- Gender and Prophecy in Late Medieval Valencia
This essay contrasts and compares the careers of two visionaries, one male (Agostí Ferrandis), the other female (Tecla Servent). Both had prophetic careers in the same geographic area, the Kingdom of Valencia, at the end of the fifteenth century, and the authenticity of the messages of both was questioned by the ecclesiastical establishment. I will argue that, while the issue of gender is always relevant to the visionary experience and to the discernment of spirits, Ferrandis’s status as a male cleric did not guarantee the automatic acceptance of his divine messages, nor was Servent’s status as a laywomen automatically detrimental to her prophetic career.
Agostí Ferrandis, vicar of the Dominican monastery of Corpus Christi in Lutxent, announced in a sermon delivered in that town around Christmas of 1475 that the Virgin Mary had appeared to him and warned that people should mend their ways, for her son was greatly angered at humankind.1 In [End Page 299] the sermon the friar preached on New Year’s Day in the cathedral of Xàtiva, he predicted that a frightful sign of divine anger would be visible everywhere in the world, but only God knew whether that portent would consist of floods, fire, or earthquakes. The Virgin Mary urged people, he alleged, to repent, go to confession, receive the Eucharist, and pardon wrongs done to them so as to be in a state of grace when the terrible moment came. Those who repented would be saved, while sinners would perish. Ferrandis also predicted that as a sign that his predictions would come true, he would disappear from the world before the month of March (Dietari 374).
The aldermen of Valencia sent the nobleman Joan de Pròxita to invite Ferrandis to preach in that city. The friar arrived there on 25 January 1476, lodging in the home of the lawyer Miquel Albert.2 On Sunday, 27 January, he delivered a sermon in the cathedral of Valencia in which he reiterated that he had seen the Virgin Mary, and he exhorted all to repent, claiming that only those in a state of grace would be saved from the approaching calamity. The following Monday he preached once again in the cathedral and claimed that the Virgin had appeared to him twice the preceding night; his sermon moved the members of the congregation to forgive one another, confess their sins, and receive communion. Ferrandis then went on to disseminate his message of repentance in nearby cities and towns, where numerous people from Valencia followed him and his words inspired many to convert to a holier life. On Friday, 9 February, the friar returned to Valencia, but Guillem de Vich (the vicar general of cardinal Rodrigo de Borja, the city’s archbishop) and the royal governor Joan Roiz de Corella forbade him to continue to preach in Valencia, and so on 13 February he returned to his monastery in Lutxent (374–75).3 [End Page 300]
Miquel Albert reported by letter to the town council of Valencia that he had followed Ferrandis to Lutxent and that on 22 February it was discovered that the friar had disappeared from his cell.4 A few days later he was located in the hermitage of Santa Ana, to which, no longer wishing to preach, he had retired to engage in penitential acts (376).5 Was this what Ferrandis had meant when he had announced at Christmas in Xàtiva that he would disappear from the world? On 4 July the canons of the cathedral chapter met and voted that Ferrandis’s supernatural experiences were due to diabolic temptation, not divine inspiration (“que hera temptacio e no cosa divina” ).6 Only master Bernat Peres considered the friar’s lifestyle holy (“era de santa vida”) and believed that all he had said was the truth. On 10 August Joan de Pròxita, who had been a great admirer of Ferrandis, died, and his widow bid Ferrandis come to Valencia and requested that he and the other friars pray for her husband’s soul (376).7
Taking advantage of the friar’s presence in Valencia, the diocese’s vicar...