State of the art

Generations of church reformers in the early modern period would have us believe that, in the later medieval period, the Catholic Church was in deep crisis, corrupt and weak and ready to be transformed. For decades, this view has shaped the way historians have read the story of late medieval Catholicism. This interpretation has recently been refined as historians have drifted away from the history of the church as an institution and begun to come to terms with the fervent nature of belief and the extremes of devotional practice at the end of the Middle Ages.(1. Vauchez, 1981; Rublak, 1996) Dealing more with religious feeling and the practicalities of worship, with piety and ritual, scholarship has reached the conclusion that, at the end of the Middle Ages, faith was alive and well and the laity was living its religious experience with deep conviction. (2. Swanson, 1995, Swanson, 1993) Historians have also come to realize that, against a background of possibly demand-led transformation of norms, orchestrated by the clergy, in the late medieval period, there was increased interest for the religious life of the laity. Religious orders competed for the attention of the faithful with an ever more self-aware and assertive secular clergy. (3. de Cevins, 2003; Hamburger, 1998, Bossy, 1983) They introduced new doctrines, such as transubstantiation and the immaculate conception, prescribed correct behavior during mass and private worship and even gestures of prayer. The attention of the laity moved from the convent churches to the parish church mirroring the move from the veneration of saints to prevailing attention to the Eucharist. (4. Craciun, 2010; Binski, 1999; Rubin, 1991; Sümegi, 1990; Zika, 1988) Such conclusions prompt one to question the extent and nature of secular involvement in this process.

Things are further complicated by the emergence of the evangelical movement. The break caused by the Reformation demanded a major change in belief and practice in significant areas such as the sacraments, proper conduct during divine services, belief in saints and other intercessors, attitudes to religious art, correct modes of worship and the use of sacramentals. (5. Scribner, 2001; Nischan, 1994; Reinburg, 1992) Again these developments force historians to question the success of the enterprise and to establish a conceptual framework for the religion of the ‚people’ (6. Peters, 2008; Heal, 2007, 2002; MacCulloch, 2006; Maag, Witvliet, 2004; Dixon, 1996, 1993). The Reformation, in its recent understanding does not only refer to evangelical movements but also includes post-Tridentine Catholicism (7. Delumeau, 1977). This has persuaded historians to focus on transformations within early modern Catholicism fostered by secular and ecclesiastical authorities (8. Nalle, 1992; Reinhard, 1989; Hsia, 1984) and the development of Catholic identity even in the absence of impulses from above (9. Johnson, 2009; Soergel, 1993; Forster, 2001, 1992).

Since 1987, when André Vauchez’ book concerning secular religious experience has been published, the laity has become a distinct category of analysis in the field of religious studies (10). Whilst increasing attention has been devoted to the integration of the laity into the Church, the pursuit of devotional ideals on the part of ordinary Christians, men and women alike, became a favorite line of research in the past decade (11 Kingdon, 2004; Kümin, 1996; Scribner, 1994; Bossy, 1985).

Significant developments in current scholarship devoted to lay religious practices (12. Murdock, 2004; Gordon, Marshall, 2000; Scribner, Johnson, 1996, Nischan, 1999) have emphasized that through the scrutiny of the concrete religious actions undertaken by the laity its devotional world could be better understood and defined. Furthermore, the gestures the laity made, in certain contexts and under certain circumstances, contribute to a refined knowledge of their devotional life. This offers a solid point of comparison with the norms the Church sought to impose. Moreover, a discussion or pious practices in the context of cultural studies allows an asessment of their complex functions within secular society. (13. Zika, 2003; Karant-Nunn, 1997); Muir, 1997; Duffy, 1992; Scribner, 1987, 1984; Zemon Davis, 1982).


1 Andre Vauchez, La sainteté en Occident aux derniers siècles du Moyen Age: d'apres les proces de canonisation et les documents hagiographiques, Diffusion de Boccard (1981).


Ulinka Rublak, ‚Female Spirituality and the Infant Jesus in Late Medieval Dominican Convents’ in Bob Scribner, Trevor Johnson, Popular Religion in Germany and Central Europe, 1400-1800. Macmillan (1996).


2. R. N. Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe c.1215-c.1515. Cambridge University Press (1995)


Robert Swanson, Catholic England: faith, religion, and observance before the Reformation, Manchester University Press (1993).


3. Marie Madeleine de Cevins. L'Eglise dans les villes hongroises a la fin du Moyen Age. Publications de l'Institut hongrois de Paris (2003).


Jeffrey F. Hamburger, The Visual and the Visionary. Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany. Zone Books (1998).


John Bossy, ‚The Mass as a Social Institution 1200-1700’ in Past and Present. 100 (1983).


4. Charles Zika, ‚Hosts, Processions and Pilgrimages. Controlling the Sacred in Fifteenth-Century Germany’ in Past and Present. 118-121 (1988).


Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi. The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture, Cambridge University Press (1991).


József Sümegi, ‚Az oltárszentség és a Szent Vér tisztelete a középkori margyarországon’, in Essays in Church History in Medieval Hungary, 3 (1990).


Paul Binski, ‚The English Parish Church and its Art in the Later Middle Ages: A Review of the Problem’. in Studies in Iconography. 20 (1999).


