5 Ecco la santa! Printed Italian Biographies of Devout Laywomen, Seventeenth-Eighteenth Centuries
Between the mid-1630s-when Pope Urban VIII and the Congregation of the Holy Office virtually completed their project of promulgating new rules for beatification and canonization-and the late 1790s, Italian publishers issued vernacular lives (vite) of some 900 reputedly holy people, 216 (about a quarter) of them lay and 137 (62 percent) of these female.1 Many of these biographies were designed explicitly to support efforts already under way to produce their subjects’ official recognition by the Congregation of Rites. Others aimed solely or primarily at edifying readers and stimulating emulation of the biographees’ devout lives. The subjects’ origins span the social spectrum: royalty, title-bearing nobility, urban patricians, middling and humble folk in cities and towns, and peasants. A considerable number were affiliated as tertiaries with a mendicant order. Some were virgins, others married women or widows, and a few purportedly both.