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Saints, Devotions and Canonisation in Early Modern Italy

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Abstract

Over the last 30 years, historians have taken a keen interest in saints as a means of gauging the nature of Catholic reform and the Counter Reformation in Europe, and Italy in particular. Scholarship has focused on both the manner of institutional reform of the canonisation process and the ways in which so-called ‘popular’ devotions and religious practices continued in spite of central, official concerns. This article considers how the debate has shifted away from stressing a top-down imposition of saints as models of virtue towards emphasising the scope for negotiation between the faithful and the Church authorities in Rome. It argues for the importance of recent research showing the uncertain and slow course of reform to canonisation long after the end of Trent and the creation of the Congregation of Rites. Building on the identification of religious orders as peculiar ‘localities’, this article calls for a reappraisal of how these orders fitted within the sacred landscape. Furthermore, attention is drawn to the significance of candidates for sainthood as the objects of devotion; taking into consideration the requirements for beatification and canonisation, this article stresses a number of approved possibilities for individualised experiences within the Counter-Reformation Church. In particular, the requirement for miracles meant that even unofficial, candidate saints had to be taken up by devotees: thus ‘holiness’ could exist aside from official sainthood despite increased regulation of the canonisation process.

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