Inés of Herrera

Today I’m tipping my hat to late 15th-century conversa mystic, Inés of Herrera, as I find myself once again reading about a woman (well, a girl, actually) who was investigated—and in this tragic case, executed (1500)—by the Inquisition as a result of not only practicing her religion, but also publicising it. That said, most of the women mystics I come across are Christian. Thus, Inés and her ardent followers remind us that Christians were hardly the only Europeans filled with religious zeal in this period.

Inés was born c. 1488. In her late childhood, Inés began to have visions and transcendent experiences in which her deceased mother and angels accompanied her on ascents to heaven. As a result of her experiences, Inés began to prophesy about the deliverance of her co-religionists, Spanish conversos/conversas (Jews converted forcibly and otherwise to Christianity), to the Promised Land, as well as the coming of Elias (who would announce the coming of the Messiah in 1500). Despite having been coerced and even violently forced to convert to Christianity, many of her co-religionists lent her their eager ears. Adults and children alike travelled to Herrera to hear her prophecies, as well her messages about the importance of following the 10 Commandments, fasting, and observing the Sabbath. What I love most about this is that many of those who came to visit Inés were (or claimed to be?) tanners and shoemakers travelling under the guise of doing business. Inés’s father, Juan Esteban, was a shoemaker and tanner by trade, and would invite travelling colleagues ostensibly in Herrera to buy leather to his home to meet his daughter.

In 1499, Inés and her enthusiastic followers came to attention of the Inquisition. Although she and many of her followers were investigated and punished (with various degrees of severity and “lenience”), surviving inquisitorial records literally testify to the expressions of Jewish joy that Inés and her prophesies generated in the community. Many children were especially fervent followers of hers, and records mention how they played, danced, and sang in her presence.

Haim Beinart, throughout her chapter in Inés in Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World, points out that the records surrounding Inés’s case reveal how the Jewish faith remained very much alive among many conversos/conversas (at least those in and around Herrera) following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Despite having been coercively converted (at best), testimonies from Inés’s case show Jewish perseverance in their frequent references to passages from the Hebrew Bible, as well as the reports of fasting and Sabbath observance.

~S

 

Bibliography

This entire post is based on information found in:

Beinart, Haim. “Inés of Herrera del Duque: The Prophetess of Extremadura.” In Women and the Inquisition: Spain and the New World. Edited by Mary E. Giles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 42-52.

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Inés of Herrera

Jeanne Guyon

Today I tip my hat to Jeanne Guyon, a 17th-century Catholic woman mystic, whose religious practices—especially her mode of intensive, interior, constant prayer intended to maintain oneself in the presence of God—and writings lead to her persecution by officials in both the French government and the Catholic Church in France.

Like many early modern women authors, Jeanne was born (1648) to a wealthy family, and her parents had her educated. She was thus privileged with the ability to commit her beliefs to text. Although she became a mystic and author later in life, Jeanne was not an apt pupil, but nevertheless continued to be educated by nuns in various convents as her family moved repeatedly. Though she apparently lacked the makings of a scholar, Jeanne was devoted to her religious life from early on. She desired, at one time, to become a nun, but agreed instead to marry at 15.

After 12 years of marriage, Jeanne was widowed and left with 3 surviving children. As a widow, Jeanne began to teach her beliefs about and methods of prayer, causing controversies in France (and beyond). She was accused of heresy and imprisoned several times (including a 7-year-stint the Bastille). However, she also enjoyed considerable support from many elites. In St. Cyr, Madame de Maintenon, who ran a girls school, invited her to lecture to her pupils.

Jeanne’s adulthood was rife with gains and losses of friends and support (she was asked several times by local authorities to leave towns in which she settled). Indeed, de Maintenon eventually became one of many who cut ties with Jeanne once her controversies caught up with her as she moved from place to place. Even the support of pious courtiers, however, did not prevent her imprisonment after the publication of her book, A Short and Easy Method of Prayer. During her imprisonment Jeanne was forced to renounce her book in exchange for her release. In 1693, with the aim of clearing herself of the socio-religious taint of heterodoxy (Jeanne always considered herself a Catholic), Jeanne requested that Bishop Bossuet (a foremost Catholic cleric who enjoyed the favour of Louis XIV) review her work. He found much of it unorthodox and Jeanne subsequently promised to cease teaching. After a year off the radar, Jeanne tried her luck again. She went to Meaux, home of Bossuet’s cathedral, straddling the line between prisoner and penitent. After 6 months there she escaped with a “certificate of orthodoxy” bearing Bossuet’s signature.

