Tag Archives: Episcopal

Freedom and Adultery: Elisabetta di Giano and the Right to be Forgotten

By Isabel Harvey, 21/06/2021

Protagonists: Elisabetta di Giano, from the countryside of Spoleto, and her husband,  Bernardino di Filippo.

Sources: Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones,  1601, Letter S-V. Spoleto. 4 letters, between 12 September 1600 and 2 January 1601 (See the sources here).

Between May 1600 and September 1601, the diocese of Spoleto was without a bishop: fifteen months that allowed Elisabetta di Giano to activate her strategy of liberation. Locked up for two years already in the Monastery del Palazzo of Spoleto, where she had been personally placed by the former bishop Paolo Sanvitale, she took advantage of his disappearance to try to escape. She sent a letter to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars towards the end of 1600, explaining how the Bishop, responding to her husband’s request, had had her “arrested and imprisoned in the Monastery de Palazzo of the said City with five and a half scudi by month as cost for her roof and cover,” a sum that she had to cover alone. However, he had made her the “promise that, if she did not like to stay in the said Monastery, she would be able to move to another one to her satisfaction.” This is the reason of her letter: she wanted to change convents, since she could no longer afford to pay the rent and food, and moreover, two nuns were relatives of her husband, “which is not without great suspicion and danger for her life.[1]” However, she did not explain why her husband and his family resented her to the point that her physical safety was in danger. Nor did she explain why her husband had had her forcibly confined to a convent. The letter arrived in Rome, and the Congregation acted, as it usually did when letters were sent by lay people, by asking for more information from the Episcopal See, where only the vicar was left to dispatch urgent matters.

The vicar, Giovanni Matteo Fidutio, answered on 9 December, 1600, after having visited Elisabetta in the convent. According to him, she would have “told to Your Illustrious Lord many things that are not true,” such as the amount of money she had to pay to the convent each month. When he asked her where she wanted to be transferred, she replied that “such is not her intention […] and that she does not want to enter another Monastery but she would like to go out, and return to her house.” Seeing the vicar’s openness to grant her request, Elisabetta seized the occasion and asked instead to be completely released. The vicar refused, explaining to the woman “that she would have put herself in a manifest danger on her life for the serious offense, that she has made to her Husband.[2]” But he did not say more about the crime that had led Elisabetta to the convent.

            The vicar’s answer did not satisfy the Congregation. The vicar, not very familiar with the case, turned to Elisabetta’s husband, Bernardino di Filippo, in order to better understand why he had asked to lock his wife in a convent. Bernardino sent a memorandum to Rome in which he explained his version of events. After an argument, Elisabetta had decided to leave the marital home and live alone in the castle of Giano, inherited from her father. She had stayed there for two years, and “at the end, in that Castle, she got pregnant.” The day of delivery came, “in bed saying that she was close to death, and in addition to doctors she called the parish priest, and two Capuchin Fathers who assisted her to restore the health of the soul. In presence of said monks, and of many women and men who were there, the good woman, with the assistance of the divine justice, gave birth to a girl. When the said monks saw the birth, scandalized by such fact, they immediately fled away. This episode revealed her adultery, and we do not know what happened to the newborn.” According to Elisabetta’s husband, nobody knows what happened to the child, but Elisabetta quickly realized the seriousness of her situation. Given the number of people in her home at the time of the birth, the rumor spread quickly. According to her husband, fearing the “danger of being killed by her husband,” she asked the Bishop Sanvitale to quickly send his sbirri to take her to a safe place, the convent. Bernardino added, still hurt by the adulterous actions of his wife, that he “humbly asks to His Holiness not to allow such an enormous crime to be unpunished.[3]” He thus clearly opposed the release of his wife, without, however, ever showing a desire for revenge or presenting himself as the violent husband she described. The husband’s memorandum was accompanied by a short letter from the vicar who, cautiously, confirmed the adultery and accepted the version in which Elisabetta was the one who asked to be locked up.

