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Religion in the 18th Century

Summary of the Article; “For the benefit of my soul”: a preliminary study of the persistence of tradition in eighteenth-century Mass obligations”.
In the period after her death, Laura Vigarani had directed the parish to sell her estate and use the proceeds to fund masses throughout Modena. The exercise was considered to be of such significant value to the extent that priests had to record each and every mass conducted throughout the year. Such recordings were provided for in the course of the annual parish visits as well as in a guidebook which had been issued by Bishop Cortese in 1792. Notably, parish priests were obligated with the duty of providing their masses recordings in December preceding each year. The clerics and testators were among those chosen to see the obligation through; close evaluations procedures. It was certain that deceased people had to leave vast amount of their wealth for Mass obligations irrespective of their genders. However, unlike the clerics, the nobles were perceived as having left vast wealth (Nicassio, 1992).


Once the order had been placed to support Mass obligations, the testators chose whether or not to leave bequests to San Geminiano with little money left for the poor of the city. The testators were more interested with orders that touched on Mass obligations and not for the poor and so the case of Vigarani is considered to be unique. This is because nobles as well as people who were under execution opted to leave money for numerous masses in order to pray for their souls. This mode of overlooking the plight of the poor came amid extensive forms of reforms in Modena by such Catholic reformists as Antonio Muratori (Nicassio, 1992). His reform agenda concentrated on the need to move away from the Modenese culture of spending too much money on Baroque piety and Mass obligations to helping the poor. In Modena, it was clear that the gap between popular religiosity and knowledgeable reformists existed apparently. In the course of 18th century, it was found out that there was a significant decrease in matters pertaining to religious bequests, which was evidenced by mere “dechristianization”. Notwithstanding, the period attracted elements of piety whereby masses were paid for through intentions of a testator and these masses were expensive depending on whether they were read or sung. The pious works were concentrated with Mass obligations, which were paid in advance so that ecclesiastical and clerics supported their families through it. In the study conducted to find out the manner in which estate of the deceased was divided, it was established that 40 % of Modenese testators left money for their servants, 32 % left estate for dowries to their family members. Although men were twice as likely to leave the estate for dowries for their family members given the fact that they were household heads thus, were responsible for successful marriages of young within their families (Nicassio, 1992).

Markedly, more than 90 % of Modenese left money for Mass obligations to be said on their behalf after death. This accounted to about 23,000 Mass obligations in the 167 testaments created in the course of the century (Nicassio, 1992). Therefore, it is safe to assume that the practice accounted for economic, social, as well as, the religious life of Modena. The practice was considered to be a tradition among the Modenese given the fact failure to observe it meant that one had contributed to the damnation of his soul. The manner in which bequests were conducted by testators postulates that it was a form of civic expression as compared to religious piety.

In both of his books, Antonio Muratori argued that the practice of praying as well as offering masses for the dead was right. However, he attested to the manner in which abuse had taken the center stage of religion. Furthermore, he condemned purgatory behaviors since they were sources for confusion in the faith and instead, advocated for giving alms to the poor in the society. According to him, the practice was done at the expense of the poor as the rich dominated most of the Masses. He also enlightened people about the need to focus on life than on death since judgment had already been conducted. However, with the emergence of the Duke most of the Mass obligations were distorted since Parishes were moved and others closed down. The monies, which were once used for Mass obligations, were taken up by the state and used for funding “useful projects”. The directive affected charitable organizations as well as Parishes as the bequests died away due to erratic recordkeeping. Moreover, the state initiated the move to direct the monies into building hospitals and houses for the poor. Bequests were eliminated in respect to their effective expenses as well as the financial burden imposed by surpluses evidenced within the masses. Elimination process was justified to assistance the poor and as a manner of distributing monies equitably throughout the state (Nicassio, 1992).

“Lay- Religious Associations, Urban Identities, and Space in the Eighteenth-Century Milan”:
According Garrioch (2004), the role of Parishes and other religious structures operating within Milan was largely affected by such facets as increased population, intense competition from state associations as well as increased religious bearing. Thus, it is safe to assume that their activities were narrowed down as their distinction privileges were curtailed. However, it is noted that they contributed immensely to the manner of social structures in the society. Participation in Parishes was determined through house structures as well street distinctions in Milan. This practice led to the formation of unique urban identities.

