labels have been severely questioned at least since the second half of the 20th century, and are now partially considered outmoded in the face of much more nuanced versions, it is evident that they convey the sense of turmoil that stems from this age.11 Let us highlight some of these transformations, which provide the frame for the book’s chapters.

←9 | 10→

Firstly, the Reformation and its aftermath propagate alternative conceptualizations of the holy and the sacred, setting sacral-cultural transformation processes in motion. The frequently proclaimed Weberian desacralization (or de-magicalization) of this religious movement is expressed in a number of ways, such as outbursts of iconoclasm12 and the restructuring of church interiors,13 a process of de-auratization of spiritual and sacred games,14 and the rejection of traditional practices, now labelled as ‘superstitious’ or ‘pagan’, such as the cult of the saints, particular sacraments, devotional objects, or Christian festivals.15 Accompanying these transformations, there is a dual process: a gesture towards transcendentalization,16 which can be found, for example, in the obsessive attention to the Holy Scripture as the only source of legitimate sacred discourse;17 and a powerful trend of auto-sacralization. It is in this framework that we should understand the rejection of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist18 at the ←10 | 11→same time when the personal, interior dialogue with God reaches a new level of importance.19

Obviously, these developments stand as a challenge for the traditional sacred culture, whose legitimacy is severely contested. This economy of the sacred was built since the late Middle Ages around the authority of the Roman Church, post-Apostolic tradition, and the notion of consecration. This last notion reserved an immense power for the priests, given their capacity to mediate between the divine and the wordly. In broad terms, it could be affirmed that the Catholic Reform, contrary to all varieties of Protestant Christianities, insisted on this power of mediation, emphasizing the immanent presence of the sacred in the world. Indeed, at least since the second half of the 16th century, counter-reformist movements try to cope with the Reformed challenge by accentuating the visualization, the immediacy, the presence, and the corporeality of the holy and the sacred. This aim fosters, for example, collective cultural performances such as processions, pilgrimages, and autos sacramentales, as well as the worshipping of a new iconographic production.20 These practices work by communicating with the faithful on the level of affect and overpowering (for instance via the use of affective music, incense, and light);21 and by trying to renovate the authenticity of Catholic sacred cultures through an increased textual and iconographic production (for example of saint’s legends or of images) in a restituting manner.22

Secondly, the permanent attempts to distance the own from pre-Christian archaic and pagan practices, make up a second constituent of the sacred culture of the early modern era. Since its establishment, Christianity presents itself as ←11 | 12→religion which eliminates impure elements from a sacred world.23 The salvation through the Son of God breaks the cycle of guilt and sacrifice, makes bloody rituals seem redundant and, so the idea, wipes out all violence from human coexistence;24 the control of desire and lust allows a moral life, which is able to transcend excess and dissipation. The early modern era then appears to be an epoch in which mentioned Christian self-definition is challenged in several respects. It is not only the suppressed violence in the name of Christianity for instance that suddenly becomes visible with the oftentimes brutal actions in the colonies, which open vehement discussions;25 but also the accumulation of textual and artistic manifestations that consequently associate the sacred with eroticism, love, or corporeality in general.26 Following late medieval trends but without a doubt fueled by the challenge of the Reformation, early modern Christianity became rich in pneumatological phenomena such as mysticism, prophecy, and visions. This tide of charismatic experiences was resisted by the ecclesiastical institutions, especially by the Catholic Church, which held this unmediated approach to the sacred under suspicion. Although not exclusively, this affective form of Christianity was more common among the female sex, a fact that raised fierce debates within the male hierarchy. The period offers several textual and artistic manifestations that conceive the sacred as a matter of immediate affection, thus relating it with eroticism and corporeal love. Such testimonies are clear in the case of mystics such as Saint Teresa of Ávila, Saint John of the Cross, John from Staupitz, Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, and Giovanni Battista Scaramelli. In addition, this affective religiosity inspired new artistic approaches to Christian motives, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s L’Estasi di Santa Teresa (1652) and Estasi della beata Ludovica Albertoni (1674), with clear erotic overtones.27 On the one hand, it is undisputable that the tandem “desire-faith” affectively revives the ←12 | 13→faith; however, on the other hand, it opens the possibility of a friction with more traditional forms of Christian morality.

