Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Patron-Client Relations and Ecclesiastical Careers: Securing a Place in a Portuguese Cathedral (1564-1640)

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Patron-Client Relations and Ecclesiastical Careers: Securing a Place in a Portuguese Cathedral (1564-1640)

Article excerpt

During the early-modern era, ties developed through friendship and patronage were more fluid than those of kinship and proved to be equally important. The alliances of the most powerful families were extended through the friendships that their members forged when they attended colleges and universities; pursued bureaucratic, military, and ecclesiastical careers; or engaged in business.1 These friendships reached beyond the family circle and facilitated the exchange of services, thus becoming an essential element of power and influence.

In recent years, the analysis of these relationships has focused on the study of the so-called elites and the importance of their networks of power to the political configuration.2 However, the sphere of the chinch, in particular the Catholic Church, has not received great attention. There are very few studies that explain the importance of patronage mechanisms in ecclesiastical careers. Barbara Hallman and Wolfang Reinhard, who studied the papacy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and paid particular attention to nepotism, emerged as a rare exception.3 Renata Ago has also stressed the importance of family in the careers of cardinals.4 More recently, Maria Antonietta Visceglia highlighted the role of friendship as a central element of power relations in the papal curia since it simultaneously created dependency and loyalty.5

Although important, these studies only look at the papal court. Yet the works of Joseph Bergin and José Pedro Paiva focused attention on the procedure for appointment of bishops, stressing the prominent role of patronage and kinship ties in obtaining such appointments in France and Portugal.6 Nevertheless, little is known about ecclesiastical careers at the local level. For example, regardless of the importance of cathedral chapters in diocesan governance, little attention has been paid to the institutional framework that affected access to the canonries, and little analysis exists of the connections among family and dependents that greatly assisted in obtaining these prestigious and desired posts.7

This article identifies and examines the networks that were activated and the actors who emerged as protagonists during the process of obtaining a post in a cathedral chapter. It shows that kinship and clientele were important not only to those who wished to gain admission to the institution but also to those who acted as brokers between the candidate and the patron. At the same time, contrary to the procedure for appointment to episcopal seats, alternative means of access circumvented the power of the appointment holders.

A Culture of "Service" and "Merit"

As the nexus of each diocese, the cathedral was the episcopal seat as well as the home of the cathedral chapter. However, even bishops who had served a long time in their diocese might find the influence of the chapter, as an institution, to be considerable, as it represented the historical continuity of the cathedral and served as the main guardian of its memory. Because the main function of the cathedral's clergy is liturgical, the celebrations taking place in the cathedral needed to be performed with special care and rigor to serve as a model for the rest of the diocese.8 The significant power of the chapter emerged when the sede vacante (vacant see) was declared, which began with a bishop's death or transfer to another diocese and ended with the arrival of a new bishop. In such periods the cathedral chapters ruled the diocese, appointing all officials in the diocesan administration and thus representing the greatest expression of the canons' authority. Another duty of the chapter was economic administration so that healthy incomes were ensured-a goal that mattered to all chapter members.9

The number of ecclesiastics in a chapter depended on the size of the diocese and the level of revenue. These members of the clergy were organ7. ized into three main groups: dignitaries, canons, and porcionários. …

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