This article explores the way in which the Counter Reformation priests sent to England after 1574 cultivated and harnessed the culture of the miraculous in their efforts to reform and evangelize the populace and to defend doctrines and practices assaulted by Protestant polemicists. Drawing on the insights emerging from recent research on Catholic renewal on the Continent, it shows how the seminary clergy and especially the Jesuits fostered traditional beliefs and practices associated with saints, relics, and sacramentals and exploited the potential of exorcisms and visions for didactic and proselytizing purposes. Close examination of these strategies serves to question some existing assumptions about the nature, objectives, and impact of the English Catholic mission and to illuminate the particular challenges that persecution presented to a movement determined to purge popular piety of its ‘superstitious’ accretions. It underlines the tensions between ecclesiastical direction and lay initiative which characterized a context in which Catholicism was a minority Church and highlights the frictions and divisions which these attempts to utilize supernatural power stimulated within the ranks of the Counter Reformation priesthood itself.
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