chapter  9
20 Pages

Abigail Mathieu’s Civic Charity: Social Reform and the Search for Personal Immortality

ByKathleen Ashley

One example of this reluctance to give women their due as historical agents may be found in accounts of the Catholic Reformation. As Barbara Diefendorf comments in her study From Penitence to Charity: “Traditional histories have obscured women’s active part in shaping the institutions, spirituality, and value system that characterized the Catholic Reformation in France by concentrating too narrowly on the achievements of a handful of great men.”4 Diefendorf’s study of the role played by pious women in the early seventeenth-century Catholic revival marks an intervention into the dominant masculinist interpretations of religious history. She stresses the importance of individual laywomen donors with initiative, organizational skills, and money who built innumerable convents and who were “leaders in the spiritual revival that lay at the heart of the Catholic Reformation.”5 Her focus is the women of Paris, but she ends her study with the implicit plea for research into the roles that pious women may have played in the Catholic Reformation elsewhere in France.6 This essay, which makes a case for the importance of the immensely wealthy Abigail Mathieu to the early modern history of Chalon, takes up Diefendorf’s challenge to document female leadership in building the social institutions and religious values of their place and time.