Malpighi and the holy body: Medical experts and miraculous evidence in seventeenth-century Italy

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In this article I use the records of the canonization proceedings of Caterina Vigri (Saint Catherine of Bologna) to examine the role of physicians in assessing miraculous evidence, and more broadly the relationship between religious and secular views of the body in early modern Italy. Medical men - including the prominent anatomist Marcello Malpighi - were important expert witnesses in the final denouement of Caterina Vigri's canonization process, in the 1660s and 70s. Their opinion was crucial in the evaluation of the Beata's healing miracles, as well as in the assessment of her body's 'incorruption'. I examine how the doctors involved in the canonization proceedings viewed Caterina's healing miracles and I compare it with their attitude to her allegedly undecayed body. The way these doctors handled the touchy issue of Caterina's 'holy body' is particularly interesting, as it betrays a strong note of scepticism, which is absent, in contrast, in their reaction to her healing miracles. The doctors' sceptical view of the 'holy body' played a major role in the Roman stage of the canonization proceedings, leading the Congregation of Rites to exclude the miracle of the 'incorrupt' body from the two miracles necessary for canonization. This episode indicates a new significance of medical testimony in the evaluation of miraculous evidence, and the emerging of a tension between the medical and the religious views of the body, which was destined to become a serious problem for modern Catholicism, (pp. 568-586).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)568-586
Number of pages19
JournalRenaissance Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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