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  • Between christianitas and Europe:Giovanni of Capestrano as an historical issue
  • Letizia Pellegrini (bio) and Ludovic Viallet (bio)

Giovanni of Capestrano, who is largely ignored by non-specialists in religious history, is very well-known (although with ambivalent fame and assessments) to scholars from the countries which he crossed (present-day Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Croatia) during his turbulent mission of only six years (1451-1456) between Wiener Neustadt and Ilok. However, the fragmentation of research in national historiographies remains very considerable, even though Giovanni's Great Mission seems to constitute, ex natura we could say, a point of convergence among them. The repeated (but unsuccessful) efforts made during the past century to collect and publish his correspondence (still little exploited), and (in recent years) an increasing series of international workshops and scholarly enterprises aimed at this goal, could make of that document-dossier a common and undivided heritage of European scholars.1 [End Page 5]

In these pages, our aim is to propose a possible new interpretation of the mission of Giovanni of Capestrano, related to the great issues of European history in the fifteenth century, namely religious reforms and the making of Europe as both a concept and as a political and cultural reality. If the Reformation is commonly recognized as the turning point in European history at the beginning of the Modern Age, and if several political developments are closely connected to it, at present it remains to be studied how the two processes (of religious reforms and the making of Europe) were intertwined in previous decades.

Current historical research about the development of a common European consciousness recognizes the central role of the fifteenth century. However, the fifteenth century is often still cast as either the last century of the Middle Ages (which seemingly was just a prolongation of the crisis of the fourteenth century), or as merely a prelude to the watershed marked by the success of Luther. With this approach, the phenomena of the fifteenth century are reduced to the level of 'prehistory' and 'background' for the Reformation. In contrast, we claim that innovative interpretations could emerge (even in the assessment of 'modernity') by studying the fifteenth century on its own terms, as a century of efforts and experiences of reforms at different levels, in the perspective of the 'Long European Reformation'.2

Only a few scholars have until now underlined the need of taking a full account of the historical role played by Giovanni of Capestrano. Kaspar Elm was the first to sketch an analysis of his importance (and the Bedeutung of his mission), in an article whose title, as well as its tone, nevertheless, had some limitations:

Dennoch ist es erlaubt, Johannes als einen Mann der Kirche, als einen Heiligen, zu bezeichnen, der sich wie kaum ein anderer in seiner Zeit für die Erneuerung des religiösen Lebens, die Verteidigung der Kirche und die Reform und Rehabilitierung des in politische Abhängigkeit und weltliche Verstrickung geratenen Papsttums eingesetzt und damit ein Fundament gelegt hat, von dem aus im 16. Jahrhundert der Kampf gegen die Reformation geführt und die Christianisierung der Neuen Welt begonnen werden konnte. Wenn man ihn jedoch nur als den 'großen Führer, Gesetzgeber und Organisator des Observanz' [J. Hofer, Johannes Kapistran I, 82] feiert, als Palladin des Papsttums Dominikus und Ignatius an die Seite stellt und als Verteidiger [End Page 6] der Kirche, Sieger über die Türken und Apostel Europas ehrt, wird man ihm als Person nicht ganz gerecht.3

Elm had grasped the extent to which Giovanni of Capestrano's reformist dynamic was part of broader changes in his era, of which it could be a key theme, thereby making Observance in many respects a shared project.4 We would like to show how the in-depth study of the Great Mission (and of the sources that document it) might establish a proper foundation for an approach which opens the way to a truly comprehensive history – an approach that, without claiming (even hypothetically) to offer completeness, aims nevertheless at something more than 'a companion to' that history. We propose an analysis of a subject that connects and contributes to the...


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