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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Sisters' Acts


In 1592, when Tasso was workig on his long poem Il Mondo Creato, the Catholic Bishop of Perugia, Italy, "visited" -- i.e., in canon law parlance, checked the cloister of St. Agnes (still existing), where some 70 Franciscan nuns then lived. The community had had big troubles twenty years before because they had not immediately accepted the reform required by the Vatican, that basically consisted in turning them into an enclosed Order and sending them parish priests as spiritual guides instead of Franciscan monks. Why? Because anything had happened in such places in the previous centuries.

The Council of Trent, which ended in 1564, had given very general guidelines in this sense, but left the actual decision to the local Church leaders (once again, the difference between the Renaissance approach and the one-sided, ideological approach of the Enlightenment Era and later, up to the Vatican Council II). Well, Perugia was unlucky, probably because the relations between the Umbrian city and Rome were quite nervous. In 1571, the Papal Visitor Paolo Mario Della Rovere acted very harshly against the St. Agnes nuns. In 1592, Bishop Napoleone Comitoli would adopt a more 'conciliatory' style. He listened carefully to the Mother Superior, then the Vice Superior, and finally all the sisters, one by one, writing down some unofficial notes in Italian, that are now a precious witness of that time.

Their stories, quickly sketched by Mons. Comitoli, their very different personalities and backgrounds, their hopes and fears, their friendships or gossip, their daily activities from praying to feeding the chickens, their devotion and religious studies, or the lack of them, have been collected by learned and nice Prof. Luigi Tittarelli in his essay ". . . è bona sora devota, et garbata": La visita del vescovo Comitoli al convento di S. Agnese in Perugia nel 1592, Perugia: Deputazione di Storia Patria per l'Umbria, 2005, pages 90, with 7 photos of pages from the manuscript.