            The case ends here for the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars: the husband’s version, supported by the Bishop, seems to have convinced the cardinals. Elisabetta did not insist: she most likely will request to be released to the new Bishop when he will be appointed. This story, however, demonstrates Elisabetta’s constant desire for freedom: she did not hesitate to leave her husband to live on her own, outside the control of a male figure, in her own property, and to lead the life that suited her. If, as her husband Bernardino stated, Elisabetta really asked the Bishop for protection when she realized the danger created by her adultery, then she fully assuming her act. Finally, the strategy she implemented at the time of the Bishop’s death in order to regain her freedom demonstrates her attention to the ecclesiastical justice system and its institutions, as well as a certain creativity and determination to move within it. If the case did not succeed in 1600, for Elisabetta it was certainly only a short postponement.

            The relationship between the woman and the Churchmen in this case was based on absence: the missing Bishop who left the episcopal see unoccupied for more than a year, offering an opportunity for both oblivion and action. Elisabetta tried to use this period of confusion and the space for action it created to convince other Churchmen, the cardinals of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars and the vicar of Spoleto, to erase the crime of adultery she committed that, in the end, did not appear so dramatic to her. 

[1] Archivio Apostolico Vaticano (AAV), Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari (CVR), Positiones (POS), 1601, Letter S-V. Spoleto. (segregata et messa nel Monasterio del Palazzo di detta Città con cinque scudi e mezzo il mese di Provisione per suo vitto) / (promissione che non piacendoli stare in detto Monastero, di metterla in una altro à sua sodisfatione) / (il che non è senza gran sospetto et periculo della sua vita)

[2] AAV, CVR, POS, 1601, Letter S-V, Spoleto, 9 December 1600. (narrato à Vostra Signoria Illustrissima molte cose, che non sono vere) / (non essere tale la sua intentione […] et che non vuol intrar in altro Monastero ma vorebbe uscire fuori, et tornarsene a casa sua) / (che lei si sarebbe posta a manifesto periculo della vita sua per la grave offesa, che lei ha fatta à suo Marito)

[3] AAV, CVR, POS, 1601, Letter S-V, Spoleto, 2 January 1601. (ultimamente in quello Castello fu resa gravida) / (messo à letto dicendo ch’era vicino à morte, et oltre à Medici fisici fece chiamare il Parocchiano, et due Padri Cappuccini ch’assistessero à ramentarli la salute dell’anima, et in presenza di detti religiosi, et di molte donne, et homini che vi erano andati, la bona donna per permissione della divina giustitia partori una figliola femina, il che visto detti Religiosi scandalizzati di tal fatto subito fuggirno via, et fù palesi questo adulterio, ne si seppi quello che facessi del parto) / (pericolo che correva d’essere ammazzata da suo marito) / (supplica humilmente la Santità Sua non permetta, ch’un delitto cosi enorme debbia passare impunito)

Freedom and Adultery: Elisabetta di Giano and the Right to be Forgotten. Source.

By Isabel Harvey, 21/06/2021

Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones, 1601, Letter S-V, Spoleto. 26 December 1600.

