Bishops and Domestic Violence

By Isabel Harvey, 21/12/2020.

Protagonists: Galeozzo Garganello, a layman from Bologna, and his wife, the noblewoman Lucretia Past.

Source: Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones, 1605, Lett. B-F. Bologna. (See the sources here)

In Bologna in 1605, the Bishop submitted a case to Rome that seemed to get more complicated every day. Galeozzo Garganello and the noblewoman Lucretia Pasi were newly married, but already the young woman was seeking asylum away from the marital home. She “was in danger of being poisoned, or in other way losing her life by the actions of […] Garganello her husband,” and “several times he heavily bet her.”(1) In addition, Galeozzo frequented a prostitute and kept her in the marital home in the presence of his wife Lucretia. The Bishop was informed of the situation by Lucretia, “showing him the beatings, and the bad actions done by her said husband.”(2) So, he removed the woman from the clutches of her husband and found her a safe place, which was at first her parents’ home. Then Lucretia wished to enter a convent: this refuge was generally suggested by the Bishops and chosen by the mismarried women. Since these women had to obtain a license from Rome in order to enter the convent, the Bishop acted as her representative to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars and obtained this permit. Lucretia thus entered the convent, with the intention of spending the rest of her days there. This solution suited her: she gave up asking for a divorce and therefore for her dowry of 5000 scudi, and in exchange her husband payed her alimenti, the annual allowance for roof and food in the convent. 

The Bishop and Lucretia both thought they had solved the problem. However, when it was time to pay, Galeozzo fought back. After prevaricating for a while, saying he was opposed to the choice of the monastery, he went to two local secular courts, where, after five years of trials, he obtained an order forcing Lucretia’s return to his home. The Bishop refused to enforce these judgments, considering the danger for Lucretia too severe. Galeozzo Garganello then wrote the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, the congregation responsible for Lucretia’s acceptance into a convent, and asked his wife to be sent back home, arguing that he “took a wife for having a succession, and also because he do not have the gift of continence.”(3) Rome quickly communicated this request to the Bishop, who was exasperated by Galeozzo Garganello’s behavior. Lucretia, on her side, refused to leave the monastery, but the nuns did not want to keep her for free. The Bishop sincerely feared for her safety. Rome thus launched a second investigation, in order to confirm the judgment of the Bishop who had suggested the divorce. 

In this case, many power dynamics and power games were conditioning the life of Lucretia, and fortunately, mostly in a positive way. The Bishop of Bologna, who refused to recognize the judgments of the secular courts on the pretext of the woman’s security, was certainly also motivated by an ambition to strengthen the predominance of ecclesiastical courts over secular authorities. Here, he was following in the footsteps of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars who, precisely in the years of the pontificate of Clement VIII (1592-1605), were working to affirm ecclesiastical jurisdictions over secular powers. Galeozzo Garganello sought to circumvent the Bishop’s bias by appealing to Rome, aiming to short-circuit the Bishop’s authority, while naively presenting a change of opinion to those who had authorized the entrance of Lucretia Pasi into the convent. 

As in this case, the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars regularly dealt with family dramas, and did not hesitate to get involved in the problem even if, in the end, its capacity for intervention remained limited. In fact, Rome was called to intervene in cases of domestic violence whenever the woman found refuge in a convent, as in the case of Lucretia Pasi. The Cardinals of the Congregation took the opportunity to gather as much information as possible, preparing for a possible legal battle if the violent husband sought the help of another ecclesiastical court, for example the Sacra Rota of Rome. Bishops, for their part, tried to resolve these scandalous matters before the case reached higher authorities. In this case, the numerous letters exchanged between the Bishop and the Congregation show the extent of conjugal and family violence, which only interested the Episcopal justice when the life of the woman was in danger.

(1) AAV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. B-F. Bologna. (perche correva pericolo d’esser velenata, ò in altro modo perdere la vita per mano di Laeazo Garganello suo marito) / (più volte havendola malamente battuta)

(2) AAV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. B-F. Bologna. (et mostrandoli le percosse, et li mali deporti di detto suo marito)

(3) AAV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. B-F. Bologna. (prese moglie per haver successione, et anche per non haver il dono della continenza)


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