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Heavenly Supper

The Story of Maria Janis

It is a winter morning in Venice, in 1622. Muted voices drift through a thin wall next door. Her curiosity aroused, a young woman peers through a crack in the door, only to witness a strange and disturbing sight: a woman and a priest secretly celebrating communion. Troubled by what she sees, she reports the incident at confession. Her revelation leads to the arrest, jailing, and arraignment of the two for heresy before the Venetian Holy Office of the Inquisition.

So begins Fulvio Tomizza’s absorbing account of the true story of Maria Janis, a devout peasant woman from the mountains north of Bergamo. Too poor to enter a convent, Maria had set out to serve God by relinquishing the little she had, through renunciation of all food but the bread and wine of communion. Encouraged by the restless village priest Pietro Morali, Maria claimed to have existed in this sanctified state for five years. During this time, she, Morali, and the weaver Pietro Palazzi travel from a little village in the Alps to Rome and then to Venice, where their alleged sacrilege is discovered and they are brought to trial. Both revered as a saint and reviled as a fraud, Maria with her "privilege" inspires and threatens believers within the Church. Combining the historian’s precision with the novelist’s imagination, Tomizza painstakingly reconstructs her story, crafting a fascinating portrait of sublimated love, ambition, and jealousy.

Heavenly Supper alternates a chronological account of the trial with analyses of each protagonist’s life history. Along the way, Tomizza gives voice to the minds and hearts of his characters, allowing them to speak for themselves in their own words. The world he recreates resonates with the fervor of the Counter Reformation when faith and its consequences were rigidly controlled by the Church. As suspenseful as a detective novel, Tomizza’s story goes beyond the trial to evoke a panoramic view of seventeenth-century Italian culture.

196 pages | frontispiece | 5-1/2 x 9 | © 1991

Gender and Sexuality

History: European History

Religion: Christianity

Table of Contents

Translator’s Introduction
Note on the Translation
I: The End of a Journey
1. The Crack in the Door
2. My Name Is Maria Janis
3. The Heavenly Supper
4. Salami and the Counter Reformation
5. The Third Man
6. Without Remorse
7. The Sea of Love
8. The Bergamasque Colony
II: Maria Takes Flight
9. The Model Parishioner
10. The Voluntary Novitiate
11. Communion as a Drug
12. The Golden Phase
13. The Bishop Who Became a Saint
14. The Good Priests
15. The Rich Man Pays a Visit
16. The Beginning of a Journey
17. Maria’s Family
III: The Forced Capitulation
18. The Devil’s Road
19. The Mad Proposal
20. The Third Man Goes to Prison
21. Together for the Last Time
Afterword: Encounter with a Manuscript
Appendix: Seventeenth-Century Money

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