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Inside Speakers' Corner. Late Medieval Italian Anchoresses in European Context.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - InSpeCo (Inside Speakers' Corner. Late Medieval Italian Anchoresses in European Context.)

Reporting period: 2017-09-12 to 2019-09-11

The project explored the phenomenon of voluntary reclusion in the late Middle Ages, c.1200-c.1400 focusing in particular on the little-studied peninsula of Italy, while also expanding our understanding of the European context.
The main objective was to undertake an analytical study to establish the extent of female and male reclusion in the Italian peninsula, and any critical differences between their experiences. This included mapping the documentary evidence for the topographical distribution of cells to assess whether this reflected geo-political boundaries or modern historiographical interests. The second objective was comparative, investigating the extent to which voluntary reclusion can be understood as a European phenomenon and whether 'Italian reclusion' differed from other regions of Latin Europe. The third objective was to study ecclesiastical responses to recluses: the attitude of the papacy and of local ecclesiastics, and the extent of support or hostility. The fourth and final objective was to undestand the role of women living in a cell, adopting a prosopographical approach to document the kind of women who became recluses, the nature of the choices they made, and the levels of agency enabled by living in a cell.
This study reshapes the image of the medieval European city, showing it as one scattered with cells, realigning expectations of sacred topography. It has improved our understanding of practice and the changing perceptions of religious identity across different political realities. as well as the tension between ideal and authority, with particular reference to the position of women.
Construction of a relational database of recluses and its development by the Research Computing team at the University of St Andrews, which is now partially open source on our website and will continue to expand. To create this database and the accompanying monograph, the plan of work outlined in the application was adopted, as follows:
1. Examination of published Italian sources, many of which provided numerous new references;
2. Examination of unpublished sources from 55 archives (State, Communal and Ecclesiastical). Consultations with archivists and historians in Southern Italy and further research in printed sources and unpublished theses demonstrated that there is no extant evidence of recluses in Bari, Brindisi, Foggia, Taranto, Trani, Matera; Calabria, or Sicily;
3. Selection of sample cities taking into account different institutional and political realities: Benevento, Bergamo, Bologna, Chieri, Ivrea, Naples, Rome, Perugia, Pisa, Savona, Venice and hinterland, Viterbo;
4. indexing of data provided by the documents identified using the relational database;
5. the planned quantification of evidence was not feasible because the data is insufficiently coherent to allow useful analysis in quantitative terms. Nonetheless the qualitative analysis was very significant with numerous new findings;
6. analytical study of the peculiarities of reclusion in different Italian urban contexts and comparative evaluation of the data obtained;
7. contextualisation with analysis of cases in other European countries;
8. development of analytical case studies selected to investigate the role of recluses.

The results of the project are articulated as follows:
A) A relational database with the following information for each record of a recluse:
Details of the archive, notary, recluse / religious person, legal parties / witnesses / patrons.

B) A monograph summarising the key findings, structured in 6 chapters (subject to peer review by the publisher): 1) Introduction, Historiographical Survey and discussion of the sources 2) Recluses seen by others 3) Living as a recluse 4) Isolated from the World? 5) Voices from the cell 6) From the cell to the monastery.

The main findings are
1. That recluses were present across the whole peninsula of Italy, in cities, villages and the countryside. Most blanks on the map are the result of the loss of medieval documentation.
2. The cell of a recluse was not a 'tomb' but rather a place of exchange, encounters and meetings, in each of the political and social contexts investigated. It was a place where the recluse could both act with juridical and financial autonomy and serve as a voice in the social and religious life of the community.
3. The status of reclusion was legitimate and authorised and included people of high socio-economic standing. Although at the end of the thirteenth century, in the wake of papal restrictions (Supra Montem, Periculoso) bishops tended to regulate all forms of religious life, the status of reclusion remained legitimate, half way between that of a penitent and a monastic. Where it occurred, the enclosure of recluses in monastic communities was not imposed by ecclesiastical authorities, but rather the result of choices made by recluses who wanted a more predictable form of life, with a more stable financial and social structure.
4. The growth in the numbers of recluses in the central middle ages cannot be explained only in terms of social history, but is also connected to the revival of lay penance and the 'birth' of purgatory in these centuries.
5. Reclusion does not seem to fit the model of 'civic religion' but rather, was characteristic of 'urban religion'.

C) Proceeding of two workshop on 'Rethinking voluntary reclusion in Medieval Europe. New sources and New questions', to be published in Quaderni di Storia Religiosa Medievale (Il Mulino), 2 volumes (June and December 2021).
volume 1: Sources and Questions: Liturgy; Hagiographical Sources; Diocesan Constitutions; Statutes; Necrologies; Cistercians and recluses; Widowhood, Terminology.
volume 2: Case studies: Naples and the South; Rome and Lazio; The Patriarchate of Aquileia; Venice; Verona; Bergamo; Dalmatia and Istria; Portugal; the German Region; England.

As well as the publications and website listed above and two international academic workshops, one in St Andrews and one in Rome-Viterbo, the project was presented in the following ways:
2 Public talks: Università Antonianum, Rome, 2018; City Festival, Viterbo 2018;
6 Conference papers and seminars: Cortona, ‘Frate Elia, the laity and lay associations’ (2018); St Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies February 2018 and May 2019; the New College Conference, Sarasota 2018; the Leeds Medieval Congress 2019; Certaldo, ‘Centenary of Giulia of Certaldo’ 2019.
2 classes for Masters students at St Andrews on medieval reclusion and sources.
The study of medieval voluntary reclusion was presented in workshops for prison inmates in two Italian prisons. 82 inmates debated the phenomenon and its parallels with modern incarceration and completed questionnaires, showing that they had acquired greater understanding of how reclusion may be differently understood and a new insight into their own experience.
A workshop with 40 enclosed nuns of Sta Chiara in Assisi introduced them to the history of enclosure and reclusion.
The publications and website will also change the debate in the field, which has until now been dominated by studies of northern Europe, adding Italy to the picture and introducing the history of everyday recluses in the peninsula, where previous accounts concentrated on saintly figures.