There was record keeping performed in these Parishes so that records for poor who needed charities, members who had been confirmed and those who missed Easter communions were kept by the clerics. Despite this straightforwardness, there were activities carried out by the lay-religious personnel which did not conform to the activities of the Parishes. Thus, they were not imposed and organized in that matter. Such activities included confraternities in Milan. These confraternities were located in market places and surpassed a figure of 400 (Garrioch, 2004). This activity was conducted by lay people who had authority from the government. However, most of them operated unnoticed. For instance, in Pia adunanza at St. Michele alla Chiusa, which were characterized by, mere images and statues on the streets, houses or private courtyards. These confraternities were distributed in Milan so that they were perceived as having evolved into a cult. As compared to Parishes where membership was obligatory, in these cults participation was on voluntary basis. They were arranged in terms of ranks and positions upon which membership was awarded in accordance to one’s class (Garrioch, 2004).

The ability to possess resources placed people in distinctive cults whereby men showcased their patronage abilities through supporting young women and their respective families hence, depicting a paternalistic role in households. Members of these confraternities distinguished themselves through adoption of unique traits as listening to certain music and remaining loyal to specific art patronages. Also, a point worth to mention lies in the fact that members lived within the locality of the confraternity as a whole. Streets and distinctive houses for members were located at close vicinities to the Church. The city was divided in terms of religious boundaries. Even after demolition of the confraternities in 1787, there were still members who could not conform to change and continued to pray facing the direction upon which the cross was placed initially. This postulated the level at which members perceived the “holy grounds” (Garrioch, 2004).

In the course of participating in the confraternities’ activities, streets were deprived of their lights as music echoed across them. This enticed even the poor to get involved with the celebration taking into account that they were attracted to such functionalities. Another key feature, which was practiced by these confraternities, was depicted in the manner through which they conducted their funeral activities. The funeral ceremony conducted was decent and was performed in two places: the place where the deceased lived and where they had died. Even the poor were forced to save enough in order to provide these expensive funeral ceremonies to their loved ones. The rich paid, “the companies of the cross”, substantively in order to conduct the funerals more decently (Garrioch, 2004).


The aspect of the neighborhood was stressed upon by the congregation since the lay-religious emphasized on the scriptures about the matter. Furthermore, more men than women participated in the “companies of cross”. However, women participation could not be ruled out as bans were created at night so that congregation was not allowed to mix in the course of prayers. It should be noted that the rationale, behind the closure of these confraternities by the government, arose out of the fact that they provided competition to the Parish as they were operated without permissions from priests and state. Activities in these “companies of cross” were commercialized as people paid monies in order to get services which was a contrary to the operations of the Parish. Also, activities involved delegation of duties to the rich merchants and professionals as they were mandated with the responsibility of ensuring children went to church every Sunday. Family ties were also considered to be of significance since past records depict sharing of names by members. Such family members were obligated to pay tied bequests or dowry to these confraternities in order for the confraternities to grant their descendants a priority in the future. Contrary to the perception that lay-religious depicted conflict with Parishes, in fact, was not the case given the fact they participated fully in Parishes (Garrioch, 2004).

Thus, it is safe to assume that in these two articles the early diversion from Parish activities is apparent. Cities were organized on religious boundaries as church activities were commercialized to include payment of dowry and bequests. Another significant comparison lies in the fact funeral services took the center stage of confraternities, given the fact that rich merchants paid a substantial amount of monies, in order to be remembered and prayed for, in the course of Masses after death. Even with the regulation of the government, it is evidently clear to indicate that these activities were not going to end sooner or later. Notwithstanding, the activities in the confraternities were voluntary in nature while in Parishes attendance to service was made a mandatory. Therefore, it is safe to conclude by assuming that there were significant attributes granted to religion which affected the social, economic and political ties of the society in the eighteenth century.

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