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Investigating the Inquisition: Controlling Sexuality and Social Control in Eighteenth-Century Italy

  • Matteo Al Kalak

Abstract

This article investigates the actions of the eighteenth-century Roman Inquisition, looking at controlling sexuality and social control in particular. To this end, it examines the actions of an “atypical” outlying tribunal: the Modena tribunal. In the 1700s, the tribunal's activities did not decline, as the number of trials held increased. Possible reasons for this anomaly and its characteristics are illustrated in response to certain questions: what instructions did Modena receive from the Holy Office in Rome? What was the Modena tribunal's actual reaction? The article demonstrates the existence of not only a discrepancy between the Roman Congregation's instructions and the behavior of the judges in Modena, but also differing priorities regarding which crimes to pursue. The Modena anomaly is compared with other Italian inquisitorial offices, identifying idiosyncrasies and points of convergence: in the case of Modena—capital of the Duchy of Modena—it seems the Inquisition acted as a tool of social control and moralization, alongside a relatively weak political power. Lastly, the case in question highlights a methodological matter: the documentation from Rome (e.g. correspondence with local inquisitions) does not reflect the reality of events in the outlying offices, thus requiring caution and, where possible, verification, when used.

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1 Historians are still debating the role that the Inquisition had in the definition of the church post-Council of Trent. John W. O'Malley, Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in Early Modern Era (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 2000), proposes introducing the wider category “Early Modern Catholicism” without giving excessive importance to the role of the Inquisition and instead emphasising other components. In response, certain Italian historians confirmed the validity of the Counter-Reformation category; see, for example, the recent contribution from Massimo Firpo, La presa di potere dell'Inquisizione romana, 1550–1553 (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2014).

2 For an analysis of the historiography of the Inquisition, see Michaela Valente, “Nuove ricerche e interpretazioni sul Sant'Uffizio a più di dieci anni dall'apertura dell'archivio,” Rivista di Storia della Chiesa in Italia (2012): 569–592.

3 As mentioned, there are few studies dedicated to local Inquisitions in the 1700s and almost none that are systematic. Among the few studies available, see, for example, Morena Peruzza “L'Inquisizione nel periodo delle riforme settecentesche. Il caso veneziano,” Ricerche di storia sociale e religiosa, no. XXIII (1994), 139–186; Maria Teresa Silvestrini, La politica della religione. Il governo ecclesiastico nello Stato sabaudo del XVIII secolo (Firenze: Olschki, 1997). Regarding Malta, one of the few places outside of Italy in which the Roman Inquisition was active, see Frans Ciappara, The Roman Inquisition in Enlightened Malta (Malta: Publikazzjonijiet Indipendenza, 2000).

4 See Christopher Black, The Italian inquisition (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University, 2009), 54–55; Andrea Del Col, L’ Inquisizione in Italia dal 12. al 21. secolo (Milano: Mondadori, 2006), 622; Giovanni Romeo, L'Inquisizione nell'Italia moderna (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2002), 101–105; Francisco Bethencourt, The Inquisition. A Global History, 1478–1834 (New York: Cambridge University, 2009), 416–439.

5 On the Modena Inquisition, from the Middle Ages to its abolition in 1785, see Bondi, Albano, “Lunga durata e microarticolazione nel territorio di un ufficio dell'Inquisizione: il Sacro Tribunale a Modena (1292–1785),” Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento, no. 8 (1982), 7390 and Romano Canosa, Storia dell'Inquisizione in Italia dalla metà del Cinquecento alla fine del Settecento: Modena, vol. I (Roma: Sapere 2000, 1986).

6 Andrea Del Col, L'Inquisizione in Italia, 776.

7 On the abolition of the Modena tribunal, see Giuseppe Trenti, ed., I processi del tribunale dell'Inquisizione di Modena: inventario generale analitico, 1489–1784 (Modena: Aedes Muratoriana, 2003), 11–14.

8 Here and below, the statistical and quantitative data related to the Modena Inquisition are taken from Carla Righi, “L'Inquisizione ecclesiastica a Modena nel Settecento,” in Formazione e controllo dell'opinione pubblica a Modena nel Settecento, ed. Albano Biondi (Modena: Mucchi, 1986), 86–95.

