CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1 Italian archives, whether belonging to Church or State, contain records of court cases relating to violent abuse of pueri (children or pre-adolescents), by members of the clergy. Although this crime was not inherent to the Catholic Church, numerous clerics were implicated in the early modern period in affairs relating to “odious” crimes, “shocking” offences, and acts of violence. [1] In the cases that came to court, the context in which such violence took place was the education of children and young people and their proximity to men in holy orders, the unmarried adults to whom they had been entrusted. [2]

2 This article studies a few trials which reveal the ways in which they were conducted, and seeks to shed light on the legal material dealt with: the subject who had suffered the violence, the typology of offences, and the establishment of violence as an aggravating circumstance. Concerning the crime de stupro pueri seu Sodomia (the crime of “rape of a child, otherwise known as sodomy”), we know that in the legal practice of the time it might come under two separate bodies of law, civil law and canon law. When clerics were on trial, although they normally came before the ecclesiastical courts, the competence of such courts was not exclusive and in some cases, competence to try was extended to a secular court. [3] In the early modern era, the exercise of criminal justice came to be handled by a number of different courts, and it was not uncommon for the outcome to be acquittal. [4] It is important therefore to identify, when reading accounts of these cases, the mechanisms ruling the different forms of magistrature and the way they functioned. [5] The archives explored here are those of the nunziatura of Turin [6] and the Tribunal del Torrone, the lay criminal court of Bologna. [7] In selecting the files to be examined, I have chosen cases that are exemplary in terms of locality or jurisdiction. But concerning clerics who enjoyed the privilege of being tried in ecclesiatical courts, it is not always easy to find complete trial records. [8] The court of the Turin nunziatura had features particular to all nunziature, [9] while the Tribunal del Torrone depended on the Papal State, and was managed by officials chosen by the Papal legate. In such a complex and diversified legal context, the boundaries between privileges, immunities and competences were not always clear, as will be seen from the archived documents. [10]

The crime of child rape and its history

3 Writers on criminal law of the sixteenth and seventeenth century tackled the question of sodomy and child rape in some detail: between the Middle Ages and the modern era, the offence was a concept which moved, under the influence of Christian theology, from the semantic field of stuprum = rape, to that of sodomy. While they consulted the fundamental texts of Roman law, these jurists developed a mode of thought not entirely in conformity with the texts they referenced. [11] Bearing in mind the specificity of the different courts, we find members of the clergy among those who could be tried and subjected to interrogation, and among the victims, young people including very young children who displayed signs of violence on their bodies, either “proven” or “requiring interpretation”, that is presumed violence. The age of the subject, as well as any evidence of violence or the emission of sperm was therefore important to the trial and consequently to the sentence imposed. [12] In this period, in line with the generally admitted view of the different stages in the life cycle, a child entered pueritia at about seven or eight, and then became an adolescent between fourteen and fifteen. [13] These details of civil status related to sexual maturity and the subject’s legal capacity, that is his or her capacity to “give his/her word”, that is to consent to a sexual act, or contract marriage. [14] In ideas of the time regarding the type of sexuality associated with sodomy or pederasty, it was commonly agreed that the sin was abhorrent, and that the crime should be punished. But these ideas have to be relocated in their cultural context: certainly the practice might well lead to prosecution, but as far as the puer was concerned, the practice itself was not given the meaning which would later be given to paedophilia. [15]

4 In his Pratica criminale (1555-1559), Guido Claro (1525-1575) states, under the entry for Stuprum (rape), that it may be “committed in various ways: against a virgin, a widow, or a child. As for the rape of a child, it has been discussed at greater length above, under the entry for Sodomy.” [16] Then, apropos sodomy, the jurist, citing numerous auctoritates, characterizes it as a “shameful vice and detestable above all others”. Clearly the crime could be committed between men and women, in which case it came under the competence of the communal magistrates court and civil law: the guilty party, whether active or passive, would be sentenced to death. [17] A cleric who committed sodomy, even in secret, would incur the same penalty. Unfrocked, he could only be relieved of this penalty by the Holy See. [18] “Additions” to Claro’s treatise, based clearly on authoritative texts, specified that witness statements by the puer who had undergone the presumed violence were not admissible, being in that respect assimilated to the testimony of prostitutes. [19] On the other hand, credence could be placed in what was known and said about it in public (fama pubblica).