Letter from Bernardino di Filippo, Elisabetta di Giano’s husband

Bernardino di Filippo da Spoleto humilissimo oratore espone alla Santita Vostra come Donna Elisabetta sua moglie remanendo heredi di m. Francesco Totis suo padre del castello di Giano dominio de Spoleto con pretesto di povedere non esser defraudata delle proventi di detta heredità partite di Spoleto di casa di detto suo marito ando al detto castello di Giano lontano X miglia in circa, dove poi per disdegno sopravenuto fra essa, et suo marito per volere vivere à modo suo continuò di stare per due anni in circa in sua liberta separatamente da suo marito et ultimamente in quello Castello fu resa gravida, ma volendo coprire il suo fallo finse essere divenuta hidropica, et per tale si fece medicare per alcuni mesi, et per meglio darlo ad intendere all’Attinenti suoi di detto Castello, se messo à letto dicendo ch’era vicino à morte, et oltre à Medici fisici fece chiamare il Parocchiano, et due Padri Cappuccini ch’assistessero à ramentarli la salute dell’anima, et in presenza di detti religiosi, et di molte donne, et homini che vi erano andati, la bona donna per permissione della divina giustitia partori una figliola femina, il che visto detti Religiosi scandalizzati di tal fatto subito fuggirno via, et fù palesi questo adulterio, ne si seppi quello che facessi del parto, onde vedendo l’adultera di non poter più nascondere tali scelaragine scrisse à Monsignore Vescovo di Spoleto bon memoria San Vitale che volesse mandarli il barigello, Corte, e Corsi ch’erano à Spoleto che l’andassero à pigliare, et condurla salva, et sicura dal pericolo che correva d’essere ammazzata da suo marito, et cosi fu eseguito, et condotta in Spoleto, fu di ordine di detto Monsignore Vescovo sequestrata in uno monasterio di Monache loco carceris. Però detto suo marito come quello che si trattava dell’Interesse, et honor suo per allora si acquietò à questa provisione fatta detto Monsignore Vescovo per haverne à fare poi quello resentimento che ricerca la giustitia in simili caso de Adulterio. Hora l’è venuto à notitia che detta Elisabetta come quella che è amezza al male havendo narrati molte bugie in uno memoriale suo dato all’Illustrissimo Signore Cardinale di Fiorenza tenta di esser rilassata del luogo dove detto Monsignore Vescovo per temperamento, che li parsi allora pigliar per minor male l’haveva sequestrata. Però detto oratore ricorre alli Santissimi piedi di Vostra Beatitudine fecendola capace di questo misfatto, et supplica humilmente la Santita Sua non permetta, ch’un delitto cosi enorme debbia passare impunito onde la Donna pigli ardire di far peggio, ma che esso oratore sia inteso nelle sue ragione, et di poter conseguire il compimento della giustitia. In questo caso, et accio di remedij à qualunche maggiore scandolo, et inconvenienti che potesse nascere per la liberatione, et impunità di detta Donna…

Io Bernardino di Philippis…

Death Threats and Adultery: The Words of Marital Conflict

By Isabel Harvey, 18/01/2021.

Protagonists: Virginio Gavelli, layman from Spoleto, and his wife Felice.

Sources: Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones,  1605, Letter R-S. Spoleto, September 20th 1605. (See the sources here).

The case of the marital conflict between Galeazzo Garganello and Lucretia Pasi presented above is far from unique. It was abundantly documented by the archives of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars for two reasons: first, because Lucretia Pasi was a noblewoman, inviting the Bishop to give considerable attention to her situation, and second, because Galeazzo Garganello categorically refused to pay the allocation his wife needed to live in the convent, and refused furthermore to return her dowry, which a divorce would have compelled. This refusal to lose the economic benefits acquired during the marriage led the man to fight his legal battle at several levels of ecclesiastical justice, from the Episcopal Court to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars.

Numerous letters, usually written by bishops or their vicars and accompanying the pleas of women in distress, reported situations of marital conflict and asked Rome for permission to place the woman in a convent, at least temporarily. These letters presented the situation in a codified form, aiming to justify beyond any doubt the need for the Church’s intervention in the couple’s life and the need for a refuge for the woman in difficulty. The arguments in defense of these women were twofold: first, the husband’s adultery, which in itself was a valid reason for divorce, and second, the danger to the wife’s life if she remained with her husband. The bishops’ requests were always the same: to place the woman in a convent, where she or her husband would pay her living expenses for a limited period of time, until the dust settled and the couple would get back together.

An example is the letter sent to Rome by the vicar of Spoleto on 20 September, 1605 about the conflict between a certain Felice and her husband, Virginio Gavelli. The vicar began the letter by explaining that he asked, on behalf of Felice, “permission to withdraw to the Monastery of S. Giovanni, until she found an agreement with her said husband.”(1) He added that the nuns of the Convent of S. Giovanni would be happy to accept her, that they were used to accommodating such married women, and that they expected to receive alms from Felice at the time of her entry, in addition to a recurring allowance for food and other expenses. The convent’s solution for Felice seemed simple and already pre-planned, in response to a marital problem that the vicar explained bluntly.

Only six months after marrying Felice, Virginio Gavelli had “retreated himself from her company, to live in Rome for two years with a concubine.”(2) Only after being found by the Episcopal Court of Spoleto and being summoned to appear did he return to the Bishop’s territory. It was on Virginio’s return to Spoleto that Felice asked to enter a convent, “because between them there are such a dislike, that she swears, and protests that she doesn’t want, nor is able to go with her husband, for fear of some irreparable deeds, which she says she is sure will happen to her.”(3)

All the elements necessary for quick and unbureaucratic action by the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars are present in these cases: adultery and death threats, imminent danger for Felice, and a perfect solution, the convent, where the wife would be welcomed in exchange for a price that had already been negotiated. The churchman, vicar, or bishop then became the women’s advocate and their intermediary with Rome. 