9 There are few cases that had any real doctrinal importance and significantly called Catholic doctrine into question. Some of these cases are discussed by Orlandi, Giuseppe, “Nicolò Giurati ‘ateista’ (1655–1728). Un processo dell'Inquisizione di Modena all'inizio del Settecento,” Spicilegium historicum Congregationis SS.mi Redemptoris, no. 24 (1976): 74215 ; Orlandi, Per la storia della massoneria nel Ducato di Modena: dalle origini al 1755 (Modena: Aedes Muratoriana, 1981).

10 Inquisizione, 202, 6, Archivio di Stato (State Archive), Modena (hereafter ASMo).

11 Inquisizione, 202, 13, ASMo.

12 See, for example, the cases of the watchmaker, Giovanni Toschi, and the constable, Giovanni Verza, in Inquisizione, 202, 8–9, ASMo. Other trials for blasphemy in fascicles 10, 14, 17, and 18.

13 Inquisizione, 202, 19a, ASMo.

14 I have reworked data taken from Trenti, I processi del tribunale, 185–222. It breaks down as follows: 1 case of polygamy out of 67 trials (1726–29); 4 out of 121 (1730–39); 8 out of 271 (1740–49); 4 out of 175 (1750–58); 2 out of 100 (1759–1765).

15 On this practice often applied by the Modena Inquisition, see Albano Biondi, “Gli ebrei e l'inquisizione negli stati estensi”, in Albano Biondi, Umanisti, eretici, streghe. Saggi di storia moderna, ed. Massimo Donattini (Modena: Archivio storico, 2008), 181–198; Vincenzo Lavenia, “Gli ebrei e il fisco dell'Inquisizione. Tributi, espropri e multe tra ‘500 e ‘600,” Le Inquisizioni cristiane e gli ebrei, (Rome: Accademia nazionale dei Lincei, 2003), 325–356.

16 The registers referred to are the following: Register 1726–1736 (Inquisizione, 258A, ASMo); Register 1737–1744 (Inquisizione, 258A, ASMo); Register 1745–1748 (Inquisizione, 258B, ASMo); Register 1749–1753 (Inquisizione, 259A, ASMo); Register 1754–1765 (Inquisizione, 259A, ASMo). On the correspondence between the Holy Office and the Modena Inquisition, see Biondi, Grazia, “Le lettere della Sacra Congregazione romana del Santo Ufficio all'Inquisizione di Modena: note in margine a un regesto,” Schifanoia 4 (1987), 93108 .

17 On the poverty of the Modena Inquisition, the accounts, almost all in the red, speak for themselves, as detailed by Righi, “L'Inquisizione ecclesiastica,” 83–85. The correspondence examined here provides information on the funds sent to Modena by the Inquisitions of Brescia, Cremona, Mantua, Alessandria and Casale Monferrato. For a general overview of the matter, see Germano Maifreda, I denari dell'inquisitore. Affari e giustizia di fede nell'Italia moderna (Torino: Einaudi, 2014).

18 Trenti, I processi del tribunale, 185–222.

19 Regarding the resurgence of antisemitism during the papacy of Benedict XIV, the first to shed light on it was Mario Rosa, “Tra Muratori, il giansenismo e i “lumi”: profilo di Benedetto XIV,” in Riformatori e ribelli nel Settecento religioso italiano (Bari: Dedalo, 1969), 49–85. An example of the consequences of this crackdown is found in the matter of the conversion of Jews; see, for example, Marina Caffiero, Forced Baptisms: Histories of Jews, Christians, and Converts in Papal Rome (Berkeley: University of California, 2012).

20 This was the penalty that the cardinals imposed on Mareggini on June 7, 1749. On the following July 12, the cardinals urged that Caterina Gozzi also be tried (Inquisizione, 259A, Register 1749–1753, ASMo).

21 The trial proceedings are stored in Inquisizione, 228, 11, ASMo.

22 The trial proceedings are stored in Inquisizione, 226, 13, ASMo. The reconstruction of events and related quotes have been taken from the verdict, in which the various lines of questioning were recapped in great detail.

