Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Mad for God: Bartolome Sanchez, the Secret Messiah of Cardenete

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Mad for God: Bartolome Sanchez, the Secret Messiah of Cardenete

Article excerpt

Mad for God: Bartolome Sanchez, the Secret Messiah of Cardenete. By Sara Tilghman Nalle. (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia. 2001. Pp. xi, 228. $49.50 cloth; $16.95 paper.)

Occasionally, historians who spend long hours in the archives will make a lucky find, a document that opens new views of the past, or that offers a particularly compelling story. But such texts often require boldness and imagination on the part of the historian to draw out its rich implications. How fortunate, then, that it was Sara Nalle who happened upon Bartolome Sanchez's inquisition trial records in the diocesan archives at Cuenca, Spain. Nalle brings to this fascinating record her reputation for astute analysis and meticulous, thorough research; but she also transcends conventional cultural histories with a compelling evocation of a time and place, and an imaginative rendering of Sanchez's encounters with inquisitorial officials.

The narrative follows Sanchez's spiritual crisis after an outburst during Mass in 1552, when he was fifty-one years old. Sanchez ultimately revealed that he believed himself to be the "Elijah-Messiah," the Son of Man designated by God to fulfill the mission of Jesus. Sanchez's behavior seemed rational to his family and neighbors, as long as he steered clear of religious topics. They understood the wool carder to be sane. A reader accustomed to the stereotypes about early modern Spain might therefore expect the Inquisition to torture, sentence, and execute Sanchez quickly. In fact, Nalle demonstrates the poverty of those outdated presuppositions. The judges associated with Sanchez's case suspected that he was insane. Rather than a rush to judgment, the inquisitors questioned Sanchez at length about his beliefs and, with a great deal of patience, attempted to persuade him to relinquish his views. …

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