Monthly Archives: April 2020

The Pastor and the Prostitute: Part I

1587, Zurich.

By Adrina Schulz, 30/04/2020

Protagonists: Pastor Johannes Göldi, an anonymous prostitute, foreign peddlers Moritz Benneradt, Moritz Gydonnis, Wilhälm Schomal, and Gabriel Laba

Citation: Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich (STaZH) A 9.2, Nr. 3.

In this court case from 19/09/1587, Pastor Johannes Göldi of the town of Maur, Switzerland, was accused of suspicious behavior (“ärgwönisches aufführen”) with a prostitute (“gemeinne dirnn”) at the Helmhaus, a Zürich landmark that still exists today (for a discussion of why I use the word prostitute rather than sex worker or source terminology, see my personal page). The main witnesses to the events were the foreign (“wälltsche,” non-German-speaking and often French-, Romansch-, or Italian-speaking) peddlers, who saw him with the prostitute. The time and date of the event were related quite precisely: between 8 and 9 on the Wednesday of the yearly market. The peddlers stated that they had left a tavern and were going back to their stands and beds when they saw the pastor and the prostitute together in a corner. Similarly, the bodily positions of the two were described in detail: Göldi was sitting and the prostitute was standing, trying to cover him with her breasts (“mit irer büppen tegken”) and to turn off the light. The peddler Benneradt’s stated reaction to the scene is particularly interesting. He refused to say that he had seen Göldi do anything bad or have sex with the prostitute (“lybliche werch mit iren volbracht”), and stated that he was satisfied with Göldi. On the other hand, he also said that he told Göldi that the latter’s behavior did not fit his station (“das zime synnem stannd gar nit”) and that he gestured at Göldi in censure. The other peddlers did not discuss their reactions, but generally concurred with Benneradt’s version of events. 

Then Göldi himself was summoned to the court to give his statement. He said that he had become quite drunk and wanted to cross the bridge to the home of his daughters (presumably he stayed with them when he visited Zurich). By the bridge, he saw the peddlers and the prostitute. The peddlers roughly accused him of having bad intentions until the situation became unbearable, but the prostitute stood for him (“für Inne gestanden”), probably defending him. He swore that he had done nothing with her and asked for forgiveness. However, he was punished with a stay in Wellenberg, one of the Zürich prisons, and a fine of 1 mark silver.

One aspect that is quite present in this case is the city’s honor, as well as the difference between outsiders and locals. The foreignness of the witnesses was highlighted, but apparently did not discredit their testimony. In fact, the case was considered galling particularly because it was witnessed by these foreigners (“so ist doch die sach ëben ergerlich sonderlich wyls frömbde personen gsëhen”). The Reformation used prostitution and prostitutes as a polemic weapon against Catholic priests, claiming that celibacy was impossible and that therefore the priests were fornicators and prostitutes’ clients (See: Roper 1989, p. 104-107, among others).  For instance, Zurich Reformer Heinrich Bullinger wrote in a letter to Johannes Zwick that those who forbade priests to marry furthered prostitution and fornicators: “qui vero sacerdotibus interdicunt coniugio, scortatores et scortationem promovent” (Heinrich Bullinger Briefwechsel, Letter 563). Having their own pastors visibly engaging with prostitutes clearly troubled the city authorities and even the witnesses: Benneradt explicitly named Göldi’s station in his censure, instead of condemning sex with prostitutes overall.      

This case represents a transitional period in the history of prostitution in Zürich. Laws against extra- and premarital sex had already been enacted in the first half of the sixteenth century, but they were only beginning to be enforced in matters relating to prostitution during the 1580s. In the last decades of the sixteenth century, prostitutes mentioned in these cases usually remained anonymous, as did the woman in this case, while clients were punished. In contrast, in the seventeenth century, as will be illustrated in my next post, this trend was reversed: prostitutes were named, brought before court, and even punished more heavily punished than their clients.