5 The position taken by Prospero Farinacci (1544-1618) in his Praxis et theoricae criminalis (1594-1614) was more developed. [20] Rape, he writes, is in general a very serious crime and as doctrine teaches, it may be committed in various forms on various subjects. As for the puer, and the cleric who has committed this offence, it is necessary to discover the nature of the violence, proved or presumed, its effects on the body of the child, and to take account of the child’s age. The establishment of all these elements would lead to the imposition of a penalty, which might also take the form of a fine. [21] The section concerning sodomy is interesting, since unlike in Claro’s treatise, it is introduced as follows:


Rape may be committed not only against a virgin or a widow but also against a child. We have considered the question of the rape of a virgin or widow above, let us now consider the way it may be committed against a child. [22]

7 For this jurist, the cries of the child, if reported by a third party who had overheard them, are important for establishing the crime of sodomy (“he was heard crying out loudly and yelling”). Next in order he lists any witnesses; any indications of violence (“a tunic was found stained with blood”); the child’s age (although it was improbable that a child aged less than ten would be aware of the lecherous nature of acts such as kisses and embraces); the child’s own testimony; the examination of the child’s body by experts; and finally what had been reported about the incident in public. [23] Concerning the age of culprits sentenced to death, Farinacci recalls that in Rome and the Marche, the sentence was commuted for a minor under eighteen. The jurist Marc’Antonio Savelli (1623-1695) writes in his Pratica Universalis (1665) that:


[…] sodomy in the true sense is perpetrated between men, it gets its name from the notorious city of Sodom, although it is widespread among various nations, along with other abominations connected to this vice. [24]

9 His further explanations of criminal law describe in detail the “mechanism” of the sexual act, defining what counts as passive and what active, giving the age of delinquents, and the different types of sentences that may be imposed. The coincidence of stuprum pueri and sodomy [25] is thereby validated and present in the cases brought to court, because of the violent aspects of the crime, underlined by the difference in age.

The social context of the crime in criminal law

10 The history of this category of crimes is therefore a long one, and the task of reconstituting its themes and contexts is not straightforward. It is difficult above all to distinguish the elements of practice and intention, desire and perversion, when the past has only left us infinitesimal traces. For the same reason, it is complicated to grasp the social trajectory whereby the subjects are defined and define themselves. Different locations, distinct territorial contexts, disparate processes of cultural assimilation: all of these may impact on the history of a particular case, a way of being, or a type of sexuality. [26] It is in these locations, through the actual words used, the discourse encountered in trial records, that we can try to understand their meaning and limitations. [27] While it is true that we cannot coherently and correctly project today’s definitions on to the realities of the past, it seems to me that neither can we exclude the idea that types of identity consciousness, affective practices and amorous habits existed at the time, simply because they were not given expression in court, or only in distorted form. [28] The choice of words used by the men and women of the time to deny, mask or set limits on reality, reveals, certainly in a less obvious way, practices and forms which cannot necessarily be reduced to the concepts of spiritual friendship and clandestine sexuality concealed in the brothels and parks of today’s European cities. [29]

11 The norm theorizes and disciplines, while practice often tolerates or punishes what the law and general opinion consider to be the most execrable offences. In the early modern era, court records often inform us about sodomy and sodomites by registering their particularly violent forms. As the centuries passed, the control and mastery of what had become an offence was attributed to the active parties (agentes) – the clergy in this case – whom their position and greater maturity might have prompted to abuse these characteristics vis-a-vis a young person (patiens). To establish that violence had occurred from the clues and evidence it left behind, while also considering age as a function of the knowledge and mentalities of the period, was at the time thought the mission of the magistrate. The anatomical details examined by surgeons revealed the crime of the perpetrator and the manner in which it was perpetrated.

12 In the Italian context, the considerations of the scholar and prolific jurist Giovanni Battista De Luca (1614-1683) in his treatise Il Dottore volgare (1673) take on their full meaning. De Luca, appointed cardinal in 1681 during the papacy of Innocent XI, enters into the description of sexual details known to many criminal lawyers “who have to take into account many circumstances”; but he states that he does not wish to “offend the ears of honest people who might read this out of curiosity or in order to inform themselves, if they are not professors, and especially if they are women”. Since, nevertheless, he is dealing with a very serious and “enormous” offence, worthy of capital punishment (the corpse “must be burned with its shame”), an offence which in his view would be committed only by the mentally impaired and rustics, he finally admits that “if we are to believe general opinion... [this crime] is found frequently across a variety of centuries and countries.” But, as St Augustine had warned in his Confessions, the frequency and widespread nature of such offences can never justify such actions “even if every nation were to adopt them”. [30] When De Luca describes the crime, however, he provides some particularly useful and significant elements for our analysis: such behaviour which, brings such damage to reputation, which is so difficult to prove, and which, although rarely denounced, seriously disturbs public order, leads De Luca to affirm that these “disgusting practices” (sporchezze) are committed only by low-status people who are following their natural instincts. The cultural operation of negation and stigmatization to be found in De Luca’s text runs counter, however, to the documentation, which reveals to us protagonists who were by no means rustics or from the lowest classes of people. The work of popularization written by De Luca, who was not a specialist on criminal law, is in my view emblematic of an evolution inclining to assimilate the concept with its practice. [31] Having arrived at this point in his demonstration, the cardinal goes on to outline the contours of the crime: “Common practice is for the penalty to fall less on the patiens than on the agens, the former, because of his young age, having the sentence normally imposed for this crime postponed or lessened.” This is explained, he goes on, by the fact that a patiens of a tender age, would be to the agens “an almost natural, although unacceptable stimulus”. Further on, De Luca presents as an extenuating circumstance the fact that the agens has approached “young boys of fair appearance”. Whatever the seriousness of his action, the tender age and beauty of the victim seem therefore to afford the agent a degree of understanding. His conclusion is particularly interesting for its rhetoric: in some countries it is rumoured that an adult may take on the role of patiens, something which should absolutely incur more severe punishment. There can in such a case be no indulgence towards a “sensuality close to bestiality and exceedingly disgusting”: absolute rigour must be imposed regarding these “execrable passive” actors – execrable on account of their maturity. [32] Further on again, under the entry for Stupro (rape) De Luca refers to sodomy by presenting it as an aggravating factor in that case, whether a boy or girl is involved. [33] The jurist recalls that there is no single rule applicable for everything, and that especially in the case of the rape of a girl, the most significant distinction to be made when sentencing is the degree of violence involved (attested or presumed).