(1) (licenza di poter ritirarsi nel Monasterio qui di S. Giovanni, sino che se sia accordata con detto suo Marito)

(2) (retirò dalla sua compagnia, habitante con una Concubina per spatio de due anni in Roma)

(3) (per il che tra loro ne sono nati disgusti tali, che ella giura, et protesta non volere, ne poter andare con esso Marito, per tema di qualche male irreparabile, che ella dice tener per sicuro, li sia per succedere)

Death Threats and Adultery: The Words of Marital Conflict. Sources

By Isabel Harvey, 18/01/2021.

Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones,  1605, Letter R-S. Spoleto, September 20th 1605.

Letter from the Vicar of Spoleto to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars

Per parte di D. Felice … di questa Città, mi à stata presentata una lettera di V.S. Ill.ma delli 5 del corrente, nella quale mi viene ordinato, che io m’informi della qualità della persona di essa Felice, et della occasione de dispareri, che essa hà esposto alla sacra Congregatione haver con Virginio Gavelli suo marito, per li quali ha supplicato per ottener licenza di poter ritirarsi nel Monasterio qui di S. Giovanni, sino che se sia accordata con detto suo Marito, et poi, che io m’informi se il Monastero sudetto sua solito tener simil donne maritate; se le Monache si accontentano di accettarla, et che donativo pensa di fare nell’ingresso oltre l’alimenti. In essecutione della quale lettera, e cosò anche instato da essa Felice, la quale in questa Città è gentil donna honorata, et per tal tenuta; et reputata; Ho trovato che l’occasione de disparere, quali se ritrovano tra questi Marito, et Moglie procede perche il Marito, dopo sei Mesi, che hebbe presa la supplicante per moglie, per quanto essa asserisce, se retirò dalla sua compagnia, habitante con una Concubina per spatio de due anni in Roma essendosi retirato per paura della Corte ecclesiastica di Spoleto, per il che tra loro ne sono nati disgusti tali, che ella giura, et protesta non volere, ne poter andare con esso Marito, per tema di qualche male irreparabile, che ella dice tener per sicuro, li sia per succedere. Dal Monastero poi, dopo havere havuto fede, come tutte le Monache si contentano di accettarla, mi vien anche fatto fede in esso essere stato solito starceve delle altre simili Donne maritate per cause tale, dicendomi anche il nome et cognome di alcune che ci sono state. Quanto al donativi mi hà risposto essa Felice voler dare cento scudi, overo non havendo alle mano al tempo dell’ingresso, ne farà obligo di pagarli in termine di poco tempo ritrovandosi ella assai commoda di facoltà ch’è quanto posso scrivere intorno a questo negotio à V.S. Ill.ma alla quale facendo humilissima riverenza prego dal Signore felice successo ad ogni suo santo …. Di Spoleto a 20 di settembre 1605. 

Vicario Generale

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)

Bishops and Domestic Violence: Sources

By Isabel Harvey, 21/12/2020.

Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones, 1605, Lett. B-F. Bologna.

Letter from the Bishop of Bologna to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars.

Alli mesi passati fu concessa licentia da questa sacra Congregatione à Lucretia Pasi da Bologna d’intrare un Mon.rio et ivi dimorare sino per tutta sua vita, perche correva pericolo d’esser velenata, ò in altro modo perdere la vita per mano di Leazo Garganello suo marito, per causa che volendo alli anni passati detto suo marito tenere una meritrice in casa et nel proprio letto cond.a sua moglie, et più volte havendola malamente battuta essa fu astretta ricorrere à Monsignore Arcivescovo. Et mostrandoli le percosse, et li mali deporti di detto suo marito otenne licentia di starsene in casa de suoi parenti separata da esso et benche detto suo marito per fuggir d’esser astretto à darli li alimenti ottenne per due sentenze che essa dovesse ritornare con lui et desse egli come asserisce sigurtà di non offenderla. Nondimeno Monsignore Arcivescovo et Monsignore Vicelegato informati delle mali qualità di quest’homo et del pericolo della vita di questa donna non hanno mai voluto far esseguire le dette sentenze anzi con sue lettere hanno informato questa sacra Congregatione et persuaso à non permettere, che habitino insieme; come ne farà fede Monsignore Gesso. Hora adunque che detta Lucretia è intrata nel Monasterio et si procede con detto Galeazzo per li alimenti, havendo presso di lui beni per scudi 5000 dilla dote di detta sua moglie, egli ricorre alle Signorie loro Illustrissime dimandando che la vole presso di se sotto colori come esso dice che habbi preso moglie per goderla, et non per starsene separato […].