For a full transcription of this court protocol, see the archival material page.

1601, Ferrara. Convent of Santa Lucia. Sources.

By Isabel Harvey, 17/04/2020

Archivio Apostolico Vaticano (ASV), Congregazione dei Vescovi e dei Regolari (CVR), Positiones (POS), 1601, Lett. C-G. Ferrara, December 16th 1600.

Con l’ultima lettera mia che fu delle 9 del corrente, darle conto a V.S. Ill.ma del disordine seguito nel Monastero di Santo Gabriello sotto la cura, e dell’ordine delle Padri Carmelitani, et a mesi passato le mandai un processo fatto dal mio Vicario contra alcuni frati, pur Carmelitani, di pratichi scandalosi, che havevano con le Monache di questo Monastero di Santa Lucia dell’istesso ordine, et in particolare contra frate Giulio in quel tempo lor confessore. Hora havendo intese che una d’esse Monache ha partorito una figliola femina ho mandato in mio Vicario à pigliarne informatione, il quale ha ritrovato per il testificate d’alcune Monache esser vero il parto, agli da issi si suppone fosse stato soffocato et sepelito in terra dalla l’istessa Monaca partoriente; poiche disepelito da due di loro et portato nel Reffetorio publicamente à vista di tutti l’altri Monache si ritrovò haver sanguinata la faccia, la quale figliola asseriscono essere del predetto frati Giulio. Il Padre Generale d’issi frati carmelitani inteso dal processo incominciato d’ordine mio, è venuto a dirmi di haver anch’egli processata et fata carcerare la Monaca, et ordinato che il medesimo si esseguisca contra il frate, il quale al presente è lontano di qua. Io però senza passare più oltra ho voluto darne conto, come fù, à V.S. Ill.ma, et diplorare seco l’atrocità di cosi scandaloso caso: degno di lagrimie digiustitio. Et qui resto facendole humilissima riverenza e pregando N.S. Dio la conservi longamente felice.

Vescovo di Ferrara

ASV, CVR, Registra Regularum (RR), 1601, 3, Carmelitani, January 2nd 1601.

Carmelitani al Vicario Generale della Congregatione di Mantova

Il caso scandaloso successo nel monasterio di Santa Lucia di Ferrara sotto posto al governo de frati dell’ordine della P.V. merità d’esser deplorato, et che in un istesso tempo sia castigato quello che si pastore diventato lupo ha rapito la pecorilla. Nostro Signore però al qual è dispiaciuto grandemente tanto brutto successo ha fatto commettere la causa al Signore Cardinale S. Clemente collegato in Ferrara et ha voluto che questi Ill.mi m. Sig.ri diano ordine a lei col mero di questo mia che debba subito far consegnare a S.S. Ill.ma il processo fatto sopra ciò dali suoi frati in Ferrara. Et che in un’istesso tempo dia ordine che frate Giulio il quale per diligenza della R. V. si trova carcerato a Parma sia quanto prima et sicuramente condotto alla medema città di Ferrara, et consegnato in potere del Signore Cardinale.

Collegato. Avvertendo di farlo condurre in modo che non solo non fugga ma che non possa farsi male da se stesso, et bisognando aiuto ella potrà ricorrere con l’allegata lettera al Signore Duca di Parma, et ancora far capo al Signore Cardinal S. Clemente, acciò dia quell’indirizzo, et quel modo che parerà opportune. Et avverta bene la R. V. che si come è piaciuto la diligenza d’havere il frate nelle mani, cosi dispiacerebbe molto più se intervenisse qualche accidente nella persona del medemo frate per il quale la consegnatione et il processo venisse impedito. […] Alli 2 di Gennaro 1601.

1601, Ferrara. Convent of Santa Lucia.

By Isabel Harvey, 14/04/2020

Protagonists: Suor Leonora Agelli, Dominican and Fra Giulio Cesare Pocaterra, Carmelite.

Source: Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones, 1601, Lett. C-G. (See the sources here).

