Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Feast of Corpus Christi in Mikulov, Moravia: Strategies of Roman Catholic Counter-Reform (1579-86)

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Feast of Corpus Christi in Mikulov, Moravia: Strategies of Roman Catholic Counter-Reform (1579-86)

Article excerpt

This essay approaches the Feast of Corpus Christi as a means of Roman Catholic identity-formation from the perspective of Roman Catholic priests who lived and worked in Mikulov (Nikolsburg), Moravia, between 1579 and 1586. Local overlord Adam von Dietrichstein brought a missionary Jesuit and parish priests to the estate to return it to the Roman rite. However, he was reluctant to take coercive action against the non-Catholics, especially the profitable communitarian Hutterite Anabaptists. By examining the founding charter of the Mikulov Corpus Christi Confraternity from 1584 and a Corpus Christi sermon from 1585, the author elucidates the priests' strategies to promote Roman devotion in Mikulov. These measures included the formation of a confraternity devoted to the Body of Christ and heavy reliance on Scripture as a source of legitimation for the traditional rituals and practices of the Roman Church, especially the veneration of the Host during the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Keywords: Erhard, Christoph; Feast of Corpus Christi; Hutterite Anabaptists; Mikulov; von Dietrichstein, Adam

No other ritual practice was more important for the formation of Roman Catholic identity in the aftermath of the Reformation than the Eucharist, especially as presented in the sermons and processions of the annual Feast of Corpus Christi. As Marvin O'Connell notes:

the Eucharist embodied [Catholics'] values and priorities, it expressed their Weltanschaung. It also provided a simple rule of thumb: those who would not bend the knee during a Corpus Christi procession or who insisted on receiving communion under both species were easy to discern, to fear, and ultimately to hate.1

O'Connell's claim that the specifically Catholic aspects of Communion made it easy to distinguish who belonged to the old Church and who did not is not new to students of the Roman Catholic Church in the late-sixteenth century. Studies of the work done by Roman clergy during the Counter-Reformation have shown how local priests and bishops promoted piety among their parishioners through reception and veneration of the Eucharist sub una specie.2 Miri Rubin has demonstrated that the ordering of the local elites in proximity to the Host during the Corpus Christi procession was a means to reinforce local power structures in both cities and villages, while Natalie Zemon Davis has shown how the Feast of Corpus Christi could be a catalyst for ritual or physical violence between Catholics and nonCatholics in areas of confessional pluralism.3

This essay approaches the Feast of Corpus Christi as a means of Catholic identity-formation from the perspective of two Roman Catholic priests who lived and worked in Mikulov (Nikolsburg), Moravia between 1579 and 1586.4 These were the Jesuit missionary Michael Cardaneus5 and Christoph Erhard, a secular priest from the Tyrol.6 Mikulov was a German-speaking town nestled in the Palava hills near the border between southern Moravia and Lower Austria, which had a population between 2500 and 3000 in 1526.7 That number does not include the people in the villages and market towns of the estate, including Bulhary (Pulgram), Pavlov (Pollau), Perná (Pergen), Sedlec (Voitelsbrunn), Horní Véstonice (Oberwisternitz), Dolní Véstonice (Unterwisternitz), Klentnice (Klentnitz), Bavory (Pardorf), Musov nad Dyjí (Muschau), and Strachotín (Tracht). Whereas the market town of Strachotín is almost seven miles north of Mikulov, most of the other communities are between three and six mües away from the city (see figure 1).

Mikulov is perhaps best known for its infamous confessional pluralism during the Reformation era. As Howard Louthan notes, Moravia "could rightly boast of a more tolerant religious culture than even Bohemia."8 A number of non-Catholic Christian groups made their home there, including Lutherans; Anabaptists; and the Bohemian Brethren (JJnitas Fratrum), an evangelical Hussite group.9 On the other hand, those in the established Hussite Church in Bohemia, the Utraquists or Calixtines, were relatively weak in the German-speaking border area between Moravia and Austria; Rome had managed to maintain much of its property in the region, if not its hold on the hearts of the people. …

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