Between Exaltation and Infamy: Female Mystics in the Golden Age of Spain

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The Counter-Reformation saw an upsurge of feminine religious enthusiasm without parallel since medieval times. Inspired by new translations of the lives of the saints, devout women all over Catholic Europe sought to imitate these athletes of Christ through extremes of self-abnegation, physical mortification and devotion. Just as in the Middle Ages, women's piety expressed itself especially in mystical experiences manifested in such phenomena as visions, revelations, voices, stigmata and ecstasies. This book offers a comprehensive look at this Golden Age of women's mysticism as it flourished in 16th- and 17th-century Spain, where it almost took on the character of a mass movement. For his study Haliczer draws on 15 cases brought by the Inquisition against women accused of feigned sanctity and on 30 biographies and autobiographies of women mystics. By examining their lives, Haliczer seeks to understand the forces that caused these individuals to choose a life of self-abnegation and ecstatic worship. Overall, he shows how mysticism provided women with a way to transcend, rather than to disrupt, the control of the male-dominated Church.