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  • “Giansenisti,” ebrei e “giacobini” a Siena: Dall’Accademia ecclesiastica all’Impero napoleonico (1780–1814). Con un’appendice di documenti inediti
  • Leopold Glueckert O.Carm
“Giansenisti,” ebrei e “giacobini” a Siena: Dall’Accademia ecclesiastica all’Impero napoleonico (1780–1814). Con un’appendice di documenti inediti. By Francesca Piselli. [Biblioteca della Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa, Studi XX.] (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore. 2007. Pp. xiv, 219. €24,00 paperback. ISBN 978-8-822-25711-6.)

This slender work presents an interesting snapshot of what happens when a peaceful effort of church reform collides with the much larger events of the French Revolutionary movement.

In 1783, Archbishop Tiberio Borghesi of Siena authorized the formation of an ecclesiastical academy for his diocese and the six others nearby. His action coincided with the hoped-for ecclesiastical reforms envisioned by Tuscany’s grand duke, Pietro Leopoldo (who would succeed his brother Joseph II in 1790 as Emperor Leopold II). The academy was to serve as a major vehicle of clergy formation and discipline, in harmony with the grand duke’s vision of the enhanced position of pastors. Like his brother, Pietro Leopoldo wanted to diminish the influence of religious orders, chapters, lay confraternities, and other nonparochial institutions. He saw the local pastor as the ultimate agent of local culture and well-being, with a chain of accountability that certainly favored an absolutist regime.

One other person who favored the new reforms and the academy was Bishop Scipione de’ Ricci of Pistoia, the same one who would preside over the troublesome Synod of Pistoia in 1786. Ricci favored the tendencies of late Italian Jansenism as the most efficient way to foster a return to what he saw as the values of primitive Christianity. In addition to rigorist discipline, moral studies, liturgy, and social control, Ricci favored a reduction in the influence of the Roman Curia, as well as the Jesuits and other religious orders. Whatever the motivation, the reforms of the grand duke were highly unpopular with the ordinary citizens and in any case were swept up in the revolutionary tide, as French forces overran northern Italy just a few years later. [End Page 621]

In the minds of the more traditional Catholics, all those promoting significant changes in both Church and society were considered to be elements of one grand massa damnata of “Jansenists, Jews, and Jacobins” as the book’s title reminds us. The heart and soul of the academy was Fabio de’Vecchi, a serious and energetic cleric who quickly locked horns with others who felt that the filo-Jansenists were a seditious force within the body politic and who would eventually upset the balance between Church and state in favor of the latter. Borghesi had second thoughts about his new creation almost immediately, but it was left to his successor Alfonso Marsili finally to suppress it in 1793. Perhaps the most horrific episode of the reaction was the “Viva Maria” violence in 1799, when the French troops were temporarily withdrawn. Armed mobs from Arezzo, including many priests and monks, invaded the district around Siena, beating and killing Jews and other perceived enemies.

Piselli has given us an interesting and extensively documented account of this little-known vignette of Tuscan history. The much-neglected Jewish community of Siena comes in for a very well-documented examination. She has taken advantage of newly uncovered documents and records. The highlight of the papers that she provides in the appendix is a carefully prepared “enemies list” cataloguing personal data on “Jacobins, rogues, and irreligious” from Siena and its surrounding diocese. This is the only surviving document of its type that remains in the archives of the Archdiocese of Siena. Students of this period will be very pleased with Piselli’s careful analysis.

Leopold Glueckert O.Carm
Washington Theological Union


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