Et primo perche non è vero che habbi animo sincero di volerla presso di se, ma lo fà per non darli gl’alimenti nel Monastero benche habbi detti beni per scudi 5000 di dote, poi per più commodamente et copertamente forse privarla di vita.

2o. perche egli più volte ha fatto instazia che intrasse un monasterio come per fede si da in mani di detto Reverendissimo Monsignore Gesso si che si scopre che se essa se ne stasse senza dimandarli gl’alimenti, che lui non cercheria che andasse appresso di lui.

3o. Perche i mali disporti di quest’homo non solo sono sofficienti à causar che se ne stià separata, ma anco sariano sofficiente per far il divortio.

Cioè per la molta sua sevetia in batterla la quale molto si deve attendere con donna nobile come è questa et che ha portato 5000 scudi di dote.

Poi per l’adulterio comeesso, et tante volte retirato da detto suo marito, anzo nel quale anco horà si ritrova


Letter from Galeazzo Garganello to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars.

Gio. Galeazzo Garganella da Bologna devotissimo oratore di Vostra Signoria Illustrissima doppo esser stato alcun tempo con Lucretia Pasi sua moglie, essa sedotta da Maligni, tentò contro di lui il divortio per tre sentenze conformi la prima del Vicario, la 2a della Rota di Bologna, la 3a da Monsignore di Vigevane Vice legato all’hora di Bologna gli fu relassato […]. Et quando l’oratore pensava conseguire l’effetto di tante spese fatte per cinque anni continui doppo haver causato, et assecurato la moglie con grossissima sigurtà da un ordine di Vostra Signoria Illustrissima fu impedito comandando che fosse posta in un monastero. Ma perche Monsignore Illustrissimo l’oratore prese moglie per haver successione, et anche per non haver il dono della continenza, et ha per giustitia per tre conformi ottenuto che detta sua moglie torni con esso lui, non havendo sofficiente causa di star separata. Humilmente hora ricorre à Vostra Illustrissima supplicandola restar servita di non Impedir la giustitia comandando al moderno Vice legato, e non all’arcivescovo qual’è sospettissimo all’oratore, che faccio esseguire il suo mandato, che il tutto si riceverà per gratia. 

“My Father Refuses to Approve my Marriage”: Paternal Authority and Feminine Freedom. Sources

By Isabel Harvey, 26/11/2020.

Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones, 1605, Lett. R-S. Rimini.

Letter from Roberto Faitani to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars.

