From its founding in the 13th century, the monastery of San Domenico Maggiore was a cultural centre of Naples, in addition to playing a major role in the religious innovations and successive reforms of the Roman Church. Numerous controversial characters stayed there, including Giordano Bruno or Tommaso Campanella, transforming the Dominican Neapolitan space into a frontier zone of the Counter-Reformation in the aftermath of the Council of Trent. Refusing to have their autonomy undermined, the Dominicans engaged in an active resistance that spanned several generations and infiltrated all aspects of their lives and their work, from divine services and teachings to spiritual direction and the supervision of female convents, etc. They shared this religious and intellectual effervescence with the women who visited San Domenico Maggiore on a daily basis: most wore the habit of the Third Order of St. Dominic, others were simple laywomen, but all are members of a united community—that of the Neapolitan district surrounding the Church. These women assumed both a political and symbolic role of great importance for the Dominicans, as evidenced by the many candidacies to holiness from this group of women that they supported. Having received spiritual teachings, these women participated in the great debates of the era, indicating their personal and collective agency, or were instrumentalized by the Dominicans in order to serve their resistance.
Who were these women who lived alongside the Dominicans, and what role did they play in the resistance against Tridentine reform—or, on the contrary, in what ways did they act in favour of Roman authority? In which networks were they involved, and what was their capacity for action within these networks? Starting from a reconstruction of networks and connections between the Dominicans and women attending their Church, I will discuss the role that they played in a struggle that the historiography has typically interpreted as being internal to the male branch of the Dominican order.
SSHRC Postdoctoral fellow
Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, Università Ca’ Foscari, Venezia