Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The "False Chronicles," Cardinal Baronio, and Sacred History in Counter-Reformation Spain

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The "False Chronicles," Cardinal Baronio, and Sacred History in Counter-Reformation Spain

Article excerpt

In 1594, Jerónimo Román de la Higuera (1537-1611) claimed to have received four lost annals from a fellow Jesuit in central Europe. Three of the texts, which chronicled Iberian history from Christ to the early Middle Ages, were known to early-medieval authors, but had since disappeared without a trace. The fourth-a history of the eleventh-century Christian conquest of Islamic Toledo-was entirely unknown. According to Higuera, a fellow Spanish Jesuit had sent him the texts from the Benedictine abbey of Fulda, home to a rich monastic scriptorium raided by Renaissance manuscript-hunters such as Poggio Bracciolini.

These prestigious origins helped grant the texts entrée among the several scholarly acquaintances who received them from Higuera in the last years of the sixteenth century. With their concatenation of details about the antiquity and continuity of the Iberian Church that featured a continuous chain of exemplary martyrs, saints, and bishops across the centuries in Spain, Portugal, Rome, and Spanish Sardinia, the chroniclesfirst in manuscript and later in print-proved particularly appealing to fellow students of the sacred past such as seventeenth-century authors of local sacred histories. Thanks to their combination of both new and familiar sacred traditions, the texts were destined to have an enduring influence among generations of readers, not only among prominent intellectuals but also among small-scale enthusiasts of the sacred past, well into the nineteenth century.

However, the texts possessed one disadvantage, at least from the perspective of their seventeenthand eighteenth-century critics: Higuera had fabricated them. This inconvenient fact earned the annals their disparaging nickname of the falsos cronicones ("false chronicles") from their first systematic critic, Nicolás Antonio (1617-84). Yet such was the value of these purportedly late-antique and medieval chronicles as sources that, even after Antonio's treatise was published in a posthumous eighteenth-century edition, Spain's intelligentsia could not agree unanimously that Higuera's texts should be rejected entirely. Instead, in the intervening centuries, the chronicles' confirmation of familiar traditions-as well as their introduction of new holy people, objects, and narratives-continued to provide raw material for more vivid visions of the sacred past in Iberian history, hagiography, and liturgy.

Higuera's role in prompting the seventeenth-century heyday of Iberian historia sacra has long been acknowledged, albeit in a backhanded manner. Antonio was the first to complain about the many spurious histories that Higuera's texts were engendering:

Every day countless Histories of Cities, Churches, Religious Orders, and Kingdoms are born, which treat almost nothing except fabulous origins, Apostles, and supposed Preachers of the Faith, Martyrs carried from distant lands to falsely ennoble places that were not their motherlands, and badly-invented or ridiculous Antiquities.

Thanks to the wide circulation and appeal of the false chronicles, Antonio lamented, "there is no place in Spain, no matter how small or obscure, that is not thinking of writing its own history now with the material it finds in this recently-discovered mine, which is most abundant in oddities and novelties."1 More recently, scholars have moved beyond simply deploring Higuera's forgeries to analyze the texts' depiction of some of the most controversial matters in Spanish society and religion of the time, including the status of Jews and Jewish converts (conversos) to Christianity and the authenticity of the forged "lead books" of Granada.2

Thus, it is now possible to reexamine Higuera's role in the evolution of Spanish sacred history from a different vantage point, one that takes seriously his enduring preoccupation with the sources and narratives of the past, particularly as Roman reformers began to reevaluate and reshape them in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. …

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