Via Flaminia

Isabel Harvey, Università Ca’ Foscari and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

The Via Flaminia project focuses on the reconstruction of communication mechanisms and networks between common people and the Holy See along the Via Flaminia, and more broadly in the context of the Papal States of Clement VIII (1592-1605). In the daily life of the cities and countrysides, monasteries, convents, and parishes, what types of communication networks did individuals use to exchange with the different levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and to reach the power of Rome? How did they experience the changes brought by the Counter-Reformation, and what changes were these individuals encountering?

This project started from an initial hypothesis: the Via Flaminia could be the main channel of the information and of the Tridentine reform in the Papal States, particularly during the Pontificate of Clement VIII. Look closely at a specific route allow me to make linkages between cities whose social, religious, and ecclesiastical histories have not been thoroughly examined, and always individually. My approach thus borrows from recent work on religious relations between Italian Catholics and other Mediterranean religions, which has highlighted areas and modes of exchange (Caffiero 2012, Di Nepi 2015, Minchella 2014). 

This research focuses on means of communication, but also on their uses: the institutional mechanisms that allowed the administration of the daily religious life throughout the Papal States as the channels used by the Pope’s subjects to interact with their Prince. The history of Catholicism typically proposes a representation of the Roman Church from the top to the bottom: a centralized power in Rome that administers religious and devotional life by controlling the beliefs and social choices of the subjects. In contrast, my research aims to take a transversal perspective in order to reconstruct the channels of communication used by the Pope’s subjects, both within and beyond the Church, and to understand the goals sought by these individuals when they came into contact with Rome.

The aims of the Via Flaminia research is to restore the mechanisms of communication between structures of power and people. The objectives of this project are threefold: first, to reconstruct the institutional and customary channels of communication used by individuals, as well as to map the movements of these same individuals moving for religious reasons or for reasons related to spiritual administration. Second, to investigate the perceptions of the access routes and the representations of the possibilities of negotiating with authorities. Third, to write a monograph that will present this exchange between the inhabitants of the Via Flaminia and the power of the Holy See, and to situate their exchanges within a wider geographical context.

This project look over the Papal States and specifically the Via Flaminia, which seems particularly significant for Clement VIII (1592-1605), whose extremes of the Pontificate determine the period under investigation: in 1598, while his armies had taken Ferrara from the hands of the Este dynasty, he undertook a long journey along the Via Flaminia. Then 1600 was a year of Jubilee: after visiting his subjects at home, Clement VIII invited them to Rome. The Via Flaminia then became the passageway for hundreds of groups walking on foot, completing a pilgrimage that was constructed by Tridentine reform. The Via Flaminia is an ancient Roman road which represented, in the early modern period, a vital channel for pontifical information. 

The protagonists of this research are the inhabitants of the Via Flaminia: city dwellers, farmers from the countryside, and parishioners, whose lives intertwined with the general administration and the great movements that traversed the Papal States—and the wider Catholic world beyond. Particular attention is paid to women, who were deeply integrated into the urban fabric and networks of knowledge, including the exchange of information, ideas, and discourses.

This research will provide a better understanding of the political, social, and religious mechanisms governing the application of the Holy See’s power across the Papal States, as well as an overview of the networks and channels of communication that structured this administration during the development and implementation of Tridentine Reform. This innovative project will present both a new social history of the Roman administration of the Papal States, and a reinvented theoretical framework putting the individuals—lay and low clergy—at the heart of ecclesiastical history.