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Reviewed by:
  • Christ Transformed into a Virgin Woman. Lucia Brocadelli, Heinrich Institoris, and the Defense of Faith by Tamar Herzig
  • Fabrizio Conti

Christian mysticism, Tamar Herzig, female saints, female mystics, Heinrich Kramer, witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum

Tamar Herzig, Christ Transformed into a Virgin Woman. Lucia Brocadelli, Heinrich Institoris, and the Defense of Faith. Rome, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2013, Pp. ix + 330.

We know that toward the end of the Middle Ages there was a general rise in interest in female supernatural experiences, whether viewed in a positive or a negative light. Notions of both sanctity and wickedness congealed around specific models, giving rise to figures of both saints and witches. The former—the saintly women that Gabriella Zarri has called ‘‘sante vive’’ (living [End Page 90] saints)—were female mystics venerated during their lifetime. They became increasingly important in shaping peculiar, if contested, models of sanctity in Italy in the age of princely courts.

Tamar Herzig’s Christ Transformed into a Virgin Woman offers, from this point of view, an intriguing insight into a much broader cultural field than may be grasped from the title alone. The nine-page pamphlet titled Stigmifere virginis Lucie de Narnia aliarumque spiritualium personarum feminei sexus facta admiracione digna (Deeds of the Stigmatic Virgin Lucia of Narni and of Other Spiritual Persons of the Female Sex that are Worthy of Admiration), published by the (in)famous Dominican inquisitor Heinrich Kramer (Henricus Institoris) in Olomuc, Moravia, in 1501, promoted the famed sanctity of contemporary Dominican tertiaries Lucia Brocadelli of Narni (d. 1544), Stefana Quinzani (d. 1530), and Colomba of Rieti (d. 1501). This pamphlet lays out a varied and rich itinerary, centered on the role of a precise type of female spirituality that, in the view of the Dominican friar, can serve to defend the faith against several types of threats.

Herzig explains that this German inquisitor, who was primarily known as a witch-hunter, held a clashing set of attitudes toward women—an ambivalence shared by some of his fellow friars. Kramer, whose attacks on witches in the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) have often been interpreted as a manifestation of his overall fear of women, appears otherwise to be a great admirer of female mystical saints, so much so that he became one of the major contributors to the spread of their veneration beyond Italy. Herzig reconstructs his consideration of female supernatural appeal through the analysis of some of his major works, with the focus on how his perception of the female aptitude inclined either to diabolic flatteries or to divine revelation.

Chapter 1 lays out a detailed exposition of Kramer’s life, orientation, and historical and religious backgrounds. In Chapter 2, Herzig focuses on Kramer’s take on witchcraft, heresy, and narratives pertaining to piety and desecration of the Eucharist. The image of witchcraft as a predominantly female, ‘‘new’’ type of heresy, particularly oriented toward producing bewitchment, is well exemplified by the Malleus maleficarum, and is constructed in opposition to a version of doctrinal heterodoxy that, in Kramer’s view, is markedly male in character. The appointment of Kramer as papal inquisitor in 1500, primarily to prosecute Hussite sects in the Kingdom of Bohemia, led to his fascinating promotion of the charismatic type of embodied female spirituality, with a number of publications issued there in that regard. In Chapter 3, Herzig reconstructs the ties that Kramer established not long before with Lucia Brocadelli, whose fame as a revived St. Catherine was spreading fast. The Eucharistic raptures and ecstasies of the those Italian holy women, and [End Page 91] especially the stigmata that Brocadelli received while she was in front of a crucifix reliving the suffering of Christ’s Passion, are frequently put forward by Kramer against the Moravian Hussites as proofs of Roman Catholic doctrines. What is more, Kramer also had to defend somatic female spirituality from the opposition not only of the Franciscans, who clearly wanted to preserve the uniqueness of St. Francis’s divine gifts, but even from the doubts of his own fellow friars of the German Observant Dominican congregation as well as from Girolamo Savonarola. Chapter 4 sets out to explain the different points of view from which the...


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