Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est: Women Passing the Baton of Catholic Reformation
Presentation by Dr. Clara Stella as part of the Circolo Gianicolense seminar series.
Dr Stella will present her research project focusing on the interlaced legacy of fourteenth-century female reformers, Birgitta of Sweden and Catherine of Siena, and the experiences of the women that more than a century later found themselves in the struggle for, once again, a Catholic reform within the Romana ecclesia.
With Aldo Manuzio’s 1500 edition of Catherine’s letters, to which he added a short vita and some prayers, the sixteenth century opened its doors with ominous and apocalyptic warnings. Only two years after the execution of Girolamo Savonarola in 1498, who had regarded his prophetic mission as a continuation of Catherine of Siena’s legacy, the printer aimed to revive Catherine’s cult and ethical message in the hope that the letters ‘would spread throughout the world like solemn preachers’ and foster the reform of both individuals and the Church. Aldus’s impressive edition will be our starting point in investigating the reception of Catherine as a model of religious exemplarity, knowledge, and diplomacy - a catalyst in the search for a renewed society, amid a climate of foreign invasions, internal political strife and the wake of the Reformation movement in the Northern countries. Looking instead at the first pages of the first 1494 edition of her Dialogue, Catherine is represented on a throne, or a cattedra, as a dispenser of knowledge and spiritual guidance, giving copies of her book to two noblewomen, and replicating in her pose and gesture the authorial legacy of Birgitta of Sweden giving copies of her Rule to her Brigittines.
The latter is just one small example that brings out several factors, ranging from how the legacy of those reformers was perceived as interlaced to the circulation of their texts among the same readership. On a different level, it also stresses how Birgitta - and then Catherine - became a model of intellectual knowledge, activism, and spiritual authority for religious and laywomen alike in the centuries that follow. With a particular focus on two women living during the same years of the sixteenth-century Catholic reformation - the prophetess Domenica Narducci from the Florentine Convent of the Paradiso and Vittoria Colonna, the most powerful woman living in Renaissance Rome - this talk will consider how these women embodied the roles of reformers and intellectuals, following in the footsteps of Birgitta and Catherine both within and beyond their communities.
Dr. Clara Stella: After having completed her studies at the University of Padua in Modern Philology, Clara undertook a PhD in Italian literature at the University of Leeds (UK) under the supervision of Professor Brian Richardson and Federica Pich. Her research has shed new light on the history and poetic activity of 53 noblewomen whose work is gathered in the Rime diverse di alcune nobilissime, et virtuosissime donne, the first anthology entirely dedicated to women poets of the Renaissance, edited by Lodovico Domenichi in 1559.
Clara is now a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at The University of Oslo for the research project 'Women Writing Saints in Counter-Reformation Italy' (September 2019 - September 2021). The project looks at how women authors have negotiated the legacy of female saints in their writings as both subjects as well as intellectual and ethical inspirations for their own oeuvre and authorship.
Clara is also part of the project "The Legacy of Birgitta of Sweden: Women, Politics, and Reform in Renaissance Italy" led by Prof. Unn Falkeid at the University of Oslo.