In a letter from December 16, 1600, the Bishop of Ferrara Giovanni Fontana reported to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars in Rome the case of a certain Fra Giulio, whose actions prompted him to “immediately deplore such a scandalous case”:

A few months ago, I sent you a case made by my vicar against some of the Carmelites, about scandalous practices they had with the nuns of the monastery of Santa Lucia […] and in particular against Fra Giulio, who in those days was their confessor […]. Now, after hearing that one of the nuns gave birth to a girl, I sent my vicar to collect the information. He discovered, thanks to the testimony of some nuns, that the childbirth was real, and that it is possible to suppose that the child was suffocated and buried by this nun who gave birth; to then be dug out by two other nuns and taken to the refectory to show it publicly in before everyone. Other nuns said they saw that the child’s face was bleeding, and the father of that girl would be Fra Giulio.

The bishop then recounts a story that seems particularly sordid: a nun named Suor Leonora Agelli reportedly had sexual relations with her confessor, Fra Giulio Cesare Pocaterra, which resulted a pregnancy, which then hid from her religious sisters under the pretext of severe dropsy. She eventually gave birth in her cell to a girl who died in the process, in the presence of the convent nurse, the converse sister who assisted her, and two curious nuns. The converse, Isabetta, then buried the body of the newborn in the henhouse, but only a few hours later, four nuns come to dig it and expose it to the eyes of everyone—nuns and ecclesiastical superiors—in the refectory of the convent. At the moment when the Bishop writes to Rome, he is at an impasse. An initial investigation was carried out by the ecclesiastical superiors, the Carmelite brothers, who questioned the nuns of Santa Lucia one after another, conducting a reputation survey about Suor Leonora and Pocaterra, the confessor. It was a long, drawn-out effort that ended in nothing but cloister gossip—until the day when two nuns openly accused Suor Leonora of intentionally causing the death of her child.

The accusations of infanticide—and all the surrounding scandal—prompted the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars to request a proper episcopal inquiry. This resulted in a trial. The Carmelite inquiry is included in the trial, which now turns to the main protagonists of the case. Interrogated by their ecclesiastical superiors, Suor Leonora and Giulio Cesare Pocaterra maintained the same version of their story: she had been raped just once, and he agreed to this version, as he later confessed, in order to accelerate the proceedings and to be judged internally, to avoid the painful and humiliating justice of the secular arm of the law.

Doubting that an infanticide could have been committed, the Vicars of the Bishop Fontana took the investigation very seriously. It was discovered that Suor Leonora had many opportunities to sin with the confessor—or with anyone else, if she pleased—because she had the keys to the convent, being the convent’s porter. More troubling still, the history of a long and questionable friendship between Suor Leonora and fra Giulio Cesare Pocaterra was discovered, a friendship that was the source of a deep division among the nuns of Santa Lucia, because the confessor’s preferences challenged the status of a nun who was in higher social standing than Suor Leonora, Suor Doralice, as he obliged his favorite to spend as much time as possible with him. The wounded honour of Suor Doralice and the nuns who were loyal to her dig tensions between family groups and factions that divided the community, kept in the shadows until the opportunity arose in order to force the superiors to look in the convent’s disputes. This is the occasion of Suor Leonora’s pregnancy, who, instead of being hidden by the community was deliberately and theatrically brought to the eyes of the superiors by the presentation the baby’s body to the refectory.

During the interrogations, Suor Leonora admitted little by little that the sinful act was voluntary, that she herself opened the door of the enclosure to the confessor, and that they repeated the sin for several months, between January 1600 and Lent. In the end, the accusations of infanticide were abandoned but both were convicted of violating their vow of chastity and for Pocaterra, the sacrilege that is having sexual relationship with a nun. Fra Giulio Cesare Pocaterra was condemned to death by Pope Clement VIII, who insisted that the priest be executed publicly. Suor Leonora was confined to the convent.