Living the middle life, secular priests and their communities in thirteenth-century Genoa

Living the middle life, secular priests and their communities in thirteenth-century Genoa

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Living the middle life, secular priests and their communities in thirteenth-century Genoa

Yousey-Hindes, John Benjamin

PhD Thesis, Department of History, Stanford University, May (2010)


Secular priests occupied a central place within thirteenth-century European society, carrying out important duties within the institutional Church, as well as participating in the lay and religious communities around them. This dissertation uses secular sources–the private registers of public notaries–to show that priests in the port city of Genoa entered into economic, spiritual, and social transactions with a wide range of people. In doing so, they built complex and durable relationships that provided ample opportunities for the exchange of ideas and values with the women, men, and other clerics with whom they shared their lives. If a major trend in scholarship on the Middle Ages over the past seventy years has been to emphasize the religiosity of lay people’s everyday world, then this dissertation looks the other direction, to explore the so-called secularity of religious institutions and their priests. Ultimately, the notarial registers prove that Genoa’s priests were not mere facilitators of lay religiosity or agents of ecclesiastical power; rather they played a multivalent role in the intermediary space between “lay” and “religious” communities. Chapter One provides an overview of Genoa’s ecclesiastical structure and demonstrates how private notarial registers can provide useful perspectives on secular priests’ lives. Chapter Two investigates how priests’ participation in the real estate and credit markets helped weave them into the fabric of Genoese neighborhoods. Chapter Three uses the notarial registers to show priests carrying out their core professional duties: tending to the health of souls in their communities. Chapter Four demonstrates priests’ important intermediary position by examining their service as executors, agents, arbiters, and judges. Chapter Five explores how secular priests embodied the Genoese Church overseas in Genoa’s network of trading settlements around the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Finally, the Conclusion considers the broader contours of priests’ social networks, identifying trends that cut across the heuristic boundaries that structure earlier chapters. It also summarizes the value of the private registers as sources for ecclesiastical and clerical history.

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