23 The trial proceedings are stored in Inquisizione, 220, 14, ASMo.

24 The instructions are annexed to the letter dated January 4, 1749 (Inquisizione, 259A, Register 1749–1753, ASMo).

25 Such insistence on controlling contact between Jews and Christians can already be seen in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; see Katherine Aron-Beller, Jews on Trial: the Papal Inquisition in Modena, 1598–1638 (Manchester: Manchester University, 2011).

26 As Giovanni Romeo states, L'Inquisizione, 98: “Throughout the 1700s . . . there is no doubt of the fact that the dominant theme in the letters of the Congregation . . . is solicitation in the confessional . . . This appears to be a veritable obsession in the Enlightenment.” However, this obsession was matched by the Roman authorities’ defence of the honour of the clergy, who were tainted with, in some cases serious, crimes: see Massimo Mancino and Giovanni Romeo, Clero criminale. L'onore della Chiesa e i delitti degli ecclesiastici nell'Italia della controriforma (Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2013).

27 For the spreading of Catholic reform in the Modena countryside in the eighteenth century, see Giuseppe Orlandi, Le campagne modenesi fra rivoluzione e restaurazione: 1790–1815 (Modena: Aedess Muratoriana, 1967), with many details on the situation during the last decades of the eighteenth century.

28 On the Pellicciari case, see Matteo Al Kalak and Marta Lucchi, Oltre il patibolo. I fratelli della morte di Modena tra giustizia e perdono (Roma: Bulzoni, 2009), 73–78; Romano Canosa, Storia dell'Inquisizione, 107–114; Stefano Ferrari, “L'ultima condanna a morte dell'Inquisizione di Modena: Vincenzo Pellicciari (1727),” thesis, Università degli Studi di Bologna, 1994. Below are  references to documents not examined in the cited studies.

29 The data and quotations are taken from the trial proceedings stored in Inquisizione, b. 201, 8, ASMo. Below, only the date of the deposition being referenced will be given.

30 Statement given by Domenico Lulio and Francesco Giovita on June 16–17, 1726.

31 Statement given by Geminiano Setti on June 21, 1726.

32 Statements dated October 25 and 29, 1726.

33 The defence's plea from which the quotations are taken is annexed to the trial in a file marked with the letter “A”.

34 St. St., S.O., Decreta, 1727, cc. 178r-v, Archivio della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede (Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), Vatican City (hereafter ACDF).

35 The letter from the Roman inquisitors is in Inquisizione, 258A, Register 1726–1736, ASMo; the text is also transcribed in the Pellicciari trial.

36 St. St., S.O., Decreta, 1727, c. 183r, ACDF.

37 St. St., S.O., Decreta, 1727, c. 204r, ACDF.

38 The news is reported in Vacchetta dei condannati a morte, p. 55, Archivio Storico del Comune (Municipal Historical Archive), Modena (hereafter ASCMo).

39 On Benedict XIII, see Gaspare De Caro, “Benedetto XIII,” in Enciclopedia dei papi (Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2000), III, 429–439, that analyses the stereotype of the inexperienced and sanctimonious Pope widespread among historians from a different angle, and Orietta Filippini, Benedetto XIII (1724–1730): un papa del Settecento secondo il giudizio dei contemporanei (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 2012).

40 See Orietta Filippini, Benedetto XIII, 118–122.

41 William Monter and John Tedeschi, “Toward a statistical profile of the Italian inquisitions, sixteenth to eighteenth centuries,” in The Inquisition in Early Modern Europe, Studies on sources and methods, ed. Gustav Henningsen and John Tedeschi (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University, 1986), 130–157.

42 Andrea Del Col, L’ Inquisizione in Italia, 700–702, 774–780.

43 Here and below for Imola we will use the data from L’ Inquisizione romana in diocesi di Imola: inventario del fondo inquisitoriale presso l'Archivio Diocesano di Imola, ed. Andrea Ferri (Imola: Diocesi di Imola, 2001).

44 For Reggio Emilia, here and below I refer to Trenti, I processi del tribunale, 190–229.

45 Christopher Black, The Italian inquisition, 260–265. A comparison with Sicily, where the Spanish Inquisition that had different dynamics compared with those of Roman Inquisition, was active, is beyond the scope of this article.