13 The criminal legal approach from Claro to Farinacci, by way of Menochio (1532-1607) was modified in several respects, by taking into account the views of various auctoritates. In his De arbitrariis indicum quaestioni et causis (1588), Menochio, like his legal colleagues, refers to sodomia when he deals with stuprum cum puero, but adds some further views of experts about the appropriate sentence: while recognizing the gravity of the offence which is punishable under divine, secular and ecclesiastical law, these authorities leave it to the magistrate’s judgment to pronounce a sentence compatible with the quality, that is the social status, of the criminal, in order to moderate or reduce it. [34]

14 By the seventeenth century, Savelli’s treatise clearly indicates the stages of this development. A sentence cannot be imposed on a culprit under twenty years of age, and financial penalties are duly quantified. The differences between the agens and the patiens are further blurred and the exemplary sentence of being burnt to death is reserved for publicly identified recidivists over the age of majority, i.e. over twenty: “sodomites, already punished twice if they fall once again into this vice, whether they are active or passive, must be condemned to the flames without any possible redemption, since they are seen as incorrigible”. [35] But he immediately adds that the quality of the guilty man is not without impact on the sentence. As for clerics convicted of clandestine sodomy, Savelli says, following Farinacci, that they must be suspended from their holy orders, but he also reports the contrary view of Menochio. [36] The crime must, however, have been actually committed, not merely attempted, a point on which Savelli refers to Claro. The conclusion of his article returns to the observation of signs of violence on the body, since sodomy is also the rape of a puer. And here Savelli’s thought shows a significant change when he notes that examination of the body on which violence was inflicted cannot always be regarded as incontrovertible evidence, and that any perceptible signs, even the most blatant, might indicate that the criminal action was committed by another person. Without being found in flagrante delicto, there would always be a doubt over the culprit’s identity. [37]

Examples of criminal cases

15 The theory and practices described in legal treatises find concrete expression in a certain number of cases concerning violence committed by clerics in early modern Italy. In that sense, the casuistical arguments examined above bring together and integrate in emblematic fashion the surviving sources, by illuminating the themes and problems present.

The schoolmaster and the archbishop’s niece

16 In Savigliano, in lower Piedmont, in the early years of the seventeenth century, the apostolic nuncio instructed the case brought against Dom Basilio di Poppi, a Benedictine monk of Monte Cassino, and prior of the San Pietro abbey. The rector of the local school, Cesare Bium, had approached Dom Anastasio, the abbot of San Pietro, asking for compensation, on account of a letter written by one of his pupils, ten-year-old Giovanni, the son of Cesare Cambiano, from the family of the overlords of Roffia. According to the rector, the letter, which criticized his teaching methods, had been dictated to Giovanni by the prior of San Pietro, Dom Basilio, and was motivated by envy and disagreement. The boy, Giovanni, had a cousin of the same age, Agostino Guarino, son of Ettore Guarino, the brother of Giovanni’s mother, Elena Cambiano, who happened to be the niece of the archbishop of Turin, Carlo Broglia, himself from the family of the lords of Santena. [38]

17 According to the statement made by Bium on 18 August 1607 to the tax auditor and commissario Giorgio Gatteri, the two cousins, Giovanni and Agostino, had admitted having been subject to illicit caresses, and one of them, Giovanni, had been sodomized by the prior of the monastery, in exchange for gifts of food and money. [39] At first, having heard the boys’ confession, Bium had tried to mediate with the prior, Dom Basilio, in the presence of the abbot. Father Basilio at first resisted, then admitted that he had dictated the letter to the child; whereupon the rector had told him to mind his own business and added that he should “not have a certain priest come bringing many presents to [his] pupils and not have boys come into [his] bedchamber, all of which has a whiff of sulphur about it, truth be told”. [40] The insinuation was explicit, and Dom Basilio, as if in an excusatio non petita, had asked: “Are you accusing me of being a sodomite?” Without ambiguity, the rector retorted: “If what the boys told me is true, and I think it is, you are the King of sodomites.”

