Thirty years ago, Peter Burke explored the question of ‘how to become a Counter-Reformation saint’. Being a member of a religious order and being Italian or Spanish increased one’s chances; being a martyr seemed not to matter. Only two of the fifty-five individuals canonised between 1588 and 1767 were martyrs, and neither of them came from southern Europe. The first was the Bohemian priest Joannes de Pomuk or Jan Nepomucký (c.1350–93), canonised in 1721. The second was the German Capuchin Fidelis of Sigmaringen (1578–1622), who was honoured in 1729 and who is the subject of Matthias Emil Ilg’s monumental study. Fidelis of Sigmaringen was born Markus Rey or Roy, the son of a Sigmaringen publican and Bürgermeister, originally from Antwerp. Educated in Sigmaringen and at Freiburg, he became a doctor of laws in 1611. With the help of Count Charles II of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, the Habsburg bailiff, he acquired the position of advocate and judge at the highest court of the lands of ‘Further Austria’ (Alsace, the Breisgau, the Aargau and others). Apparently incensed by mismanagement and corruption, he joined the Capuchins in 1612, assuming the name of Fidelis. Having opted to join an order that had become prominent in promoting the Tridentine programme of renewal, he threw himself into missionary work and, as abbot of the Capuchin house at Feldkirch from 1621, he planned a major tour of the Grisons, where tensions between Catholics and Protestants were particularly high, with the latter gaining the upper hand. It was there, in the Prättigau, that he and a group of soldiers who accompanied him became victims of a Protestant uprising on 24 April 1622. Ilg’s account of Fidelis’ life and death is exhaustive, but it is merely the prologue to his much more detailed analysis of the longer period from death to canonisation. The cult of Fidelis had multiple strands. Initially, he was invoked by military commanders on the ‘Spanish Road’ and by the Capuchins themselves as a front-line victim of the developing conflict in the Holy Roman Empire. His claims were also pushed at an early stage by the house of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, one of whose members, Cardinal Eitel Friedrich of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1582–1625), was a leading figure in the Congregatio de propaganda fide. Above all, he was claimed by Ferdinand II and his successors as a Habsburg saint. None of that impressed the papacy, however. Eitel Friedrich’s efforts and pressure from the Habsburgs aroused suspicions that Fidelis was nothing more than a ‘political martyr’. Nor did the efforts by the Capuchins to publicise his virtues in numerous visual and literary media cut much ice. Even the revival of imperial power during the long reign of Leopold I (r.1658–1705) did little to speed up the process. Fidelis’ advocates failed repeatedly and were reduced to collecting painstaking records of his miraculous powers. The eventual successful outcome was a tribute to the role of Charles VI (r.1711–40) as the guardian and promoter of the Pietas Austriaca, exercising his influence first on Pope Innocent XIII (1721–4) to beatify Joannes de Pomuk and then on Benedict XIII (r.1724–30) to canonise both Joannes and Fidelis in 1729. Rarely can the life and afterlife of any early modern saint have been examined in such detail. Ilg’s work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Pietas Austriaca. It also demonstrates that becoming a Counter-Reformation saint was far from easy for anyone born north of the Alps, even if they had died a martyr. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 3, 2018
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