Thirdly, this friction leads us to another subject. The early modern period is not only unique regarding the experiences and materializations of the holy and the sacred, but also with regard to their administration. There is indeed an intense effort, both on the part of the Catholic Church and the magisterial Reformation, to control the sacred culture in their respective territories. Both Reformations, closely tied with the secular powers, shared similar anxieties towards the problem of heresy, superstition, and popular and learned adaptations of the Christian religion.28 Thus, they set up institutions of control and confessionalization such as the Spanish and Italian Inquisitions, the Calvinist Consistory, the English High Commission, the French Chambre Ardente, not to mention extensive preaching and propaganda campaigns, which attest to this early modern obsession with orthodoxy and orthopraxis. This obsession for cultural homogeneity explains in part the violence of the period, accounting for the thousands of Catholic and Reformed martyrs, witches, atheists, Jews, and Muslims that were forced to convert or legally executed in the early modern period.29 It seems important to keep in mind that their lives were lost under the pressure of particular and competing regimes of the sacred.

As a projection of this European obsession with orthodoxy and orthopraxis, African, American, and Asian communities dominated by European powers became subject of intense efforts of evangelization.30 European missions and settlements were confronted with populations alien to the Christian world-view, with alternative ideas and practices of the sacred. This fostered numerous ←13 | 14→attempts at controlling these alien sources of numinous power: as in a mirror-image of what was happening in Europe, Similarly, the confrontation with alternative sacred practices in Asia, Africa, and America, which move to the fore in the course of the colonialization, causes the colonial powers to display imperialistic power31 and to set up inquisitorial trials, preaching campaigns, and anti-heretical raids.32 Evangelization campaigns, compulsory baptism, and outbreaks of religious violence were frequent ways with which governments dealt with those forms of sacred alterity.33 But it is also true that the encounter with this Other fostered a range of debates which would nurture Europe’s culture. These debates dealt with the translability of religion, the possibility or impossibility of syncretism, and the accuracy of the Biblical narrative. The expansion even fueled sharp criticism of colonial violence towards the indigenous peoples, thus providing a Christian critique of Europe’s Christianity.

As can be seen, early modern Christian discourses on the holy and the sacred offer diverse fields of inquiry. The age is particularly apt for an interdisciplinary approach to its major developments: the interplay between Reformation and Counter-Reformation; the preoccupation of both these Reforms with cultural homogeneity, which in turn fueled the obsessions with heresy, superstition, and deviance; the problem of mysticism and certain forms of religious art as affective ways of understanding and relating to the sacred; the global expansion of the European powers, and with them, the efforts to impose particular Christian discourses of the sacred on foreign lands and peoples with their own, alternative systems of the sacred. The period offers thus a particularly diverse and dynamic panorama, which constitutes an ideal field of research for different areas, from cultural and religious studies, to discourse analyses and cognitive approaches, to art history and musicology.

3 Contributions

This book offers a variety of path-ways into the interpretation of the holy and the sacred in early modern Christianities. Two chapters deal with the impact of the Reformation on the understanding of the sacred and the notion of consecration. ←14 | 15→Through an analysis of the role of the pastors, the reformed temples, and the symbolism surrounding religious objects and practices, Yves Krumenacker highlights the existence of an alternative reformed economy of the sacred. After the institutionalization of the magisterial Reformation(s), and perhaps despite of the normative texts of its leading theologians, the author brings out a process of ‘resacralization’ of collective rites, practices, and intermediaries, one that needs to be discerned at an anthropological and identitarian level.

Frédéric Tixier offers a perceptive study of the Eucharistic monstrance, the receptacle designed to parade the central sacred object of Christianity, the host, during the feast of the Corpus Christi. After the Reformation, debates and controversies dealing with the appropriate attitude towards the monstrance emerged: was it an integral part of a legitimate ritual of adoration of the body of the Savior, or, on the contrary, a Pagan remnant which showed the idolatrous nature of the Roman Church? A cursory look at these debates would fit the traditional Weberian thesis that links the Reformation with the desacralization and the rationalization of the world.

The book also addresses the historical dynamic of the interaction between the Catholic and the Reformed churches, focusing on several aspects of early modern religious violence, such as forced conversion, sacred brutality, and martyrdom. In his chapter, Santiago Peña focuses on religious violence, moving from Spain to France. He studies the relationship between the Catholic Juan de Maldonado and the Protestant Hugues Surau de Rosier on the eve of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day’s Massacre of 1572. After tracing Maldonado’s and Surau’s opposing views on the religious troubles of the kingdom of France, Peña suggests that the sacred violence that engulfed these enemies could have had a paradoxical outcome: the development of 17th century mysticism, a fly towards interior retreat and silence after decades of acting out the brutality of the divine.

