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  • Pious Postmortems: Anatomy, Sanctity and the Catholic Church in Early Modern Europe by Bradford A. Bouley
  • Paige Donaghy
Bouley, Bradford A., Pious Postmortems: Anatomy, Sanctity and the Catholic Church in Early Modern Europe, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017; hardback pp. 224; R.R.P. $55.00; ISBN 9780812249576.

During the canonization process for Teresa of Avila in 1583, local church officials in Alba exhumed her body and found upon opening the tomb that 'Teresa's body remained completely "incorrupt"' (p. 58), after nine months of interment. This seemingly miraculous preservation of Teresa's corpse was attested to by physician Ludovico Vasquez, who sought to find 'natural explanations' for her incorruption, even visiting her body during 'very hot days' to see if it would decay (p. 59). It did not, and Vasquez reported to church officials that Teresa's bodily preservation 'could only be a miracle' (p. 59). This fascinating case of incorruption is just one of many discussed in Bradford Bouley's Pious Postmortems, a study of the relationships between anatomy, medicine, the miraculous, and the Catholic Church in early modern Europe. Bouley investigates the specific place that anatomy had in the canonization processes established by the Catholic Church throughout the [End Page 200] early modern period, and demonstrates the increasing importance anatomical evidence had in the deeming of people as saintly.

Beginning with Chapter 1, Bouley summarizes the medieval and early modern canonization practices of the Catholic Church, as well as the state of medicine and anatomy at this time. Chapter 2 then goes on to demonstrate the increasing significance of anatomical evidence and medical authority in these processes. Bouley describes how irregular anatomies became key signs of saintliness (pp. 50–57), and convincingly argues that it was the cases of Filippo Neri and Teresa of Avila in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that encouraged church officials to adopt anatomical proof in canonization investigations (pp. 57–69).

The subsequent chapter further explores the role of medicine in these processes, focusing on the practices of the medici in their examinations of incorrupt corpses, and detailing the empirical methods they employed to test the intactness of the bodies in question. Bouley then offers a summary of the importance of incorruption, which, while informative and useful, would have served the reader better in the introduction or earlier chapters (pp. 72–75). Regardless, the remainder of the chapter astutely demonstrates the tensions and pressures that medical examiners faced in their reporting on incorrupt bodies: pressure from local church officials who wanted an outcome one way or another; local politicians or royalty with vast money spent on patronage of the canonization process; mobs of worshippers intent on the saintliness of the body being declared; or the physician's own moral dilemmas about declaring a miracle where a body showed signs of decay (pp. 75–88).

Chapter 4 analyses the place of asceticism in early modern canonization processes, and while this is an interesting discussion, it lacks the coherent argumentation of earlier chapters, and at times feels repetitive, a reiteration of the points made and demonstrated through the evidence in previous chapters. However, the final chapter is an exciting and original exploration of the gendered aspects of the canonization process, and anatomical examinations by medical authorities. Bouley persuasively contends that the post-mortems of potentially saintly female bodies functioned to reify gender hierarchies of the Church: 'the posthumous medical examination reasserted a woman's feminine and sexual natures, thus drawing a clear line between male and female saints' (p. 111). This sexualisation of female corpses is fascinating, and the discussion regarding the sexual gaze of the medical examiners could have been elaborated further (pp. 122–26). And while Bouley's exploration of the gender dynamics of the canonization process is insightful, the discussion of gender fluidity, or gender switching, is overdrawn and not convincing. Much has been written about the texts that Bouley draws on—the work on marvels by Michel de Montaigne and Ambroise Paré (p. 120–21)—yet Bouley does not engage with this literature: see for example Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations (California University Press, 1988) and Karin Sellberg, 'Queer (Mis)Representations of Early Modern Sexual Monsters', in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 200-202
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-09
Open Access
No
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