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  • San Rocco: Genesi e prima espansione di un culto. Incontro di studio—Padova, 12–13 febbraio 2004
  • Alison Frazier
San Rocco: Genesi e prima espansione di un culto. Incontro di studio—Padova, 12–13 febbraio 2004. Edited by Antonio Rigon and André Vauchez. [Subsidia hagiographica, 87.] (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes. 2006. Pp. x, 324; 32 plates. E70,00 paperback.)

According to André Vauchez, doyen of hagiographical studies, Pierre Bolle's doctoral thesis (Free University of Brussels, 2001) "devastate[d] pretty much everything we thought we knew about St. Roch and his cult" ("qui ruine à peu près toutes les certitudes que l'on croyait avoir à propos de saint Roch et de son culte," p. 1). Fittingly, then, this important volume responds to that crisis by opening with an energetic methodological chapter by Bolle himself, whose guiding principles are none other than those established at the beginning of the last century by Bollandist Hippolyte Delehaye. All future students of Roch's cult should pin Bolle's Figures 2 (pp. 32–33) and 4 (p. 40) above their desks—not as gospel but as fundamental queries—and should contemplate at length the early sixteenth century (al. late fifteenth century) Provençal woodcut reproduced at the head of the tremendous selection of colored plates closing the volume. Following Bolle, it becomes clear that scholars of incunable-period saints need training in technical aspects of early printing history as much as their usual manuscript preparation—otherwise the evidence of the early imprints, which in this case precede the extant manuscript tradition of the vitae, will go unexploited. St. Roch now vies with Simon of Trent, the child supposedly martyred by the Jews in 1475, for the title of "first saint of print," an honor bestowed upon Simon a decade ago by book historian Ugo Rozzo. In retrospect, one sees a dismal portent for the new medium: Both cases were fantasies first promoted in print by highly educated politicians.

Vauchez returns in chapter 2 with a survey of six other late medieval, predominantly aristocratic pilgrim-saints who, like Roch and Alexis, died in Italian locations, far from their homes. These cases demonstrate "the special importance" ("une importance particulière," p. 65) of the lay martyred pilgrim-saint in the spiritual life of the Italian Quattrocento, although the type was of little interest to the institutional Church. These wanderers' cults remained obscurely local—quite unlike Alexis's and Roch's. [End Page 346]

Two contributors then challenge aspects of Bolle's hypothesis (chapters 3–4). Concisely and convincingly, R. Godding disputes Bolle's claim that the pilgrim martyr St. Roch of Montpellier is a doublet of the bishop-confessor St. Roch (by misprision, Racho) of Autun, arguing instead for a "contamination" of the cults of two different saints. The textual situation, in other words, is even more complex than Bolle imagined. With diffuse courtesy, G. Andenna disputes Bolle's demonstration of the chronological primacy of Francesco Diedo's vita s. Rochi (ed. pr. Milan, 1479). Rather, he claims, Diedo, as the Venetian governor of formerly Milanese Brescia, borrowed his story from the vita breviora, making ideologically motivated elisions at two points where that narrative seemed to promote Milanese political aims. The suspect phrases in the vita breviora, Andenna explains, were meaningfully usable only between 1397 and 1449, and so it must be the earlier account. Whatever one makes of this argument, and much could be said, Andenna's attention to the ideological implications of these vitae is admirable and convincing in itself.

Next, exhibiting a general lack of concern for ideological implications, five central essays (chapters 5–9) take up the socio-institutional story of Roch's early cult in the crucial northern Italian areas around Vicenza, Voghera, Piacenza, Padua, and Verona. The range of orders that took some interest in Roch is striking: archives turn up local instances of Franciscan, Dominican, Servite, and Carmelite attention. But Roch was chiefly in the hands of lay confraternities and their testators (who regularly linked Roch with Sebastian and Lucy). Already by the late 1460s and early 1470s confraternities organized chapels and hospitals in his honor. This Italian section contains invaluable documentation, including a new Latin...


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