Marina Hertrampf studies the sacralized commemoration of Protestant victims of the Spanish Inquisition, that is, the construction of a veritable Reformed martyrological tradition. Through a close reading of the works of the Spanish reformists Francisco de Enzinas and Juan Pérez de Pineda, Hertrampf highlights the peculiar ways in which these victims of Catholic violence are portrayed as partaking in Chist’s ordeal, and thus stylized as martyrs. Those who suffer in their bodies for witnessing the true Gospel become role models in the construction of a collective Protestant identity.

Another set of contributions deals with the impact of the Counter-reformation on literature. Christian Wehr suggests that Ignacio de Loyola’s Spiritual exercises (1548) exceeded the Jesuit Order’s milieu and had an aesthetic impact on Golden ←15 | 16→Age literature. The paradigmatic example would be Francisco de Quevedo’s theological poetry as found in his Heráclito cristiano (1613).

Sabine Friedrich retraces the Christian appropriation of the myth of Orpheus by studying the auto sacramental El divino Orfeo written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Comparing the textual representation and the theatrical performance she elaborates how the play consolidates the Christian ideology and causes frictions with it at the same time.

Francesco Brancati, for his part, studies the way in which the spirit of religious reform influenced traditional genres such as the chivalric novel. This can be seen in Francesco Berni’s Rifacimento (c. 1527, published in 1542), an adaptation of Matteo Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato (1486); more than aiming at a rewriting of the original work, Berni crafts a poetic gesture towards the interior process of religious renewal of the reader.

Other contribtions focus on audiovisual manifestations und performances of the sacral culture, reading them as indicators of discoursive shifts or conflicts. Hubert Pöppel challenges the largely accepted idea that the rigorous Counter-reformation called a halt to the depiction of the Virgin with her bare breast. On the contrary, several examples of the Nursing Madonna are found in 17th century Spain. The chapter offers a view of the debates around the image of the Maria lactans, which helps to understand the conflictive affinities that the Baroque traced between the theologically immaculate and sacred body of the Virgin, and her profane, erotized nudit.

Also dealing with religious images centered on the potential sacralization of humanity, Frédéric Cousinié introduces the figure of Sébastien Bourdon (1616–1672), a Calvinist painter and member of the Académie Royale. In the times of Louis XIV’s attack on the last remnants of Huguenots in the French realm, Bourdon created a variety of allegorical landscape engravings. Cousinié interprets these engravings as spiritual or devotional landscapes, focusing in the portrayal of the Biblical theme of the desert, a place of exile and peregrination, and thus, a path towards salvation.

Wendy Wauters offers a study on the soundscape of the Church of Our Lady in early modern Antwerp. Her text brings to life an integral part of a sacral world long gone: the sensory experience and strong emotional reactions brought by a wide array of sonic stimuli such as sung and spoken Masses, noisy staged sermons, merciless dogwhippers, nearby gravediggers, and ongoing musical performances in and outside the church. Wauters also addresses the ritual use of altar and liturgical hand bells, providing an iconographic analysis of the motives most common to these instruments, the “Annunciation” and “Orpheus playing music”.

←16 |

The interplay between sound and ritual is also underlined by Osvaldo Moutin, albeit in a totally different context. With a focus on the Spanish evangelization of the American naturals, Moutin studies the social, juridical, and identitarian effects, among the cleric and the laity, of the obligation to pray the canonical hours. He highlights how, during the pre-Tridentine times, this practice was used in order to integrate the native population in the new Christian religiosity. Thus, the mission took the obligation to pray the canonical hours, usually staged as a public devotional practice, as an instrument of evangelization; this happened in times in which a local, indigenous priesthood was still envisioned. However, after the Council of Trent, the optimism towards the religious potential of the local population decreased, and the praying of the canonical hours was deployed as a sign of separation between the Spanish priesthood and the naturals, now forced to take a passive stance towards divine offices.

Teresa Hiergeist also traces the influence of Catholic renewal on early modern culture, focusing on the Spanish bullfight of the 16th and 17th centuries. Her chapter traces the transformation of this codified game from ritual to secular practice. Among a variety of reasons, she contends that the shift in the understanding of bullfights expresses a re-negotiation between Church and State in the context of the Counter-reformation’s attack to Pagan practices.

