The article’s point of departure is a debate that took place in about 1290 between Zeraḥyah b. Isaac Ḥen and Hillel b. Samuel, two Jewish-Italian thinkers, that presents us with a surprisingly great variety of Arab, Jewish, and Latin-Christian exegetical and cosmological approaches regarding angelic nature. Zeraḥyah, following the dominant attitude among Arab, Muslim, and Jewish philosophers, strives to interpret the biblical angel-figure either naturalistically or allegorically. Conversely, Hillel cleaves more closely to Christian scholastic conceptions, adhering to the biblical narrative in the literal sense. The struggle between Jacob and the angel (Gen 32) posed one of the most challenging cases, presenting the interpreter with a situation in which an angel did not only appear but was also engaged in bodily contact. In the case of Hillel, his dual commitment as a Jewish Maimonidean heavily influenced by Latin Scholasticism led to the development of a highly unique solution.
My paper will deal with how the New Christian predicament was lived and dealt with in early modern Rome. The descendants of Iberian converts from Judaism to Christianity that accepted that new faith under duress at the end of the fifteenth century faced social exclusion and persecution in both Spain and Portugal due to an essentializing ideology based on blood purity which became an Iberian obsession but not an Italian one. Just what did it mean to be a New Christian in Rome at the time? Were there any lurking suspicions that followed them and conditioned the way they were perceived in Roman society and in the Roman Curia? What knowledge was there in Rome about New Christians and where was it derived from? Are there any demographic patterns we can identify regarding them in the city? How did they circulate in Iberian national churches and in the resident Spanish and Portuguese communities in the city? Drawing on some emblematic cases and archival sources, the paper aims to provide a comprehensive vision of the presence of this group in Rome especially in the light of the confessionalisation in place after the Council of Trent.
Founded in the Middle Ages as a hospice for pilgrims, the Venerable English College was ‘refounded’ by Gregory XIII in 1579 and entrusted to the Jesuits to prepare priests for the confessional reconquest of ‘heretical’ England and to assist English Catholics fleeing persecution. The College also became the centre of observation for all English travellers arriving in Rome and the key link with the Holy Office, the Curia and the court, the Congregation de Propaganda Fide (from 1622) and, from the late 17th century, the Ospizio dei Convertendi. College authorities sought to identify the noble travellers who had arrived in the city and sailors who disembarked at Civitavecchia or Naples, passed through Rome and paused for their amusement or to learn some new skill. The sojourns of various ‘heretical’ noblemen – such as John Milton, a guest of the College and of Francesco Barberini – are well known, for in reality the Venerable College paid little attention to the confession of travellers, aristocrats and others, who stayed in Rome and visited the famous institution. Nevertheless, suspicion on the part of the authorities was not lacking. Who were the College’s guests? How could their identity be confirmed? And how was it possible to monitor the presence of heretics, spies sent to Rome by the enemies of the Church? This essay analyses the College’s role as intermediary in its dual function as a hospice for Englishmen, both Catholics and others, and a site of conversion and seminary for future missionaries between the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when the presence of the Stuart court in Rome drew and ever greater number of Englishmen to the city and the College. Travellers, artists, merchants and antiquaries all sought their fortune, hoping to benefit from the court in exile and papal favour towards the Old Pretender James Francis Edward Stuart, which consolidated the favourable position towards the dynasty that the College had already maintained during the Parliamentary Revolution.
This chapter explores the existence of Ethiopian Christians in early modern Rome. Despite the distance that separated Rome and Ethiopia and the doctrinal differences between their churches, Ethiopians were a surprisingly familiar presence in the papal city. Dozens of Ethiopian pilgrims and ambassadors are attested in Rome in the 15th century. This presence was institutionalized by the establishment of the complex of Santo Stefano dei Mori as a base for Ethiopian and other eastern Christian visitors. Santo Stefano became the primary centre for contact between Ethiopians and Catholics in the first half of the 16th century, leading to lively intellectual collaboration between figures like Tasfā Ṣeyon and Marcello Cervini. However, the importance of Santo Stefano declined in the second half of the 16th century, when organs of the Counter Reformation became increasingly important in the processing of Ethiopian visitors. The Jesuit mission to Ethiopia stimulated a final burst of exchange and activity before the effective extinction of the Ethiopian community of early modern Rome in the early 18th century. Besides exploring this history, this article recommends possible areas of future research, as well as discussing extant sources and the difficulties of their interpretation.
From the end of the 15th century, the church of Santo Stefano dei Mori hosted Ethiopian pilgrims during their stay in Rome. Santo Stefano dei Mori or degli Abissini, sometimes called Qeddus Esṭifānos in Ethiopian documents, had various functions. It was both a hospice, which provided room and board for visiting Ethiopian pilgrims, and a place of worship. Much attention has been given to this particular institution since the early studies of Marius Chaîne, Sylvain Grébaut and Mauro da Leonessa. Scholars have underlined how papal hospitality was deeply rooted in military projects: Ethiopians were regarded as Prester John’s subjects and precious allies in the Crusade against the Ottoman Sultanate. Nevertheless, Santo Stefano dei Mori progressively became a site of encounter between Europe and Ethiopia. European humanists met Ethiopian learned monks, who taught their language and transmitted their manuscript culture. Surprisingly, the fact that Ethiopians belonged to a non-Chalcedonian Church never aroused Catholic antagonism in the 16thcentury. On the contrary, erudite pilgrims like Tasfa Ṣeyon were extremely well inserted in Roman intellectual networks. The Ethiopian community in Rome therefore had an ambiguous but privileged status. Their position, at the fringe of confessional identities, raises several questions: how did the Ethiopians explain the organization of their Church and describe their religious dogmas to Roman Catholics? How did they live their faith as pilgrims outside their country? To what extent were the pontifical circles able to grasp the specificities of the Ethiopian faith? This essay answers these questions through an in-depth analysis of Santo Stefano dei Mori’s ‘archives’, preserved in the form of Ethiopian manuscripts and papal documents. This study will enable us to consider Ethiopian pilgrims of Early Modern Europe as actors of the religious diversity in Rome.