18 So the mediation session collapsed, and the rector, in order to bring the facts to light – some people said blinded by a desire for vengeance – brought the boys to the convent of Sant’Agostino, before the vicario, the novice master, and the son of a colonel. Giovanni then narrated in detail what had happened on the feast day of San Pietro, the first of August that year. He had been invited along with his father to the banquet for the feast, where he had been the object of attentions by Dom Basilio, who had offered him some of the choicest dishes. Over the next week, when the boy was attending catechism classes, Bium noticed that gifts of food were being delivered to Giovanni by the intermediary of a priest who was a neighbour of the parish priest of San Pietro. This was a patent attempt at seduction. [41] The following Sunday, the boy met in the street the priest Bosolero, who asked him to go and see the prior in his bedchamber, to which he was shown by a monk when he entered the monastery. By revealing the names of all these individuals gravitating around the monastery, Giovanni’s account made them easily identifiable and thus potential witnesses. The methods of seduction he described took tempting and equivocal forms, well designed to play on the mind of young pueri and lure them to the place where the abuse would take place.

19 There, Dom Basilio dictated the famous letter to the boy. Then, after eating some fruit and drinking, the monk took the boy’s tunic off and began to embrace and fondle him. In his statement, Giovanni says he resisted but according to him, his resistance was of no avail:


[…] and after having pulled down the hose, of him who is testifying, he began to touch him on the backside with his member and everywhere, made him put his chest on the bed and put his member into his anus, forcing to make it go in, it was hard and it lasted about as long as the Credo, it hurt him, and the witness said he was crying, saying “hoi, hoi” but he did not dare cry out loudly and he felt himself all wet where the member of the prior had been and all down his thighs, then the prior pulled away and he saw what was on his thighs it looked like thick white milk, the prior wiped him with a handkerchief, hid his member away, and told him not to say anything to anyone about all this. […] When he was leaving, he caressed him and kissed him, then let him go and [then he, Giovanni] had a pain in his anus, two days ago it still hurt in that place, but not all the time. [42]

21 At the end of his statement, Giovanni indicated that “he had been given three carlins once this action on his backside” had finished, to ensure he would not talk to anyone about it. The boy’s words, as transcribed by the notary, are crude and revoltingly realistic. The rape is described in every detail. The monk had tried to penetrate the body of a child, which was bound to be injured, on account of the disproportion in size with his own. Emission of sperm had taken place, which, in the formal definition of this crime, was not a minor matter.

22 The trial, which lasted several months, was held in the convent of San Domenico in Turin, in the presence of Piero Francesco Costa, who was the apostolic nuncio in Savoy from 1606 to 1624. [43] In the opening stages, the men sent by the nuncio to place the prior in custody, in view of the seriousness of the offences, were met by resistance from the abbot, who claimed ecclesiastical privilege: according to him, it was the responsibility of his religione, his order, to punish one of his clergy. A stand-off followed between the nuncio’s envoys and the monks of the order. We know this through the criminal record, fama pubblica or the voice of the people, and witness statements, including from his victims, in this case the pueri, which were central elements in trial proceedings. [44] The fact that the abbot claimed the right to transfer the case to his own “religion”, reminds us that many different courts coexisted, offering possibilities of escaping justice.

23 Dom Basilio fled temporarily to Milan, but subsequently the monk was tried at Turin, and gave several statements, as did a considerable number of witnesses, almost all testifying in his favour. Internal disagreements emerged between the monks and the archbishop of Turin, whose local vicar, Crotti, [45] was accused by some people of neither having dealt with the affair with the requisite prudence nor played his expected role of mediator with Bium. The witnesses testified that the children were free to go about peacefully inside the monastery and no one had heard anyone speak ill of the prior, who used to caress the children in a fatherly way, taught them to serve and sing the mass, and also instructed them in Latin and grammar. The court sought to establish just what kind of kisses and caresses might have taken place, and paid attention to the age of the puer, since as Farinacci wrote:


[…] One does not set in train proceedings on this point if the child is under ten, since at that age the child assumes that anyone who cuddles or caresses him is motivated not by physical desire but by permissible love and affection. [46]

