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  • Gerardo Maiella. La sua storia e il nostro tempo. Atti del convegno di studi per il 250º anniversario della morte del Santo e per il Centenario della Canonizzazione, Materdomini 21–21 giugno 2005
  • Tommaso Astarita
Gerardo Maiella. La sua storia e il nostro tempo. Atti del convegno di studi per il 250º anniversario della morte del Santo e per il Centenario della Canonizzazione, Materdomini 21–21 giugno 2005. Edited by Angelomichele De Spirito and Alfonso V. Amarante. (Materdomini [AV]: Editrice San Gerardo. 2006. Pp. 271. €15,00 paperback.)

This volume collects essays presented at a symposium held in 2005 in Materdomini, near Avellino (in Campania, southern Italy), at the sanctuary dedicated to Saint Gerardo Maiella.The symposium celebrated anniversaries both of Maiella's death and of his canonization. Maiella (1726–1755) was an early member of the Redemptorists,the congregation of priests dedicated especially to internal evangelizing missions founded by Saint Alfonso de' Liguori (1696– 1787).Maiella joined the Redemptorists as a lay brother in 1749, the year when the papacy recognized the congregation as a new order, and professed in the order in 1752. He assisted in various mission activities in Campania and Basilicata (his birth region), and died young. Popular fame as a saint surrounded Maiella already in his last years, and various miracles and prodigies were attributed to him early on. His penitential life, and his enthusiasm for the religious life, for the Crucifix, and for the Madonna, also marked the young Redemptorist both in his lifetime and in popular memory after his death. He was declared venerable in 1847, beatified in 1893, and canonized in 1904. He is still quite popular in southern Italy (his much-visited sanctuary in Materdomini publishes a journal and maintains a bilingual web site), as well as in the Americas; he is a patron of women in childbirth.

Maiella is an interesting figure: He was of humble birth and was apprenticed as a tailor. His education was limited, and his writings (mostly consisting of forty-four letters) show much closeness to oral, popular culture. His devotion featured intense emotionalism and penitential practices, but he was also quite involved in the popular southern Italian tradition of the saint as a very practical miracle-worker (in one case, he rid a peasant's field of rats) and as someone very engaged in the struggles and passions of ordinary life: in one episode, Maiella hit and almost killed a prostitute who mocked him in the streets of Naples! His life could offer interesting insights to the social and cultural history of religious life in early modern Italy.

The essays in the volume under review, however, have at best a limited usefulness. The writers cover various themes—Maiella's personality, his links with [End Page 370] women religious, his friendships with other clerics—but the volume does not offer a suitable introduction to those not already familiar with the saint and his life.The volume includes no introduction, index, or chronology, and the reader has to reconstruct Maiella's biography from snippets of information scattered around the various essays.Although the essays include references and employ sources and secondary literature, the writers all write less from a scholarly point of view than from an evangelizing one (one author notes that he has composed a 450-verse poem in the Neapolitan dialect about Maiella). The result is a rather uncritical—and unfocused—hagiography that will be of limited interest outside of Redemptorist circles. [End Page 371]

Tommaso Astarita
Georgetown University


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