Chapter 7 Distinguishing between Saints and Spirits. Or How to Tell the Difference between the Virgin Mary and Mary the Ghost?

In: Cultural Shifts and Ritual Transformations in Reformation Europe
Kathryn A. Edwards
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Saints occupied a prominent position in pre-Reformation Christianity and post-Reformation Catholicism, and Protestant Reformers attempted to revise common attitudes towards and treatment of these holy dead. The widespread belief in ghosts complicated such efforts because it reinforced ideas about the permeability between heaven and earth and the enduring bonds between the living and the dead. Given these complications, the separation of ghosts from Protestantism was more gradual than programmatic texts would suggest. This article uses vernacular French treatises from the second half of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by authors such as Noel Taillepied, Pierre Le Loyer, and Pierre de Lancre to describe traditional beliefs about saints and ghosts. In the process it demonstrates that saints and ghosts existed in Catholic France as part of a continuum of belief that provided a Christian framework for spiritual beings more generally. When Protestant Reformers condemned the intercessory system, of which saints were a central part and from which some ghosts benefitted, they also attacked this continuum. The pervasiveness and interrelationship of such beliefs and the difficulty in untangling them is one reason that belief in ghosts endured among both Protestants and Catholics alike.

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