Jeanne’s escape led to her imprisonment in the Bastille. She was released in 1703 on the condition that she live with her adult son in Blois and remain under the supervision of the local bishop. Although she had renounced her writings years before, Jeanne remained devout until her death in 1717, and Blois became pilgrimage site even during her lifetime.

There are a couple of reasons that I wanted to write about Jeanne today (beyond my interest in women mystics). First and foremost, much of the readily available/public sources that discuss Jeanne centre the men in her life. During her earlier years as a spiritual writer and teacher, much is made of one man’s influence over her mind. After her ideas began gathering momentum, another man’s importance to the rise in their popularity is emphasised. Given the patriarchal nature of early modern (and modern) society, I’m sure these men were influential and important, but ultimately Jeanne was the mystic. It was Jeanne who wrote about prayer, her ecstasies, and her experiences of God’s own presence, and it was she who wanted to teach her method of prayer to others. Secondly, Jeanne reminds me to be compassionate when studying history. She didn’t heroically stand by her teachings in the face of indefinite imprisonment; she renounced her greatest work and went on living piously. These actions might not have been as noble as some of those we’ve written about on this blog, but they can remind us that historical hotties respond to hostility in many different ways because at the end of the day they’re “just” people.

~S

Bibliography:

Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Guyon, Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Mothe“. Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Degert, Antoine (1913). “Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon“. In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Jeanne Guyon

Katherine Rem

I know very little about this week’s historical figure, but what I do know compels me to share! As a student of religious reform, I’m often reminded that the grand narrative of The Reformation is still very powerful. One aspect of this narrative is that Protestantism liberated women from the repressive confines of Catholicism by doing away with nunneries (spoiler alert: Protestant majority and Catholic majority societies alike continue(d) repressing women). Historians in recent decades have challenged this notion, but it remains a prevalent idea that effectively assigns progressiveness to one way of believing and backwardness to another. A fruitful way of complicating this narrative (at least in the academy) has been to consider the words and actions of Catholic nuns in Protestant locales. One such woman was Katherine Rem, an early 16th century nun in Augsburg’s Katherine convent.

A devout Catholic nun from one of the quintessential Lutheran cities, Katherine found herself within a socio-religious climate that was increasingly hostile to Catholicism and its representatives. In 1523, Katherine wrote a letter to her brother that showcases her own perspective. In her letter, Katherine affirmed that, although inhabitants of the town were increasingly adopting Lutheranism, she would not be joining them. She chastised the recipient, her own brother, both for converting to Lutheranism himself, and for encouraging Katherine and her niece (his daughter, one of Katherine’s fellow nuns) to follow suit (which would have meant breaking their vows). Katherine declined to follow the path down which her male kinsman was leading her. The letter is rich in language and metaphor straight from Scripture—Katherine knew her Bible and her own mind, and she was not going to convert. She was certainly not going to abandon her vocation; rather, she defended it, going as far as to denounce her brother’s conversion as wicked folly.

Aside from her correspondence, I am not aware of other sources that offer more insight into Katherine’s life. Nonetheless, it appears that Katherine was a woman with the courage of her convictions. She neither bent to shifting socio-religious mores in her locale, nor obediently complied with the wishes of her close male relative. Her devotion to her vocation reminds us that studying historical change requires that we be suspicious of truths presumed to be self-evident.

~S

 

Merry Wiesner Hanks and Monica Chojnacka. Ages of Woman, Ages of Man: Sources in European Social History, 1400-1750 (London: Routledge, 2014), 239-243.

 

Katherine Rem

Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita

It’s the third Friday of Black History Month, and in that spirit we’re highlighting another lesser-known black historical figure. This week, it’s Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita, a Kongolese noblewoman, prophet and religious-political leader.

Beatriz was born to noble parents in the Kingdom of Kongo (present-day Angola) in 1684. Europeans had disseminated Catholicism throughout the kingdom about two centuries before, and Beatriz was raised Catholic, but she did not take a passive role in her religion. She did not accept Catholicism as Europeans presented it. Instead, she promoted a Kongolese brand of Catholicism.

During Beatriz’s lifetime, Kongo was in a state of civil war that dated back to Portuguese military upheaval of the region in the 1660s. In 1704, Beatriz underwent a powerful spiritual experience that led her to assume a prominent role in the conflict as a religious and political leader. While ailing in 1704, Beatriz reported having visions of St. Anthony. These culminated in what she called her death: St. Anthony now occupied the body that once belonged to Beatriz, who had been trained as an nganga marinda, a community member who interacts with the supernatural realm in the interest of the community at large. In the body of an African woman, St. Anthony claimed to have a special and interpersonal relationship with God, who commanded that Kongo must be a united kingdom with one ruler. “The Kongolese Saint Anthony” (as they are called by biographer, John Thrornton) appealed to two of Kongo’s kings, but neither heeded the message. Having failed on this score, the Kongolese St. Anthony amassed a peaceful following and occupied São Salvador, the former capital.