Io Roberto Faitani umilissimo servidore delle Signorie Vostre Illustrissime e Reverendissime con ogni affetto à me possibile espondono di novo, cioè, che dal mese d’Ottobre 1603 in quà fui ricercato per mezo di m. Battaglino Battaglini, et di m.a Giovanna sua moglie di dare una mia figliola, chiamata Margherita ad un certo Alessandro detto de Pellegrini, se ben’in vero non è, poiche l’padre si chiamava il Cardinale, hoste del Cesenatico, sua habitatione per longo tempo, havendo esso Alessandro un suo fratello habitante nella Catolica. Et io risposi non la voler dare ultimamente, fe l’anno il venerdi santo prossimo passato, essendo di nuovo domandato dal sudetto Battaglino gli fece rispondere, che dovesse attendere à fatti suoi; et che per amor d’Iddio mi lasciasse stare, et incontinente andai in casa sopragiunto della collera dieda a detta mia figliola alcuni pugni, et poi me ne andai al Domo all’ufficio. La sera quando tornai à Casa trovai detta mia figliola esser andata a casa del sudetto Battaglino che la moglie era venuta per essa, sentendo questo io andai per essa, et non ci fu ordine, che vuole essere, che la ritornasse: et all’ultimo andai dall’Illustrissimo signore Governatore il qual fù necessitato venire in fatto, ne tan poco vene à casa, che detto Battaglino mi disse in faccia, presente il suddetto signore Governatore, è moglie di Alessandro Pelegrino, Io lo feci trattenere, dove quando fù essaminato, disse, hò detto quelle parole, acciò ch’el padre si dovesse contentare più facilmente: mà dopo tre, o quattro giorni fù posta in un Monastero di monache, dove vi stà anco al presente, e v’è stata da sei mesi e più, e poi fu ricercata dall’Illustrissimo et maesto reverendo Signore Vicario del maesto Illustrissimo e Reverendissmo Monsignore Vescovo della volontà sua, ella disse, di voler far la volontà di suo padre: Onde de li à due giorni, senza che fosse ricercata da veruno, disse liberamente volersi far Monaca, et è stata in questo proposito da tre mesi, et Io per questo gli hò fatto dare alcuni panni per il suo bisogno, conforme all’uso monacale; mà poi s’è mutata di parere per le subornationi fatte dare da detto Pelegrino, il quale havendo conosciuto la volontà mia più, et più volte, dovea quietarsi; mà come quello mal nato hà procurato di valersi di mezo cattivi; cioè di un putto che stava in casa mia, et d’una ribalda serva e con questi mezi ha subornato detta mia figlia con molte promesse fatte a questi medani; et anco datali denari, e robbe per lor vestire, si come si proverebbe, et altre cose indegne; Onde ricorre alle Signore Vostre Illustrissime e Reverendissime a pregarle, e supplicarle, che vi vuoglino pigliar rimedio à tal fatto, et assassimanente con tanto brutto, e di malissimo essempio, si perche altri non hebbino tal’ardire di machinare alla famiglia altrui, come anco io non sia necessitato con tre figli maschi, dui di età di 30 e più anni, et una femina d’anni 14 in circa à pigliar cioè si suol dire, la mala via: Perché mai mai si per comportare tanto assassinamente, che uno vuoglia il mio sangue a forza; più tosto metterci mille vite, se l’havessi, che far questo: Però supplicandola, desidero mi compatischino, et ordinino, che si Monache detta mia figlia sicome havea promesso, overo si mariti à mia, e sua sodisfattione, e con debiti mezzi, che vi sia prima l’honor del Signore dio et poi il nostro, soccedendo in contrario, non siamo mai per comportarlo, e bisognando si proverà, quanto nel presente foglio hò detto et anco assai più ho tacciuto, per non disturbarla la mente. Il che, io con tutti li miei figlioli ottenendo, riceveremo dalla lor clemenza, et bona giustizia…

“My Father Refuses to Approve my Marriage”: Paternal Authority and Feminine Freedom

By Isabel Harvey, 26/11/2020.

Protagonists: Roberto Faitani, layman from Rimini and his daughter, Margherita.

Sources: Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones, 1605, Lett. R-T. Rimini. (See the sources here)

This case of domestic violence took place in 1605 in the Diocese of Rimini. Roberto Faitani wrote to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars to convince them to overrule the decision of the Bishop, who approved the publication of the wedding banns of his daughter, Margherita, without his authorization. He requested to “not be forced to give his daughter to a person of ill-repute and, by all accounts, inferior to him, an adversary who attempted everything to obtain the consent of the orator’s daughter with the help of some dishonest women and through other illegal ways.”(1) 

This person of bad life, as described by Roberto Faitani, is a certain Alessandro Pellegrini. The Bishop defined the groom in decidedly less aggressive terms: he was 35 years old, a widower,  not lacking for anything and even owning a few businesses, and was once the postmaster of Rimini. Nevertheless, Roberto Faitani, who had no worries about money, still considered Pellegrini as socially inferior. According to Faitani, his daughter was seduced and deceived not only by Pellegrini, but also by a certain Battaglino Battaglini and his wife – it is to her that Faitani referred when he mentioned dishonest women – who tried to organize the marriage and convince Margherita to act without her father’s consent. Made aware of the imminent marriage, Faitani, as he himself confessed to the Congregation, “I went back home really angry and punched my daughter,”(2) to maybe change her mind. Stubbornly, the 17-year-old girl decided to leave her father’s house and found refuge with the Battaglini family, who protected her for several days, refusing to hand her over to her father. In the meantime, the secular authorities, and then the Bishop, got involved in the conflict. Margherita was placed in a convent, waiting for a compromise to satisfy all parties. The Bishop took the opportunity to interrogate the girl several times, allowing a few weeks to pass between each interrogation, to test the strength of her will. During the first interrogation, as well as during the 3rd and 4th, Margherita confirmed that she wanted to marry Alessandro Pellegrini. Her will seemed to waver only during the second interrogation, when she maintained that she would follow her father’s will.

