Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Cult of St Clare of Assisi in Early Modern Italy

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Cult of St Clare of Assisi in Early Modern Italy

Article excerpt

EARLY MODERN EUROPEAN

The Cult of St Clare of Assisi in Early Modern Italy. By Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby. [Visual Culture in Early Modernity.] (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. 2014. Pp. xiv, 169. $104.95. ISBN 978-1-4724-2057-2.)

The parts of the book that deal with the subject indicated in the title are generally good. However, when Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby looks at the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, she is on shakier ground, and it shows. Although the author appears to be well read in that early period, there are mistakes and overstatements. For example, she takes for granted that Thomas of Celano composed the first vita of Clare, although at best that is just a possibility. She says that Clare holds a "reliquary casket" (p. 26) in the earliest images of Clare's miracle at San Damiano, but surely it is a pyx. At one point, she mentions the archbishop of Assisi, when Assisi is a diocese.

The book has a clear thesis about the ups and downs of the popularity of Clare and the shift of emphasis in her various revivals. In particular, Debby shows how Clare's popularity increased in the Renaissance in part because of her Eucharistic miracle and in part because of her "defeat" of the Saracens, both of which refer to the miracle at San Damiano. This is well argued. The Eucharist was an obvious focus of devotion in art long before the Protestant Reformation, yet it becomes still more important in the Tridentine Church. Just as the story of St. Francis's meeting with the sultan becomes more confrontational as the story is retold and the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil begins to look like a Turk, so Clare driving away the Muslim mercenaries looks increasingly like a defeat of the Turks. …

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