46 For an examination of the dramatic increase in trials for polygamy in Naples, see Pierroberto Scaramella, “Controllo e repressione ecclesiastica della poligamia a Napoli in Età Moderna: dalle cause matrimoniali al crimine di fede (1514–1799),” in, Inquisizioni, eresie, etnie. Dissenso religioso e giustizia ecclesiastica in Italia, secc. XVI-XVIII (Bari: Cacucci, 2005), 239–294. The scholar notes that “in the 1700s, the phenomenon [of polygamy] intensifies and we can almost state that the last trials of the Naples Inquisition concerned cases of the crime of bigamy in the overwhelming majority” (279). A wider look at Italy is found in Kim Siebenhüner, Bigamie und Inquisition in Italien 1600–1750 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2006).

47 Giovanni Angeli, Lettere del Sant'Ufficio di Roma all'Inquisizione di Padova, 1567–1660 (Padova: Centro studi antoniani, 2013); Le lettere della Congregazione del Sant'Ufficio all'inquisitore di Siena, 1581–1721, ed. Oscar Di Simplicio (Trieste: EUT, 2009); Pierroberto Scaramella, Le lettere della Congregazione del Sant'Ufficio ai Tribunali di Fede di Napoli, 1563–1625 (Trieste-Napoli: Università di Trieste-Istituto italiano per gli studi filosofici, 2002). Note, only the case of Siena partly covers the eighteenth century.

48 The data provided are taken from: Maria Grazia Cavicchi, “Lettere della Sacra Congregazione all'Inquisizione di Reggio Emilia (1646–1700),” thesis, Università degli Studi di Bologna, 1987; and from the most recent contribution from Luca Al Sabbagh, “Il caso di Bernardo Bolcini: dal reato di Sollicitatio ad turpia alla catalogazione dei processi dell'Inquisizione di Reggio Emilia tra XVII e XVIII secolo,” Quaderni estensi V (2013), www.quaderniestensi.beniculturali.it/QE5/QE5_andarpercarte_alsabbagh.pdf.

49 Luca Al Sabbagh, “Il caso di Bernardo Bolcini,” indicates a total of 263 trials. However, the number of charges counted by the author comes to 281. It is possible that this discrepancy, not pointed out by the author, is due to the presence of trials connected with multiple charges.

50 St. St., S.O., M5-p, Sodomia, stuprum, actus inhonesti cum dogmate haereticali pueris insinuato, ACDF. The collection was in part examined by Massimo Cattaneo, “Vitio nefando e Inquisizione Romana,” in Diversità e minoranze nel Settecento, ed. Marina Formica and Alberto Postigliola (Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2006), 55–77.

51 Don Giuseppe Parma underwent two trials in Modena: one in 1749 for searching for riches (Inquisizione, 222, 5, ASMo); the second in 1760 for heretical propositions (236, 19). As one can see, individuals accused of “heretical propositions” had sometimes in truth committed crimes or held inappropriate beliefs of a sexual nature. In most cases, however, we have been able to verify that under such charges, statements regarding sexuality or true doctrinal heresy were not included.

52 For example, the fruitful interpretation proposed by Gianvittorio Signorotto and Claudia di Filippo Bareggi's reflection on the case of Milan in L'Inquisizione in età moderna e il caso milanese (Milano-Roma: Biblioteca Ambrosiana-Bulzoni, 2009).

53 On the Este State in the 1700s, see Lino Marini, Lo Stato estense (Torino: Utet, 1987).

54 On Comacchio, see Sergio Bertelli, Erudizione e storia in Ludovico Antonio Muratori (Napoli, Istituto italiano per gli studi storici, 1960), 100–174.

55 Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Delle Antichità Estensi (Modena: Stamperia ducale, 1740), II: 707.

56 Chapter 21 of Della pubblica felicità was dedicated entirely to public morality, which the prince should strive to improve. While not explicitly referring to Modena, the author took inspiration from the city records most familiar to him.

57 Righi, “L'Inquisizione ecclesiastica,” 90. Out of 3609, 1048 were sponte comparentes.

58 Ibid., 76.

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