When Roberto Faitani wrote to the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, Margherita had already been at the convent for six months. The young girl seemed to have changed her mind several times, under pressure from her father, who suggested she take the veil, offering her “some clothes as she needed, conforming to the monastic use.”(3) But in the end, after also hearing  from the nuns who had welcomed Margherita, the Bishop, for his part, concluded that she was unfit for monastic life, and that her will to marry Pellegrini remained. The Bishop, in conformity with the Tridentine decrees, could not therefore oppose the will of the girl. It was in this context that Faitani turned to the Congregation, threatening to have to take justice in his own hands – and implying Pellegrini’s assassination – if the marriage should really take place.

The encounter between the young girl and the ecclesiastical power, represented by the Bishop of Rimini, took place in the midst of a family crisis: the Episcopal Justice was called in to protect the will – and the physical safety – of Margherita against her father. Roberto Faitani did not intend to stop there, however, and turned to Rome for an external recourse from a higher court of justice.

(1) AAV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. R-S. Rimini. (che il povero oratore non sia forzato à dare la propria figlia à persona di cativissimi costumi vile et in tutti i conti inferiore a lui havendo massime tentato l’adversario di havere il consenso dalla sua figlia con il mozzo di donne disoneste et altre vie illicite)

(2) AAV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. R-S. Rimini. (andai in casa sopragiunto della collera dieda a detta mia figliola alcuni pugni)

(3) AAV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. R-S. Rimini. (alcuni panni per il suo bisogno, conforme all’uso monacale)

Nuns and the Forgery of Their Accounts

By Isabel Harvey, 18/06/2020

Protagonists: Nuns from the eight poorest monasteries of Perugia. 

Sources: Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, Congregazione dei Vescovi e Regolari, Positiones, 1605, Lett. M-P. Perugia, Tutti i monasteri. (See the sources here)

Clement VIII (1592–1605) marked his pontificate by enacting reform measures according to the Tridentine decrees, especially regarding the finances of the Church. These reforms also targeted women’s convents. In fact, it was only under Clement VIII that the decree De regularibus et monialibus, adopted in 1563 during the twenty-fifth and last session of the Council of Trent, became an imperative in the dioceses of the Pontifical States. The Tridentine decree addressed the accusations of Martin Luther and his followers about the dissolute life of the regular clergy who took advantage of social and religious spaces as well as the economy of the sixteenth century. The solution adopted in Trent was largely an economic reform: Chapter Two of the decree reminded the regular orders about their vow of poverty; Chapter Three obliged all monasteries to own property from which they could draw rental income in order to eradicate the need for mendicancy; and Chapter 16 prohibited the acceptance of novices – and their dowries! – before they were of age to enter the convent.

Therefore, beginning in 1599–1600, Clement VIII, assisted by the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, started a wide-scale undertaking of reform and consolidation of the finances of women’s monastic communities. Because their land and real estate holdings were far from sufficient to feed all the nuns and support the proper daily life of the convents, the nuns had created a system allowing them to compensate for their low incomes; but this system quickly became a vicious circle. The nuns were accustomed to accept their recruits several years before they were old enough to take their vows at 16 years old. The convent received the dowry at the time of the agreement and it as often used immediately to buy food instead of being invested in a property that could bring a stable income for the future without damaging the initial capital. Later, nuns found themselves in the position of having to accept a girl without sufficient means to feed her. To overcome this problem, convents had a secondary solution: to accept supernumerary girls. The number of nuns per convent was fixed by papal decree, but it was possible to take in more girls if they paid a double dowry. This provision helped to relieve debts permanently, as half of the dowry was used to repay debts while the other half could be invested in stable properties. But it became so widely used that monasteries often counted double, or even triple, residents. Consequently, overpopulation was chronic, as in Perugia’s female monasteries.

