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“Enamelled with the Blood of a Noble Lineage”: Tracing Noble Blood and Female Holiness in Early Modern Neapolitan Convents and Their Architecture1

  • Helen Hills (a1)

The stark antithesis between the secular and the religious has been effectively challenged by scholarship of early modern Italy, which has shown the degree to which these fields necessarily overlapped. Nevertheless, studies of early modern female devotion, especially within convents, often present women as caught between competing claims of kinship and clerical authority, a conflict between family and convent, an opposition between the secular and the divine. This paper argues that within Neapolitan conventual circles, at least, nuns' noble blood was regarded as enhancing the spiritual value of their convents, and that, on the whole, the way in which the Decrees of the Council of Trent were interpreted served to “aristocratize” convents. Something of a fusion occurred between nobility and spirituality in women. This paper relates this fusion to discourses on nobility and to the aristocratization of convent culture after enclosure at Trent, examining how it marked post-Tridentine Neapolitan convent architecture and urbanism. In short, I argue that nuns' nobility enhanced the spiritual value of Neapolitan convents after Trent, and that such status was communicated discursively, architecturally, and urbanistically.

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John Bossy , “The Counter Reformation and the People of Catholic Europe,” Past and Present 47 (1970): 55.

J. Bugge , Virginitas: An Essay in the History of a Medieval Idea (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975)

S. Ditchfield , “Sanctity in Early Modern Italy,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 47:1 (1996): 98112.

M. A. Visceglia , “Linee per uno studio unitario dei testamenti e dei contratti matrimoniali dell'aristocrazia feudale napoletana tra fine Quattrocento e Settecento,” Mélanges de l'Ecole Française de Rome 95 (1983): 393470.

C. Bruzelius , “Hearing is Believing: Clarissan Architecture, ca.1213–1340,” Gesta 31:2 (1992): 8391

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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