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No sooner were confraternities established than governments sought to suppress them. This may have been, in part, simply a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the authorities who had earlier sought to disperse the flagellant and penitential movements, those popular waves of public pietism that had spread like wildfire across Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. As was the case then, so later the attempt to suppress confraternities was often motivated by political reasons.
In fifteenth-century Florence, the major precedent for direct government intervention had been set by the Senate on 19 October 1419 when, suspecting that confraternities had become dens of dissent and political subversion, it decreed their general closure. Lorenzo Mehus, the late eighteenth-century apologist for Grand Duke Peter Leopold's own unilateral action against lay religious organizations, considered this decree to be so important and so exemplary that he actually devoted two chapters to it in his volume Dell'origine, progresso, abusi, e riforma delle confraternite laicali, one discussing the circumstances and aims of the decree (ch. 20), and another transcribing it in full in its original Latin (ch. 21).
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