So, towards the end of the sixteenth century, the financial situation of most women’s monastic community was critical: the convents of the Papal States were increasingly entangled in debt and overpopulation. The situation was further aggravated by a series of disastrous harvests that reduce the profitability of their patrimony. On 1 May 1592, the Bishop of Perugia summed up the situation of the women’s monasteries of his diocese as follows: “having consumed all the alms that they got for the whole year by the ordinary distribution, they remain without any allocation or credit to be able to maintain themselves.”(1) This difficult spring in Perugia was not a unique situation. The secular and ecclesiastical authorities in the cities were aware of difficult financial situation of convents and had sought over the years to diminish the deficits as best they can by putting in place emergency solutions. For example, in 1574 in Perugia, confraternities were forced to give help to the eight poorest convents of the city. The idea was to give sporadic help to the nuns, for a few years, until their numbers were reduced. But a generation later, in 1600, the situation only got worse, and the confraternities are still obliged to pay a contribution to the convents every year.(2)

In Perugia, the economic reform began in December 1599, at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Povere, when the bishop abruptly refused to give the veil to two new recruits, who had already paid their dowries: “which he says, having claimed the command of Your Most Illustrious Lord, in forbidding that no mendicant monastery can accept girls.”(3) The principle behind this reform was simple: to reduce the number of nuns in every monastery, so that the rents provided by their patrimony became sufficient to meet their needs. But with the ban on accepting new girls, the situation was catastrophic: nuns would have to repay dowries that had already been spent. 

In moments of panic and incomprehension, some nuns did not hesitate to go beyond the limits of acceptability or legality in seeking a survival strategy during this process of reform. This was the case with several convents in Perugia that chose to manipulate their accounts. In 1601, at the request of the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, the Bishop of Perugia obliged all convents to provide the episcopal see with the details of their accounts, stating their patrimony and the annuities they produced each year, other revenues in money or goods, debts to repaid, and the expenses necessary for the everyday life, according to the number of nuns. The abbesses took this step without fully understanding the logic behind the economic reform, but “thinking that they should arrange it to their best interest.”(4) Consequently, many convents voluntarily provided erroneous figures. This was what the Episcopal administration of Perugia discovered in 1605: in 1601, the nuns of several convents had voluntarily reduced their income, so as to force the confraternities to give them subsidies: “in the book of the incomes of nuns’ monasteries of Perugia, sent to this sacred Congregation in the year 1601, there is an important error, caused by the nuns who did not give the right numbers.”(5) However, the consequence of such falsification was the opposite of what nuns were looking for: new recruits were completely blocked in order to reduce the number of convents’ inhabitants. The nuns had not foreseen such a consequence: they thought that the previous solutions would be reactivated and that they would obtain financial help from the confraternities. But the ecclesiastical authorities were rigid, symbolizing the new economic discipline that Clement VIII chose to impose on the monasteries of his lands.

(1) Vatican Apostolic Archive (ASV), Congregation of Bishops and Regulars (CVR), Positiones (POS), 1592, Lett. M-P. Perugia, 1 May 1592. “havendo consumati tutti quell’elemosine, che per ordinaria distributione gli toccavano per tutto l’anno, restano senza alcuno assignamento, e credito da potersi mantenere

(2) ASV, CVR, POS, 1600, Lett. M-P. Perugia, 26 January 1600.

(3) ASV, CVR, POS, 1600, Lett. M-P. Perugia, Convent of Santa Maria delle Povere. 17 December 1599. “il quale dice, haver havuto ordine dalle Signorie Vostre Illustrissime e prohibitione, che nessuno Monasterio mendicante accettar zitelle.

(4) ASV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. M-P. Perugia. “pensando di fare le conditioni loro migliori

(5) ASV, CVR, POS, 1605, Lett. M-P. Perugia. “Perche nella notola dell’intrate de’ Monasterij di Monache di Perugia, mandata à cotesta sacra Congregazione l’anno 1601, si pretende siano errore di molta consideratione, cagionati massime dalle Monache istesse, le quali non ne diedero la giusta assegna”

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.