Teaching Other Voices: Women and Religion in Early Modern Europe

By Margaret L. King; Albert Rabil Jr. | Go to book overview

CECILIA FERRAZZI AND THE PURSUIT OF
SANCTITY IN THE EARLY MODERN WORLD

Elizabeth Horodowich

While the savvy historian acknowledges that archival documents are also literary constructions, the seventeenth-century trial of Cecilia Ferrazzi (1609–84) represents a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between history and literature. Tried by the Roman Inquisition for feigning holy behavior, Ferrazzi requested the right to dictate her autobiography to a court-appointed scribe in the hopes of defeating such accusations. The first four interrogations and autobiography have been translated and introduced in Anne Jacobson Schutte's volume, Cecilia Ferrazzi: Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint.1 Faced with the challenge of exploring early modern religious culture with twenty-first-century undergraduates—who in the modern, secular world often find it difficult to relate to the spiritual motivations of historical actors—Ferrazzi's story provides an ideal text through which to engage students, as it is brief (fifty-three pages), easy to read, and compelling. Her combined trial and autobiography offers an unusual opportunity for students to investigate the links among gender, spirituality, and individual self-fashioning in the early modern world. This essay will briefly outline several of the many possible ways to present this text to an undergraduate class by tying Ferrazzi's dramatic account both to the historical setting in which she lived and to the lives and perceptions of modern students themselves.

A fruitful way to open a discussion of Ferrazzi's tale is by asking students to summarize briefly the events of her life and trial. What is the general story, why did this trial take place, and why does this trial include an autobiography? Such a line of questioning assures that students unfamiliar with the office of the Inquisition or the process of sanctification will be pulled up to

1. Cecilia Ferrazzi, Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint, ed. Anne Jacobson Schutte, The Other
Voice in Early Modern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

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