25 In the interrogation, however, the nuncio and his colleagues needed to find out whether there had been violence, and whether the monk had engaged in imprudent conduct: closed doors, insistent caresses, inappropriate kisses and generous gifts. Bosolero who was following the Cambiano children, confirmed the stream of gifts sent by the prior, and said that he did not know “why he was sending them, unless out of friendship for the said lord, Giulio Cesare”. [47]

26 In a further statement, the child Giovanni, being pressed to reply, gave a less clear version of events:


To tell the truth, the prior tried to put his member into my stinkhole, and pushed it in a bit but because he was hurting me I cried out, I cried Ohemi, ohemi! and he put his hand over my mouth to make me be quiet, and he stopped trying. [48]

28 During the interrogation, the questions were therefore repeated, as was customary, relating to the controversial details, since these were critical in arriving at a precise definition of the crime. If it could be proved that what had occurred was an attempt at penetration, rather than an actual penetration, the violence used was considered less serious, and the penalty imposed lighter.

29 Some of the witnesses suggested that the boy had been manipulated by Bium, and that the affair had been plotted by the latter at the prior’s expense. Bium’s standing was therefore examined: in the region, it was said that he had a concubine, that his wife lived in Milan and that he had been banned from that city for a reason that remained obscure. Meanwhile, the surgeons had examined Giovanni’s body and did not find “that he had been sodomized with laceration (con frattura) or that there were scars”. But, they added, “time has passed and the affair goes back a long way”. [49] This expertise was thought fundamental, and the surgeon’s view, along with records of the trial are the key evidence.

30 It was in January 1608, by then under the pontificate of Paul V, and again in the convent of San Domenico in the presence of Girolamo Curlo, the auditor of the nuncio Costa, that the accused party, Don Basilio da Poppi, (now excommunicated) attended for interrogation. He said he had been “born in 1556, in the town of Poppi in Tuscany, in the diocese of Arezzo, the son of Lorenzo Latini and belonged to the order of St Benedict of Monte Cassino”. [50] He was a professed monk in 1575, had been ordained a priest in 1583 or 1584, and had “always celebrated mass in the ordinary fashion”. He had been the novice master at Arezzo from 1600 to 1605 and had then been transferred as prior to Santa Maria della Grazie in Castelnuovo Figliani (near Piacenza), before arriving in Savigliano. During the discussion, his fellow monks were asked why the prior had been moved from Arezzo to Castelnuovo Figliani, as if to insinuate that there might have been disciplinary reasons behind this transfer: that would have meant the monk had been removed from his role in training, and would have been forbidden any further contact with the young. [51] Their unanimous reply was that the prior had been a man of good repute, an excellent religious, and a fatherly teacher, that he taught boys to read, write and serve mass and that he would caress and embrace children without any thought of doing harm. [52] According to the accused, and those who testified in his favour, these were simply approved caresses and physical endearments, and affectionate kisses: according to the two cousins however, his approaches had been what were generally regarded as odious and sinful: kisses on the lips and fondling of their genitals and private parts, and thus not shows of fatherly tenderness but acts of a sexual nature.

31 This was the same monk, however, who also stated that the door of his cell was sometimes closed because the children did not want to be seen eating. [53] This statement was of course part of a defensive strategy in which the boys’ modesty was used to justify a closed door, and to conceal the desire to carry out sexual activity. So Dom Basilio’s interrogation once more showed the incoherence of the different versions of events, and threw doubt on the credibility of the accuser. The version which the prior and his favourable witnesses repeated was that Giovanni and Agostino had been manipulated by Bium, a man of ill repute. The school’s rector “was a man of bad behaviour and his unsavoury reputation arose from the whores whom he sheltered and not from monks.” Nor did he attend church services. [54] Good or bad reputation: popular opinion was divided, as was the truth, which all the witnesses claimed to invoke, including those who favoured Bium. For the prior of Sant Andrea for instance, the school rector was a God-fearing man who valued his reputation and taught virtue to his school pupils. Even warmer was the testimony of Agostino Fava, a doctor of medicine: according to him, Bium “was a highly educated man, not only in letters but in all aspects of philosophy and the Scriptures […] and displayed all the good morality to be wished of an honorable person”. [55] For his witnesses, the rector was a man of good habits, and the serving woman who appears in the background of the overall picture did not harm his reputation. Giovanni Cambiano did not therefore withdraw his original statement, but he did water it down with reference to the violence used by the priest, thus objectively helping the case of the accused and pointing to a lesser sentence.

The camerlengo of the monastery of Saints Como and Damian

32 In Bologna, the monastery of Saints Como and Damian, a medieval foundation, had been entrusted to the Camaldolese monks in 1130, along with the charge of local souls, so their church was therefore the place of worship of the parish. [56] In the early seventeenth century, the Camaldolese Father General [57] was obliged to close their school, since accusations of sodomy had been brought by a young parishioner against the camerlengo (chamberlain) [58] of the order and the case had come before the Tribunal del Torrone.