In addition to sending missionaries out with their message, the Kongolese St. Anthony created their own religious doctrine, which they asserted was Catholic, but of a specifically Kongolese kind. They rewrote both the Ave Maria and Salve Regina (Salve Antoniana) to reflect Kongolese spiritual needs and priorities. And, particularly noteworthy this month, the Kongolese St. Anthony not only refuted that there were no existing black saints and insisted that Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other major Christian figures were in fact Kongolese, but also admonished priests who argued otherwise.

Predictably, the Kongolese St. Anthony, having undermined the authority of various established powers in the region, was executed for heresy by those loyal to one of the Kongolese kings in 1706. Though their life was cut short, the Kongolese St. Anthony’s approach to religion is an important reminder that, though European colonisers brutally enforced their ways among colonised and/or converted peoples, this process was not just passively received. On the contrary, colonised and/or converted peoples not only reshaped religious movements and doctrine to suit their own ways of knowing, believing and being, but also influenced the ways of life of the very peoples that sought to repress them.

~S

 

Bibliography

Alexander Ives Bortolot, Dona Beatriz: Kongo Prophet, In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001-.) http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pwmn_4/hd_pwmn_4.htm (October 2003; accessed 19 February 2016).

John Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita

Samuel Pallache

Last week, Monique touched on the importance of acknowledging the existence of people who don’t fit neatly into specific social categories. In a similar vein, today I’m featuring a man who did not fit neatly into given social spaces. Meet Samuel Pallache, a Portuguese Jew who lived and worked in Muslim-ruled Morocco and both Catholic- and Protestant-ruled parts of Eurasia in the early 17th century. Despite belonging to a marginalised religious minority that existed in tension with all of the aforementioned, Pallache exemplifies the permeability of identities and borders in a period that is generally considered to have observed hard and fast religious divisions.

Pallache came from a family that had relocated to Morocco after the mass expulsion of Jews from Portugal. In 1603, Morocco became a site of civil war between the Sultan’s competing sons. The Spanish crown opportunistically intervened in these conflicts, often employing Jewish intermediaries. Jews became targets for looting, and were subjected to specially-imposed taxes by rival claimants. Many converted to Islam as a survival tactic. Pallache chose instead to leave.

From 1603 to 1607, he worked in Spain and Portugal, currying favour with the Spanish monarchy (mostly by supplying intelligence about North Africa). Some of Pallache’s co-religionists converted to Catholicism in order to work for nobles in Spain and Portugal, where some also provided Jewish instruction to conversos* eager to reconnect with their roots. Pallache avoided converting, though biographers Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers suggest that tutoring conversos is probably what caused him to come under inquisitorial suspicion in 1607 (no known records indicate a fully-fledged trial).

Under suspicion, Pallache returned to Fez before moving to Amsterdam in 1609. In the same year, he gained a new royal benefactor, Sultan Muley Zaydan, for whom he worked as an agent, brokering commercial and military deals between Morocco and the Dutch Republic. Pallache lost favour with Zaydan in 1614 when (true) rumours spread that he had been informing the Spanish about Moroccan intelligence for years. His position lost, he hastily left Morocco and privateered his way to England, where he was arrested, tried and acquitted of piracy.

As his eclectic résumé suggests, Pallache undertook a lot of risks in his career, often crossing the already blurry lines “between legitimate commerce, smuggling, and privateering.”[1] Pallache returned to Amsterdam where complaints against his dodgy dealings had mounted in his absence. The Dutch and Moroccan governments were disenchanted with him, but he remained an informer for the Spanish crown. After a career of extreme peaks and valleys, Pallache died in poverty in 1619.

Pallache is not a paragon virtue; he’s more of an anti-hero (anti-hottie?) than anything. But he embodies the complexities of identities and spaces that can initially seem mutually exclusive. As a Jew, Pallache was marginalised in both Christian-ruled Eurasia and Muslim-ruled Morocco. However, his world was one in which (much like today) a variety of religious, socio-political and economic factors paradoxically mutually reinforced and undermined hostile social divisions. Though he died broke, during his career Pallache played different prejudicial regimes against one another in order overcome (to an impressive degree) the marginalisation that Jews faced in North Africa and Eurasia alike.

~S

*converso is the term generally used to refer to Jewish converts to Christianity, forced or voluntary.

This post is indebted to García-Arenal and Wiegers’ revisionist biography of Pallache.

[1] Mercedes García-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers, A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe, trans. Martin Beagles (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 75.

 

 

Samuel Pallache