Maria Crăciun, ‚Eucharistic Iconography and the Confessional Identity of the Saxon Community in Early Modern Transylvania’ in Jaroslav Miller, László Kontler (eds.) Friars, Nobles and Burghers- Sermons, Images and Prints. Studies of Culture and Society in Early Modern Europe, In memoriam István György Tóth. CEU Press (2010).


5. Robert Scribner, ‚Popular Piety and Modes of Visual Perception in Late Medieval and Reformation Germany’ in R.W. Scribner, Religion and Culture in Germany (1400-1800) ed. by Lyndal Roper. Brill (2001).


Virginia Reinburg, ‚Liturgy and the Laity in Late Medieval and Reformation France’ in Sixteenth Century Journal XXIII/ 3 (1992).


Bodo Nischan, Prince, People and Confession. The Second Reformation in Brandenburg, University of Pennsylvania Press (1994).


6. C. Scott Dixon, ‚Rural Resistance, the Lutheran Pastor and the Territorial Church in Brandenburg, Ansbach-Kulmbach 1528-1603’ in A. Pettegree (ed.), The Reformation of the Parishes. The ministry and the Reformation in town and country. Manchester University Press (1993).


C. Scott Dixon, ‘Popular beliefs and the Reformation in Brandenburg-Ansbach’ in Bob Scribner and T. Johnson (eds), Popular Religion in Germany and Central Europe, 1400-1800, Macmillan (1996).


C. Scott Dixon, The Reformation and Rural Society. The Parishes of Brandenburg Ansbach-Kulmbach 1528-1603. Cambridge University Press (1996).


Karin Maag, John Witvliet (eds.), Worship in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Change and Continuity in Religious Practice, University of Notre Dame Press (2004).


Bridget Heal, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany. Protestant and Catholic Piety 1500-1648, Cambridge University Press (2007).


Bridget Heal, ‚Images of the Virgin Mary and Marian Devotion in Protestant Nürenberg’ in Helen Parish and W.G. Naphy (eds). Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe, Manchester University Press (2002).


Diarmaid MacCulloch, ‚Mary and Sixteenth-Century Protestants’ in R.N. Swanson (ed.), The Church and Mary (Studies in Church History, 39, (2006).


Christine Peters, ‚The Virgin Mary and the Publican: Lutheranism and Social Order in Transylvania’ in Bridget Heal and Ole Peter Grell (eds). The Impact of the European Reformation. Princes, Clergy and People, Ashgate (2008).


7. Jean Delumeau, Catholicism between Luther and Voltaire: a new view of the Counter-Reformation, Burns and Oates (1977).


8. Wolfgang Reinhard, ‚Reformation, Counter Reformation and the Early Modern State. A Reassessment’ in Catholic Historical Review, 75 (1989).


Sara Nalle, God in la Mancha: Religion, Reform and the People of Cuenca 1500-1550, Johns Hopkins University Press (1992).


Ronnie Po-chia Hsia, Society and Religion in Münster, 1535-1618, Yale University Press (1984).


9. Marc Forster, Catholic revival in the age of the baroque: religious identity in southwest Germany, 1550-1750, Cambridge University Press (2001).


Marc R. Forster, The Counter-Reformation in the villages: religion and reform in the Bishopric of Speyer, 1560-1720, Cornell University Press (1992).


Trevor Johnson, Magistrates, madonnas and miracles: the Counter Reformation in the Upper Palatinate, Ashgate (2009).


Philip M. Soergel, Wondrous his saints : Counter-Reformation propaganda in Bavaria. University of California Press (1993).


10. André Vauchez. Les laïcs au Moyen Age. Pratiques et experiences religieuses, CERF (1987).


11.Robert Kingdon. Worship in Geneva before and after the Reformation. in Maag, Witvliet (eds.), Worship (2004).


Beat Kümin, The shaping of a community: the rise and reformation of the English parish, c. 1400-1560, Scolar Press (1996).


Bob Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk: Popular Propaganda for the German Reformation. Oxford University Press (1994).


John Bossy, Christianity in the West, 1400-1700, Oxford University Press (1985).


12. Graeme Murdock, Beyond Calvin: the intellectual, political and cultural world of Europe's Reformed churches, c. 1540-1620, Palgrave Macmillan (2004).

Bruce Gordon, Peter Marshall (eds.). The place of the dead : death and remembrance in late medieval and early modern Europe, Cambridge University Press (2000).


Bob Scribner, Trevor Johnson (eds.), Popular religion in Germany and Central Europe 1400-1800, Macmillan (1996).


Bodo Nischan, ‚Ritual and Protestant Identity in Late Reformation Germany; in Bodo Nischan, Lutherans and Calvinists in the Age of Confessionalism, Ashgate (1999).


13. Charles Zika, Exorcising Our Demons: magic, witchcraft, and visual culture in early modern Europe, Brill (2003).


Susan C. Karant-Nunn, The Reformation of Ritual. An interpretation of early modern Germany, London, (1997).


Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press (1997).


Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars. Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1580, Yale University Press (1992).


Natalie Zemon Davis, ‚From Popular Religion to Religious Culture’ in Steven Ozment (ed.), Reformation Europe: A Guide to Research (St Louis (1982).


Robert Scribner, Popular Culture and Popular Movements in Reformation Germany. Hambledon Press (1987).


R.W. Scribner, ‚Ritual and Popular Religion in Catholic Germany at the Time of the Reformation’ in Journal of Ecclesiastical History 35/1 (1984).