33 The first witness was the father of the boy:


[…] named Giacomo aged about twelve, whom I had sent to learn to read with the fathers of San Damiano of the Camaldolese order, near the Caldarini square; the chaplain father of the said place taught him and he also served at mass from the first morning I sent him, I think it was in the month of July last year. [59]

35 The complaint dates from 8 June 1610; the trial ended abruptly by an agreement between both parties. However, the detailed account of the facts of the case, and both the witnesses and the evidence of the boy’s body were very clear. According to the witness statements, the chamberlain’s superiors had kept their distance and the General had declared that he knew nothing about the teaching activities of his monks: “he did not think there were children in the school”. The boy’s father said that when he took his son back into his workshop after the monks’ school was closed, he saw him walking as if “he was limping for some days”. On being questioned insistently, the boy replied that his feet hurt. But the father was not satisfied, wanted to know more and, he said,


[…] when [Giacomo] had gone to bed one night, I went in with a light and saw that he was naked, and I saw that he had a scar on his private parts that had closed and was like a roll (a cresta). [60]

37 The next day, Giacomo burst into tears in the shop, begged for forgiveness as if he was guilty, and confessed that:


[…] one of the fathers, the one they call the camerlengo, whose name [the father said] is Pietro Paolo I think, had taken him into his cell […] had hugged him, had pulled off his hose and spanked him, and although he began to cry out, the monk didn’t want people to hear and put his hand over his mouth, and it was like that that he hurt his bottom. [61]

39 The pain did not go away and the physical damage was clear. The doctor was called to give a diagnosis, after which he declared:


[…] that he had thoroughly examined the child who is in bed and who is suffering from pain in his behind and after this examination, I can state that his anus has been injured, for months, it seems, and it is infected, so as to form rolls of scarring, following an injury and buggery. [62]

41 According to what the child stated, the community included as well as the abbot and chaplain, this chamberlain who had arrived there a few weeks after Giacomo enrolled at the school. He was a man described as “chubby” and beardless. On his arrival, he had singled out the boy and asked him to lead his horse to the gate. The seduction had been followed by action:


Three or four days later, the said camerlengo began to keep coming up to me and asked me if I would do [sex with him] and I said no, but he made up to me so much that he got me to go into his room, and bent me over on his bed and pulled down my hose, and put his member inside me all the way, holding it […] because it was big and he spilled his seed in me and then took it out and I got dressed again and then he gave me twelve sous and some food downstairs in the kitchen where there wasn’t anyone else. [63]

43 A few sous, some bread and cheese, meat and sausage: the camerlengo regularly offered this pay for his unspeakable sin which was also a crime. The meetings continued; Giacomo remembered them all and described them to the notary who wrote everything down. They often took place in Father Pietro Paolo’s cell: “he pushed me up against the wall.” One day, it happened in the monastery latrines: “he made me put my head in the bowl of the closet, and another time too.” Five times, “he buggered me” (bugiarato), the boy had the notary write. Secrecy was no longer possible and Giacomo told the chaplain, who told the abbot, who reported to the Father General of the order, and the school was closed. The boy nevertheless continued to serve at mass when the camerlengo was officiating, but by then he was beginning to be unwell. For the court, it was a matter of establishing the quality of the evidence and estimating the boy’s veracity. His proximity to the “rapist” monk, whom he continued to serve at mass in the following months was a detail duly noted down, and this was not without influence on the judgement. However, the physical pain lasted. The monk visited the father’s workshop and distanced himself from the facts, saying that “he was not the sort of man to do things like that.” [64]

44 Meanwhile, the investigation had brought up another name: that of the young Francesco, son of the porter at Sant’Andrea nel Prato di San Domenico. He too had received a few sous from Father Pietro Paolo but said that he had never responded to his advances. The new names emerging strengthened the hypothesis that this was a repeat offender, and consequently a firmly compromised reputation, since as Farinacci had written, “to be sodomized is an indication proving sodomy”, [65] Giacomo’s final statement to the court was to say “I have never been touched before or since by any other person in a way like that”, [66] a statement which makes the monk Pietro Paolo the sole person responsible. But the child was kept to his bed, the infection progressed, and the pain became unbearable, so the doctor was obliged to lance the wound. As far as the boy was concerned, the culprit was indeed the monk, as was proved by the dreadful effects of his violent attacks. While the surgeon intervened to try and cure Giacomo, the court received a request for compensation in proportion to the damage done. So the trial ended that way, without sentence being passed, indicating that an out-of-court settlement had been reached.

