When Venus stays awake, Minerva sleeps: a narrative of female sanctity in eighteenth-century Spain

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Written records of confession provide exceptional insight into private histories of women and the gender dynamics that shaped them. The sacrament of confession entailed an implicit inequality between men and women, given that the priest was considered to be shrouded in divine power while the penitent had to submit herself to his moral authority. Nevertheless, confession also offered women the opportunity to express themselves and to discuss and understand their spiritual concerns. Some hoped their confessors would recognize their religious charisma, which would involve an affirmation of individuality, autonomy and personal power. In Spain, we find key information about interactions between confessors and female penitents in inquisitorial trials. Specifically, sixteenth- to nineteenth-century records pertaining to the crime of solicitation shed light on such relationships. Whereas other offences were publicized, for moralizing or intimidating ends, the abusive use of confession by many clergymen - who sexually seduced and took advantage of their penitents - was kept secret to avoid disgracing the sacrament. An exception to this rule is found in the anti-papist treatise written by Antonio Gavín (1682-1750), a Spanish priest who, after converting to Protestantism in 1715 and adopting a rational religiosity, decided to denounce what he considered the false and corrupt practices of the Catholic Church, presenting his country as an antithesis to the Enlightenment. Gavín dedicated a considerable part of his work to describing relationships between confessors and their female penitents. Based on an inquisitorial trial that began in 1705, the account of Francisca Guerrero and her confessor, Miguel Navarro, holds special interest. Navarro himself was in charge of sanctifying the penitent and presenting her as a beata, which brought her substantial fame until her ultimate fall from grace.
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Tausiet, María 2021 When Venus stays awake, Minerva sleeps: a narrative of female sanctity in eighteenth-century Spain Journal Of Spanish Cultural Studies 22 3 295 310