Calvinist Pilgrimages and Popish Encounters: Religious Identity and Sacred Space on the Dutch Grand Tour (1598-1685)

By Verhoeven, Gerrit | Journal of Social History, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Calvinist Pilgrimages and Popish Encounters: Religious Identity and Sacred Space on the Dutch Grand Tour (1598-1685)


Verhoeven, Gerrit, Journal of Social History


Gabriel d'Emilian's Travels through France, Italy and Germany (The Hague 1700) were published by the company of Uytwerf and Bouquet. Being a Catholic priest, Emilian had written an apparently rather dull and quite ordinary travelogue, one that mixed the traditional secular sights of the Grand Tour with the standard religious ingredients of a pilgrimage. However, on his way to Rome a startling turn in d'Emilian's narrative appeared. For the journey soon became an eye-opener, revealing some of the foulest defects of Popish Catholicism. False relics were shown in Dijon, obese monks were herded together in Citeaux, excessive tithes were levied in Genoa, the famous sanctuary of Loreto was managed as a lucrative bazaar, and the Inquisition haunted over Italy. Overwhelmed by the long list of abuses, Emiliane experienced a catharsis and was converted to the Anglican Church of England. (1) Despite its original plot, such formulaic Catholic-bashing was a conventional element in seventeenth-century travel books of Protestant signature. Popular page-turners such as the New travels into Italy (The Hague 1691) of the Huguenot refugee Francois-Maximilien Misson, and Letters from Italy (Amsterdam 1687) from the Anglican bishop Gilbert Burnet included regular outbursts against paepsche stoutigheden (Popish mischief), such as the veneration of saints, relics and the indulgences. (2) The harsh anti-Catholic timbre of these books was not only set by the dissident stance of the authors and the belligerent bearing of the Dutch Calvinist publishers but was also sharpened by the narrative style of the genre. In order to sell, these travel hooks had to dwell upon hyperbolic exaggerations and tall tales. Religious diversity was therefore cast in stark contrasts: Catholicism versus Protestant, false against true, good versus evil. (3)

Devotional practice, sacred space, and observations on religion are rarely scrutinized in contemporary research on the early modern Grand Tour. When the issue is broached, experts tend to fall back on traditional cliches. Popular travel books, such as Misson's or Emiliane's writings, are used as a benchmark for the opinions and thoughts of ordinary Protestant travellers who came to Italy, so it is said, to admire the past and to scorn the present. Complex inter-confessional encounters are thereby reduced to the usual platitudes on Lutheran, Anglican, or Calvinist Grand Tour travellers mocking Catholic superstition, the veneration of Saints and relics, or the tyranny of the Papal government. (4) This view has been challenged recently by Antje Stannek. Using a variety of archival sources, such as travel manuscripts and letters, and a broad range of published material, including guidebooks and theoretical tracts on the Grand Tour, Stannek arrives at the conclusion that harsh anti-Catholic feelings, hatred, and dislike were rarely expressed in German travel books. In fact, noblemen, civil servants, and tradesmen from the Lutheran Lander und Reichsstadte held deep interest in Catholic churches, monasteries, papal processions, canonical rituals, devout paintings, sculpture, and music. Despite obvious incongruities with their private religious convictions, Lutheran and Calvinist Grand Tour travellers flocked to the sanctuary of the Casa Sancta in Loreto, visited Assisi, ventured into catacombs, and marvelled at the crystal tomb of Carolus Borromeus in Milan, describing these centrepieces of the old religion in fairly neutral or even positive terms. (5) Yet Stannek's survey, however pioneering it may be, does not dwell long on the question whether these German travellers were unique in their opinions, nor on the causes of their apparent open-mindedness. Were Dutch Calvinists, French Huguenots, and Anglican Englishmen on Grand Tour equally mild and gentle in their assessment of Catholic sanctuaries, processions, and rituals? How did they behave when visiting the high places of Roman Catholicism? Which causes helped obliterate religious boundaries? …

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