- Christ Transformed into a Virgin Woman: Lucia Brocadelli, Heinrich Institoris, and the Defense of the Faith by Tamar Herzig
Witch or saint? Bound to the Father of Lies or beloved of the Son of God? This facile antithesis was a commonplace in the typology of the feminine in vogue at the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But it was not infrequently gain-said by the remarkable lives, allegedly miracuolous deeds, stunning ascetic excesses, and bizarre mystical experiences—and at times unseemly pretensions and even pretenses—of those celebrated religious women of Renaissance Italy who were commonly known as beate or sante vive. The task of determining the classification of these women, and their corresponding level of denunciation or acclaim, fell mostly to the putative specialists in the matter—the ubiquitous inquisitors of heretical depravity. These individuals, however, did not always arrive at their verdicts by entirely dispassionate, objective evaluations of the religious phenomenology of the subjects of their investigations, for at times they could be swayed not only by their own credulity but by other considerations as well—the desire to employ these women as examples to foster popular devotion; the need to earn the favor of their powerful princely patrons; and, perhaps most of all, the intention to use them as resources in one way or another for their principal concern, the repression of heresy.
That this could indeed be the case is illustrated very well by Tamar Herzig’s study of the Italian Dominican tertiary and reputed santa viva Lucia Brocadelli da Narni (1476–1544), for it focuses on the attention paid her by the German Dominican inquisitor Heinrich Kramer “Institoris” (c. 1430–1505), indefatigable witch-hunter and author of the Malleus Maleficarum. Aware of her reputation as a second St. Catherine of Siena and of her alleged possession of stigmata, Kramer met Brocadelli in March 1500 in Ferrara, where she had become the household living saint of Duke Hercules I D’Este, who had her smuggled out of Viterbo and installed in a new monastery constructed by him expressly for her and her community. After assisting at a further examination of the authenticity of her stigmata conducted at his insistence by the Dominican inquisitor of Bologna, Giovanni Cagnazzo of Taggia, Kramer became convinced of the phenomenon’s supernaturality. Herzig interestingly suggests that this might also reflect the marked fascination with Brocadelli of Pope Alexander VI, Kramer’s patron at that time.
In 1501 Kramer moved to Moravia, where he took part in the inquisitorial campaign against the Bohemian Brethren. In September of that year he published in Olomuc a brief tract recounting his encounter with Brocadelli and her stigmata, as well as invoking other contemporary sante vive associated with the Dominican order such as Colomba of Rieti and Osanna Andreasi of Mantua. Herzig presents a critical edition of this pamphlet, Stigmifere virginis Lucie de Narnia aliarumque spiritualium personarum feminei sexus facta admiracione digna; traces its editorial history; and contextualizes and analyzes Kramer’s employment of it in his defense of [End Page 606] the Catholic faith, not only against the Hussite heresy but also against the Jews and the perceived Turkish menace.
Herzig’s work is an important and welcome contribution to the series of scholarly studies on the sante vive inaugurated by Gabriella Zarri some thirty years ago and subsequently added to by other specialists (especially E. Ann Matter), who have brought to the fore the rich depths of this significant and intriguing aspect of the feminine presence in the religious and wider social context of Renaissance Italy.