This chapter on the vicissitudes of Hebrew books in 16th-century Italy, orchestrated by the Roman Curia and papacy takes as its starting point the printing activities of Gershom Soncino. Gershom not only wanted to serve his Jewish clientele, but also had non-Jewish readers in mind and realized that through the Hebrew book two worlds would meet: the Jewish minority and the ecclesiastical authorities. In the mid-16th century this “meeting-place” was viewed as a threat to the Church: one partly eradicated by burning, mutilation by censorship and expurgation, and used as a means of converting the Jews. I will show how the history of the Hebrew book epitomizes the Church’s shifting relationship with the Jewish minority in Rome and within the Italian Peninsula. This picture drawns on three diverse sources: Hebrew printing, an Index expurgatorius, and three preaching manuals, all of which reveal the Church’s obsession with the Hebrew book and the need to control it and exploit its content.
This article examines shifting roles and representations of Muslim slaves in Papal Rome across the early modern period. Historiographic approaches have characterized Muslim slaves as “invisibly integrated”, have emphasized slave freedom of mobility in the port spaces where they worked as rowers, and have focused on Muslim slaves in terms of their status as religious converts. Drawing from both archival and printed sources, this article looks at slaves in triumphal procession, as regular detainees at Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, and as gangs of chained laborers working in public spaces in the off-rowing season to challenge these claims. I argue that Muslim slaves were eminently visible in Roman public life; that they were not particularly well-integrated; and that their freedoms at port were severely circumscribed. In particular, I focus on the importance of Muslim slaves as workers, showing how the forms of labor that they were forced to undertake saw both continuity with ancient models and shifts over time—for as the need for rowers declined after 1700, slaves were impressed into workhouse industries and mining. While 16th-century representations of Muslim slaves had presented this population almost solely in terms of the eschatological victory they represented as souls gained for Christianity, by the 18th century, economic decline and emerging emphases on ‘utility’ led news gazettes to highlight the victory that Muslim slaves represented as unfree labor. By the end of the period, new modes of social classification had come to work in concert with older ideas about religious difference to relegate Muslims to yet another subaltern category, that of criminals.
The Archconfraternity of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini e Convalescenti was the largest organisation catering to pilgrims in early modern Rome. Its exceptional institutional records offer an unparalleled insight into its charitable activities during the jubilee years of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, in particular its interaction with the many northern European Protestants who passed through its doors. Over the years these sources have attracted significant scholarly attention, revealing how the archconfraternity’s charitable programme was closely linked to the drive for conversion in post-Tridentine Rome. Approaching these records from a fresh perspective, this essay investigates the experience of Protestants and other non-Catholic pilgrims accommodated at SS. Trinità. Exploring the archconfraternity’s efforts to identify these individuals, their accommodation, and their participation in devotional activity, it reveals a tension between control and disorder: an inevitable consequence of the volume of pilgrims, their mutable religious identities and SS. Trinità’s foregrounding of non-Catholics to promote the value of its charitable work. It reframes the hospital as a setting at the heart of early modern Rome in which the dominant narrative of conversion was constantly challenged by currents of fluidity and exchange.
In this paper, I discuss how the papacy differentiated welcoming ceremonies for ambassadors of Catholic rulers from those for ambassadors of non-Catholic sovereigns during the early modern period. I argue that Pope Gregory xiii treated the Tenshō embassy, which had been dispatched by Catholic samurai lords, as a royal ambasciata d’obbedienza. Such an embassy displayed obedience to the pope on behalf of its king. Gregory xiii thus turned the Japanese seminary students into ambassadors and fully honoured them. However, the reception of the Keichō embassy, which a Shinto-Buddhist samurai had sent to Rome during the pontificate of Paul v, was of lesser distinction in terms of clothing, attendees, and the designated location. Similar trends can be traced in the papal reception of some ambassadors from the Christian Orthodox, Muslim, and Buddhist sovereigns in Muscovy, Persia, and Siam. Archival documents and visual images enable us to reconstruct these ambassadors’ entries, the papal audiences, and other diplomatic proceedings in the Eternal City. In particular, non-Catholic visitors’ manner of greeting the pope during their audiences was of importance to the papacy, which sought to uphold its dignity. The papacy apparently had not codified how to receive ambassadors from non-Catholic rulers and hence turned to earlier receptions as examples to follow. This paper clarifies that the religious predilection of rulers shaped the papal reception of their ambassadors, through which the pope demonstrated his authority and the supremacy of the Catholic Church.