The interplay of sacral culture with sociopolitical contexts is the topic of Raquel Torres Jiménez’ und Jaime Elipes articles. The first one studies several parish churches of the Campo de Calatrava, Spain, from the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 16th century. Through an exhaustive reading of primary documents, she underlines the role of the Church in building and shaping the local identities of these rural communities, highlighting the social and civil aspects of a wide variety of liturgical and devotional practices.

Also focusing on religious identities, but challenging our preconceptions about what constitutes “religious”, Jaime Elipe traces the parallel lives of two members of an ecclesiastical dynasty, the Archbishops of Zaragoza Alonso de Aragón (1470–1520) and his son Juan de Aragón (1492–1530). Elipe analyzes these characters, bastard son and grandson of King Ferdinand II the Catholic, and their wordly lifestyle and tastes, in order to exemplify how politics and religion, the sacred and the profane, intermingled at the beginning of the 16th century.

The last two contributions are devoted to the subject of early modern pneumatology, an important aspect of the religious and scientific culture of the period. Ismael del Olmo deals with the epistemological debates surrounding demonic spirits in early modern Europe. His chapter analyzes the affinities between the languages of demonology and discernment, thus focusing on a wide array of ←17 | 18→solutions to a problem crucial to 16th religious culture: which is the spirit that lies at the origin of extraordinary external behavior? A divine, a natural, or an evil spirit?

Andrew Keitt traces the Catholic campaign against demonic superstition in Spain with the aid of the cognitive science of religion, an approach that aims at understanding why and how the human brain is attuned to conceive spiritual beings. Thus, his chapter offers not only a perceptive view of the ecclesiastical reactions towards lay religious practices in early modern Spain, but also an introduction to the main concepts of a theoretical frame that helps to update the debate about the interplay between human culture and human biology.

Altogether, these contributions may help to analyze the specific characteristics, constants, variations, and transformations of the holy and the sacred in the Christian societies from the 15th to the 17th century, especially with regard to their significance concerning cultural values, norms, and identities as well as discursive and epistemic premises. The variety of approaches given in the book, ranging from history, art history, religious and cultural studies, cognitive science, and literary theory, ensures a broad perspective of the period in question, benefiting our understanding of early modern Christianities.

Works Cited

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Benedict, Philip/Gutmann, Myron: Early Moden Europe. From Crisis to Stability. University of Delaware Press: Newark 2005.

Burckhardt, Jacob: Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien. Ein Versuch. Schweighauser: Basel 1860.

Cabantous, Alain: Entre fêtes et clochers. Profane et sacré dans l’Europe moderne. XVIIe-XVIIIe siècle. Fayard: Paris 2002.

Cabantous, Alain: Le dimanche, une histoire. Seuil: Paris 2013.

Callois, Roger: Der Mensch und das Heilige. Hanser: Munich 1988.

Coster, Will/Andrew Spicer: “The Dimensions of Sacred Space in Reformation Europe”. In: id. (eds.): Sacred Space in Early Modern Europe. University Press: Cambridge, 2005, pp. 1–16.

Dixon, C. Scott: “Introduction. Living with Religious Diversity in Early-Modern Europe”. In: id. (eds.): Living with Religious Diversity in Early-Modern Europe. Ashgate: Farnham 2009, pp. 1–20.

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Douglas, Mary: “Heilige Wahrheit – Überlegungen zu Durkheims Begriff des Heiligen”. In: Kamper, Dietmar/Wulf, Christoph: (eds.): Das Heilige. Seine Spur in der Moderne. Athenäum: Frankfurt 1987, pp. 428–440.

Durkheim, Émile: Die elementaren Formen des religiösen Lebens. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt 1981.

Eliade, Mircea: Das Heilige und das Profane. Vom Wesen des Religiösen. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt 1990.

Eliade, Mircea: Mythos und Wirklichkeit. Insel: Frankfurt 1988.

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ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (December)
Sakralkultur Frühe Neuzeit Europa 1450-1700
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 406 pp., 27 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Teresa Hiergeist (Volume editor) Ismael Del Olmo (Volume editor)

Teresa Hiergeist carries out research in the field of French and Spanish literature and culture of the Early Modern Period at the FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg. Ismael del Olmo teaches early modern history at the University of Buenos Aires, and studies the relationships between demonology, biblical exegesis, and incredulity between the 16th and the 17th century.


Title: Christian Discourses of the Holy and the Sacred from the 15th to the 17th Century
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408 pages