Conversion and Autobiography: Telling Tales before the Roman Inquisition

In: Journal of Early Modern History


The goal of this article is to analyze the mechanisms used by Catholic Church authorities during the early modern period to control and repress heresies, as well as the ways in which foreign heretics were converted and eventually assimilated into local society when they came to Rome. Generally speaking, papal policies encouraged foreigners to hide their religious identity, with the aim of giving a superficial appearance of assimilation, in order to avoid any scandal. Although the guidelines established in papal bulls did allow for some exceptions, the high risk of being expelled or persecuted encouraged foreigners to present themselves before the Holy Office and disavow their religious beliefs. Their confessions before the tribunal were filed by the officials of the Inquisition according to stereotypes that filtered the memories of foreigners. How “genuine” were these stories? Do they simply respond to the expectations and manipulative tactics of the judges? The fragile boundary between true and false, between biography and autobiography, poses a question, one that always underlies any study on religious conversion: to what extent can we analyze the “real” motivations underlying any religious conversion?

  • 2

    Jane Wickersham“Result of the Reformation: Ritual, Doctrine, and Religious Conversion,” The Seventeenth Century 18 no. 2 (2003): 266-289 analyzes the ritual meaning of the procedure as it appears in these conversion tales.

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  • 3

    Irene Fosi“Roma patria comune? Foreigners in Early Modern Rome,” in Art and Identity in Early Modern Romeed. Jill Burke and Michael Bury (Aldershot 2008) 27-43.

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  • 12

    Irene Fosi“Roma e gli ‘ultramontani’: conversioni, viaggi, identità,” Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken 81 (2001): 351-396; Ricarda Matheus Konversionen in Rom in der frühen Neuzeit. Das Ospizio dei Convertendi 1673-1750 (Berlin-New York 2013).

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  • 18

    TCD ms. 1228c. 29rv; c. 81rv.

  • 25

    VEC Liber 283 p. 6.

  • 26

    VEC Liber 283 p. 2.

  • 28

    VEC Liber 283 p. 9.

  • 31

    Daniel Szechi“The Image of the Court: Idealism, Politics and the Evolution of the Stuart Court, 1689-1730,” in The Stuart Court in Rome: The Legacy of Exileed. Edward T. Corp (Aldershot 2003) 49-64.

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