Between Exaltation and Infamy: Female Mystics in the Golden Age of Spain

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Oxford University Press, Aug 29, 2002 - History - 360 pages
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One day in 1599, in the Spanish village of Saria, seven-year-old Maria Angela Astorch fell ill and died after gorging herself on unripened almonds. Maria's sister Isabel, a nun, came to view the body with her mother superior, an ecstatic mystic and visionary named Maria Angela Serafina. Overcome by the sight of the dead girl's innocent face, Serafina began to pray fervently for the return of the child's soul to her body. Entering a trance, she had a vision in which the Virgin Mary gave her a sign. At once little Maria Angela started to show signs of life. A moment later she scrambled to the ground and was soon restored to perfect health. During the Counter-Reformation, the Church was confronted by an extraordinary upsurge of feminine religious enthusiasm like that of Serafina. Inspired by new translations of the lives of the saints, devout women all over Catholic Europe sought to imitate these "athletes of Christ" through extremes of self-abnegation, physical mortification, and devotion. As in the Middle Ages, such women's piety often took the form of ecstatic visions, revelations, voices and stigmata. Stephen Haliczer offers a comprehensive portrait of women's mysticism in Golden Age Spain, where this enthusiasm was nearly a mass movement. The Church's response, he shows, was welcoming but wary, and the Inquisition took on the task of winnowing out frauds and imposters. Haliczer draws on fifteen cases brought by the Inquisition against women accused of "feigned sanctity," and on more than two dozen biographies and autobiographies. The key to acceptance, he finds, lay in the orthodoxy of the woman's visions and revelations. He concludes that mysticism offered women a way to transcend, though not to disrupt, the control of the male-dominated Church.
 

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Contents

Spain and the Golden Age of Mysticism
9
Women and the Saintly Ideal
28
Women Mystics in a MaleDominated Culture
48
Woman Mystic and Her Supporters
80
Sainthood Denied
105
The Spanish Inquisition and the Repression of Feigned Sanctity
125
A CounterReformation Childhood
146
Adolescence and the Struggle for SelfAssertion
161
Adulthood
181
Religious Life and Devotions
213
Between Power and Impotence Social Role and Social Fantasies
241
The Perception of Sanctity Reputation Cult Formation and Canonization
265
Notes
299
Bibliography
335
Index
345
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About the author (2002)

Stephen Haliczer is Distinguished Research Professor of History at Northern Illinois University. He is the author of Sexuality in the Confessional: A Sacrament Profaned (Oxford, 1996) and many other books and articles.

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