45 In conclusion, we can say that the court archives refer, through witness statements by both rapists and victims, to minutely detailed reconstructions, verging on the obsessive, reminiscent of the narrative morbidity described by Jacques Chiffoleau about the need to tell all. [67] It is important to note that in these accounts, the details that emerge from the discussion between the judge, the accused and the witnesses all try to determine as precisely as possible the typology of the offences, by referring to the theories of criminality mentioned earlier in this article. We may therefore note the attention paid to the age of the victim, the question of signs of physical violence left by the incriminated act, which make it possible to judge the amount of violence caused by penetration. On the one hand, the clergy defended themselves by pleading the privilege of their status before the law, and on the other the victims, who had often suffered physical harm, called when lodging their complaint, and again during the trial, for compensation for the wrong done them. Victims might modify and water down the force of their original statements and thus, one or way or another, receive compensation. We might also note that it is obvious that the cases that came to court were ones of a particularly odious nature, which leads one to think that theoretical intransigeance was yielding to widespread tolerance – as is confirmed by the repeat offending mentioned. Even medical evidence would lose over time its value to the court, as we have seen in the treatises on criminal law between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The clerics carried on with their lives, we find them back in their convents, dioceses, and churches, where they often rise to occupy posts of prestige and authority. Of the young boys, the pueri, we rarely hear anything more. They had been subjected to insistent embraces, fondling and rape, without any concern for their good, and they tell us their stories which, in the context of a trial and through the truth of a real life court, provoke in the reader distress and embarrassment, the secret traces of violence.


