Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Article excerpt

The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby: The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. By Laura Ackerman Smoller. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2014. Pp. xx, 343. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-8014-5217-8.)

The Dominican preacher Vincent Ferrer was an ardent critic of the Great Schism who nonetheless remained close to the Avignon pope, Benedict XIII, until nearly all others had abandoned him. A confidant of the count-kings of the Crown of Aragon, he (after Martin I died without an heir) helped shape the Compromise of Caspe that moved Catalonia into the Castilian orbit. Born in 1350, he died in 1419 in Vannes, where he was preaching at the invitation of the duke of Brittany. In old age his fiery preaching and apocalyptic message attracted crowds of selfmutilating followers and caused riots that led to forced conversions and deaths. Despite all of this, Laura Ackerman Smoller turns our basic assumption of Ferrer's profound importance on its head; perhaps his lasting influence is due not to his own achievements but to the powerful persons who promoted his saintliness to advance their own agendas.

This book is not a biography but rather an assessment of the uses of recollection. Much of the book treats the politics and processes that led to Ferrer's canonization in 1455, concentrating foremost on the canonization inquest at Vannes. The single "cult" of the book's subtitle should be read in the plural, since it is one of Smoller's central assertions-one for which she presents ample evidence-that there were a number of ways to read Ferrer's sanctity after his death as well as various ways of promoting and acting upon the many readings.

Smoller argues that Ferrer's cause succeeded because powerful persons who had the money and political capacity to pursue their agendas saw that Ferrer's canonization would serve them well. The canonization in 1450 of the Franciscan Bernardino of Siena lit a fire under the Dominicans that moved them to make claims for a new saint of their own; once they put their institutional muscle behind it, the canonization process moved along quickly. …

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