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Early Modern Catholicism Conference

religion and arts

"Catholic Culture in Early Modern England"

Newberry Library, Chicago, 11-12 Oct. 2002. Some highlights


Arthur Marotti introduced with an overview, that up to a few years ago, Catholicism had been terra incognita in mainstream English historical studies; that it had been suppressed by Whig historiography and the old Catholic apologetics which were not scholarly enough; that now the new historicism wants to add religion to the mix; also the idea of minority cultures within a majority culture has promoted Catholic study; and in the last 25 years the work of Haigh, Bossy, Questier, and Lake have been creating a field; with much attention recently to the recent work of Frances Dolan, Alison Shell, and R. Tumbleton.

Peter Davidson's keynote paper, "Catholic Spaces," noted how much, with these Reformation contexts, unexceptionable passages take on coded meanings. Older class loyalties tended to protect recusant neighbors from active persecution. Meanwhile, the recusants experienced an internalist refusal to admit the legitimacy of the new Protestant order. Indeed the result was an emphasis on enclosed internalized spaces, sometimes physically created with Jesuit or recusant houses, as in Richeome's "Les Jardins", symbolic gardens able to function as a place of meditation. William Stiles created such a garden. Tapestries emphasizing room enclosures sometimes portray women as spiritual authorities; the sewing of the tapestry symbolizes virtue working in adversity (with an allusion to Mary Stuart's tapestries); (a later paper by Patricia Bruckman noted that relics and tapestries intermixed, the latter stained with the sewing needle blood pricks). Analogously, prison cells with their graffiti used similar words to create a sacred space, as was the case with the Earl of Arundel's prison inscription; 'the more suffering, the more glory to come.' The triangular lodge at Rushton was a symbol of the trinity. Also compare Montaignes's tower study with its inscriptions. Southwell proposed dedicating each room of a house to a part of the liturgy. Often these Catholic emblems were whitewashed over by Protestants; and were cited in anti-Catholic trials.

Richard L. Williams, paper on "devotional imagery," discussed the smuggling and hiding and collecting of Catholic icons, which encouraged a more aesthetic sense of these images, and linked up eventually with collector's interest in them.

Gary Kuchar, paper on gender etc. in Southwell's "Magdalene's Funeral Tears," noted how Mary Magdalen was used by recusants as a model recusant, esp. for women silently resisting authority. Southwell emphasizes her transition from melancholy attachment to Jesus' body to his spiritual nature. Notes Magdalen dilemma: if I stay here, or if I roam abroad, I am equally miserable.

Jane Stevenson, "Women Catholics and Latin Culture," discussed the Thomas More family and their influence on the Catholic humanist idea of marriage.

Melinda Gough, citing Veevers's important work, argued that Queen Henrietta Maria's masques of reconciliation may have been motivated by her alliance with Marie de Medici's ecumenicism in opposition to the conservative anti-Spanish polities of Richelieu.

Michelle White, on Henrietta Maria, noted how Protestant focus on British identity hardened the edges against interest in European historiography. Thus England's relation to the continent parallels its relation to its Catholic past. British ideology labeled popish discourse as non-English.

Mark Netzloff, on "the English Catholic Diiaspora in Early Modern Europe," noted how scholarly emphasis on Catholic diaspora opposes idea of making nation depend on its native country; thus reflecting our own transnational era. In fact, by their dislocation, English Catholics were able to "imagine" the nation from a distance. Persons accused Protestant England of defining itself insularly, cut off from Europe. Verstegan insisted on England's Saxon origins (thus German, even Dutch connections), vs. the British insular emphasis on the Brutus myth. The preservation of the Saxon past into Norman England was implicit model for persistence of Catholic past now. James could be praised as "Saxon", and thus more English than the English. Thus the "English" colleges boasted in their names.

Catherine Sanok, on "Recusant Hagiography," noted how the stress on English women saints, like St. Wirbirga, provided a model for Catholic women recusants, promoted the feminization of Catholicism, and shamed male recusants by the example of such woman saints.

Donna Hamilton, "Another Look at Anthony Munday," argued that Munday was a Catholic loyalist, as reflected in his translation of romances. Censors were often worried about such romances, which evoked a universal world Christianity, an internationalism, that went against the grain of Protestant nation-hood. "Palmeron of England" for example describes Ferdinand turning to larger Christian community for help; the rescue of Ireland from cruel giant by knight opposes Spenser's arguing for the English oppression of Ireland; Catholic Christianity defeats the Turks

Nova Myhill on Dekker and Massinger's "The Virgin Martyr" that both Protestant or Catholic readings could applied to the martyred Dorothea, her attendant angel, her contempt for idolatry, the saint who can resist state power. Thus in England the scaffold was an "unstable spectacle", depending on the audience's acceptance of one set of conventions, or the opposite.

The concluding panel noted how women's studies and Catholic studies are coming together in the study of recusant Catholic women: "the marginalized meet the marginalized."

These are only a few highlights. All the papers were very interesting, and included papers by Patricia Bruckmann, on the materiality of Catholic icons and blood pricked tapestries; Sophie Holroyd, on Helena Wintour's beautifully stitched Catholic vestments and their phoenix imagery; Colleen Seguin on family settings like cloisters; Kathleen Spinnenweber on the Catholic introduction of Teresa into Catholic culture, via Woodhead versus Stillingfleet; Caroline Hibbard on Henrietta Maria and how the Reformation restricted the freedom of governmental diplomacy; Heather Wolfe on Augustine Baker and his promotion of Benedictine spirituality; Jane Evenson on the complex relations of idolatry and Moslems, to Catholicism and Protestantism, variously allied, with Othello as key text; Rebecca Bailey on James Shirley; Holly Crawford on Alabaster's many turns and the mixture of personal and polemic in Catholic autobiography; Molly Murray also on Alabaster; Alice Dailey on Allen's "XII Reverend Priests" curiously de-politicized (Allen argued that the bloody questions created 'thought crimes'); Anne Myers on Gerard defending relics, which are security deposits left by the saints.

Again, these highlights, are drastically condensed and I fear distorted. So make corrections.

Dennis Taylor
Religion and the Arts
November 12, 2002