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The Saintly Politics of Catherine of Siena Hardcover – January 19, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many have revered Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) as a paragon of mystical feminine piety, an ethereal saint whose timeless spiritual sensitivities have inspired Christians for more than 600 years. Scholars as well as devotees have tended to remove Catherine from her immediate medieval context as an influential Sienese noblewoman. Tulane history professor Luongo brings the medieval saint firmly back to earth in this published dissertation, which examines Catherine's letters through a sociopolitical lens. She was, he asserts, actively involved in the issues of the day in a particularly turbulent time in Italian history, marked by the Black Death, social revolutions and papal instability. Luongo teases out possible political entendres in Catherine's correspondence by juxtaposing her words and known movements against contemporary political and social events. The result is a specialized scholarly revisionism that, while not easily accessed by the general reader, will be appreciated by its intended academic audience. (Jan.)
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"This is a brilliant and important book. It undertakes, in a highly convincing fashion, a radical reinterpretation of the career of one of the most important figures in medieval religious history. F. Thomas Luongo’s rereading of Catherine’s letters in the context of local and papal politics is highly compelling and he deftly explains why—through the hagiographical writings of her biographers and through modern interpretive agendas—Catherine has been consistently extracted from this political context. There is no comparable book: the research here is groundbreaking."—Maureen Miller, University of California, Berkeley, author of The Bishop’s Palace

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell Univ Pr (January 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801443954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801443954
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,192,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This book is a seminal work on the 14th century mystic and political activist who is honored as a saint by the Catholic Church. The traditional perception of Catherine of Siena is that of a humble young woman from a poor family who experienced visions and almost single-handedly brought the Pope back to Rome from Avignon where the popes had been living for decades. F. Thomas Luongo of Tulane University has mined medieval documents to come up with a startlingly new picture of Catherine. Luongo largely sidesteps the matter of her visions and extravagant fasting, but he destroys forever the perception of Catherine as the product of a family that was poor and without connections. Her family, Luongo shows, was fairly well-to-do and very well connected with Siena's most conservative elements. The friends and mentors that Catherine cultivated, both in Siena and Florence, were likewise associated with the most conservative factions. During an era of tremendous political and social upheaval, Catherine was a defender of the status quo--of the popes, the nobility, and the monied class. As for her role in the closing of the Avignon papacy, Luongo goes along with the historical consensus that Catherine played a very minor role in bringing the popes back to Rome.

Luongo's book is rather choppy; it lacks a strong narrative thread. One has the feeling that various chapters were originally parts of different academic projects. Yet each of his sections has something fresh to reveal. Taken together, they offer an astonishingly new view of Catherine of Siena.
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