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The Preacher’s Demons

Bernardino of Siena and the Social Underworld of Early Renaissance Italy

"When the city was filled with these bonfires, he then combed the city, and whenever he received notice of some public sodomite, he had him immediately seized and thrown into the nearest bonfire at hand and had him burned immediately." This story, of an anonymous individual who sought to cleanse medieval Paris, was part of a sermon delivered in Siena, Italy, in 1427. The speaker, the friar Bernardino (1380-1444), was one of the most important public figures of the time, and he spent forty years combing the towns of Italy, instructing, admonishing, and entertaining the crowds that gathered in prodigious numbers to hear his sermons.

His story of the Parisian vigilante was a recommendation. Sexual deviants were the objects of relentless, unconditional persecution in Bernardino’s sermons. Other targets of the preacher’s venom were witches, Jews, and heretics. Mormando takes us into the social underworld of early Renaissance Italy to discover how one enormously influential figure helped to dramatically increase fear, hatred, and intolerance for those on society’s margins.

This book is the first on Bernardino to appear in thirty-five years, and the first ever to consider the preacher’s inflammatory role in Renaissance social issues.

Table of Contents

"The Voice Most Eagerly Listened To":
The Public Career and Critical Fortune of Bernardino of Siena
1. Popular Preaching in Early-Fifteenth-Century Italian Society
2. The Medieval Popular Franciscan Sermon
3. The Audience and the Setting: The Making of a Preacher-Celebrity
4. Bernardino and the History of the "Persecuting Society"
5. The Witch, the Sodomite, the Jew, and Bernardino
"Let’s Send up to the Lord God Some of the Same Incense":
Preparing the Great Witch Conflagration
1. Bernardino and the Witches of Rome, 1426
2. The Witch of Todi, Matteuccia Di Francesco
3. The Godmother of Lucca
4. The Demonization of the Heretic
5. The Power and Omnipresence of the Devil
6. Bernardino’s Guide to Sorcery, Superstition, and Folk Medicine
7. The Destruction of the Pagan Well, "Fontetecta"
8. Popular Piety and Christian "White Magic"
9. Seek and Destroy: The Response to Bernardino
"Even the Devil Flees in Horror at the Sight of This Sin":
Sodomy and Sodomites
1. Definitions and Distinctions
2. Sodomy as the "Worst Crime"
3. Scriptures, Science, and Reason against Sodomy
4. The Causes of the Sodomitic Vice
5. Adolescent Sexuality and Sodomy
6. Bernardino and Vincenzo, a Particular Friendship
7. The Cure: Terror, Shame, and Destruction
8. The Response of the Towns
"All Jew Are the Chief Enemies of All Christians . . . If You See a Jew in Need, You Must Help Him with an Authentic, Just, Holy, and Active Love":
Reappraising Bernardino’s Anti-Semitism
1. Jews and Judaism in Bernardino’s Opera Omnia
2. Padua 1423: Repromulgating Canon Law
3. The So-called Testamento di San Bernardino
4. The Campaign against Usury
5. The Passion Sermons
6. Miscellaneous Teachings of Judaism
7. The Effect of Bernardino’s Preaching Campaign
8. Assessing the Evidence
"I Heard the Sound of You in the Garden, and I Was Afraid"
Appendix 1: The Date of Roman Witch Trial and of Bernardino’s Heresy Trail
Appendix 2: The Jewish Prohibition List, Padua 1423
Works Cited


American Catholic Historical Association: Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize in Italian History

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