Like the Eucharist, the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance, particularly the practice of frequent private confession, became an increasingly important element of lay religious devotion in early modern Catholic Europe. Historians often view this development as part of a larger clerical attempt to impose a somber and uniform institutional piety upon traditional forms of folk Catholicism. Through a close reading of early modern Spanish manuals of confession and related sources, this article argues that the relationship between confessor and penitent more closely resembled a complicated series of dialogues and negotiations than a unilaterally imposed religious settlement. While confession was conducted within a stable and hierarchically ordered framework, significant checks existed that limited the undue exercise of priestly power and gave agency and influence to laypeople.
From the early sixteenth century, religious and legal authorities provided Spanish crypto-Muslims with guidelines for practicing taqiyya, the Islamic art of dissimulation. As theory collided with local realities, however, local actors innovated practice in the face of the continued divergence between an internal desire to practice Islam and external pressures to conform to Christianity. This article explores these tensions by analyzing the posthumous endowments of two wealthy Morisco brothers from the Castilian town of Deza who succeeded in convincing both Christian neighbors and the Inquisition of their sincere conversion to Christianity. The town’s Morisco community, however, viewed the brothers’ bequests as secret acts of Islamic charity. Such perceived efforts to enact taqiyya not only eroded Christian confidence that true converts could be discerned from false ones but also threatened to destabilize the Moriscos’ own religious identity and their relationship to both Christianity and Islam.