  • [1]
    On the terminology used to define the crime and its effects concerning trials, cf. Théry 2009: 329-375.
  • [2]
    There is an extensive bibliography on the subject. See among other titles Bullough & Brundage 1982; Puff 2003; Wiesner-Hanks 2000: 127-128; Baldassari 2005; Berco, 2007; Brockliss & Montgomery 2010; Scaramella 2010; Mancino & Romeo 2013: 167-170; Roelens 2015; Lett 2015; Lagioia 2018; Steinberg 2018; Elliott 2020.
  • [3]
    On the specificity of the Bologna court and the extension of its competence to try clerics, see Casanova 2009: 13.
  • [4]
    On the impunity of clerics and the areas of competence of the different courts, see Mancino & Romeo 2013: 47-66.
  • [5]
    Sbriccoli 1988: 494; Prodi 2000; Fosi 2002; Brambilla 2006; Alessi 2007; Prosperi 2009; Bellabarba 2014; Rubin Blanshei 2018: 101-121.
  • [6]
    Archivio Nunziatura Torino (ANT) in Archivio Segreto Vaticano (ASV poi Archivio Apostolico Vaticano, AAV), Cancelleria, Acta, 991; 992; 1040.
  • [7]
    Archivio di Stato di Bologna (ASBo), Tribunale del Torrone, 4227.
  • [8]
    Access to the diocesan archives and to the criminal court, for which there is no inventory, is not easy.
  • [9]
    Nunziature officially represented the Apostolic See in the territories where they had been established. Nuncios had both a diplomatic and a legal role, so they managed their own courts and chancelleries. They therefore supported the local bishops in matters of disciplinary control, being endowed with their own authority.
  • [10]
    Banfi 2005.
  • [11]
    Richlin 1993: 523-573.
  • [12]
    Di Simplicio 2011: 109-124.
  • [13]
    Cf. for example Menochio 1615: 148.
  • [14]
    Niccoli 2007: 4-10; Di Simplicio 2011: 115; Taddei 2001.
  • [15]
    On the socio-cultural context and these interpretations of paedophilia, see Martini 1986; Schindler 1996; Oliverio Ferraris & Graziosi 2004.
  • [16]
    “Lo stupro viene commesso in diversi modi; stupro con vergine; con vedova, con bambino. In realtà sullo stesso genere di stupro che viene commesso con il bambino si è già detto sopra alla voce Sodomia” (Claro 1666: 453).
  • [17]
    “de iure civili est paena mortis tam in agente quam in patiente”, ibid.
  • [18]
    Ibid.: 451.
  • [19]
    “quod in hoc crimine sodomiae non credatur puero dicenti se fuisse sodomitatum […] nec etiam creditur merertrici”, ibid.: 452.
  • [20]
    Farinacci 1631.
  • [21]
    Ibid.: 555 ff.
  • [22]
    Ibid.: 568.
  • [23]
    Ibid.: 573-574.
  • [24]
    Savelli 1715 edition: 287.
  • [25]
    Ibid.: 297, at the entry on Stupro where he writes: “anco con fanciulli che si dice Sodomia” [“for children as well, where it is referred to as sodomy”].
  • [26]
    See the particularly helpful reflections of Oscar di Simplico (2011: 109-124), on the category and the sexual practices he analyses for the seventeenth century.
  • [27]
    There is a large bibliography on sodomy and the related criminal trials, see Scarabello 1980; Kent & Hekma 1989; Jordan 1997; Betteridge 2002; Cattaneo 2006; Lavenia 2009; Casanova 2012; Grassi & Marcocci 2015; Lavenia 2015; Grassi 2019. For Italy see Ruggiero 1985; Martini 1988; Rocke 1996; Pizzolato 2006; Zuccarello 2010; Grassi 2014; Grassi, Lagioia & Romagnani 2017; Scaramella 2021.
  • [28]
    On the copious documentation see Dall’Orto 2015; Baldassari 2005: 161-164; Pizzolato 2006: 449-450. See Grassi 2019: 15-22 for links with the history of emotions.
  • [29]
    On the words used and the distancing from the historical object see Ginzburg 2013; Dubois-Desaulle 1902; Rey 1982; Cifonelli 2009-2010; Pastorello 2011; Halwani 1998; Puff 2012; Alfieri 2018.
  • [30]
    Quoted by Grassi 2019: 29.
  • [31]
    On De Luca and the cultural context related to his writings on law, see Dani 2012: 41-59; Prodi 2013; D’Errico 2019.
  • [32]
    De Luca 1673: 320-322.
  • [33]
    “si usa questo termine da Criminalisti per circostanza aggravante della sodomia ne i putti nel primo atto dipendendo la gravità nell’uno e nell’altro sesso dall’età più tenera e meno capace”, ibid.: 324.
  • [34]
    Menochio 1615: 404.
  • [35]
    Savelli 1715: 287.
  • [36]
    Ibid.: 288.
  • [37]
    See the case (studied by Lagioia 2018: 88 and 109) of the rape of a twelve-year-old child by a Reformed Franciscan friar, the confessor of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando Medici. This affair, dating from the early seventeenth century, which did not result in a law case, was resolved by the transfer of the friar to a different convent, thus saving him from being brought to trial. The archbishop justified this measure by citing Farinacci and Bossi, claiming that the testimony of the puer alone, and the signs of violence on his person were not sufficient to prove the Franciscan’s guilt.
  • [38]
    On this period and on the archbishop’s administration, see De Caro 1972.
  • [39]
    ANT, Cancelleria, Acta, 991, fol. 2r.
  • [40]
    Ibid., fol. 3r.
  • [41]
    On seduction and moral coercion, related to the rape of a woman, cf. Cazzetta 1999.
  • [42]
    Ibid., fol. 4v.
  • [43]
    On the activity of nuncios relating to ecclesiastical discipline in this period, see Mancino & Romeo 2013 and on Savoy, Piergentili 2014.
  • [44]
    ANT, Cancelleria, Acta, 991, fol. 5v.: “commise quel delitto così nefando che volgarmente è chiamato sodomia con alcuni bambini usando violenza, e ciò sia provato dalla fama della voce pubblica”.
  • [45]
    The local vicar (vicario) was a priest entrusted by the bishop with a subdivision of the diocese. His duty was to supervise the parishes under his jurisdiction and the priests in office there.
  • [46]
    Farinacci 1631: 573-574: “hoc non procedere quando puer esset minor decem annorum, quia tunc non praesumitur qui illum deosculari et amplecsi ex causa libidinis, sed ex licito amore et benevolentia”.
  • [47]
    ANT, Cancelleria, Acta, 991, fol. 13r.
  • [48]
    Ibid., fol. 17r.
  • [49]
    Ibid., fol. 19v.
  • [50]
    Ibid., fol. 31v.
  • [51]
    According to the principle “promoveatur ut amoveatur” [“Kick him upstairs”].
  • [52]
    The witness Ottavio Ruffini, senator ducalis, said: “even if he is accused of sodomy, that may have been wrongly so, and if he was moved from caring for novices, perhaps it was to appoint him to the higher position as prior, since if he had behaved reprehensibly in his post as novice master, the order would not have promoted him, as it has done”, ibid., fol. 79v.
  • [53]
    Ibid., fol. 37v.
  • [54]
    Ibid., fol. 7r-v.
  • [55]
    “molto literato et universale non solo in humane lettere ma anco in ogni parte di filosofia et de scrittura sacra […] dotato di tutti quegli honorati et buoni costumi canzotti he puono […] a qualonche persona da bene e honorata”, ibid., fol. 102v. See also ANT, Cancelleria, Acta, 992, fol. 1-17.
  • [56]
    On the situation of this monastery and its history, see Masini 1666 and Guidicini 1869.
  • [57]
    At this date, Dom Angelo Onofri da Sant’Angelo in Vado was the prior of Camaldoli and later General of the order (cf. Lugano 1929: 267-272). In 1604, Dom Mariangelo Malisandi da Bagnacavallo was the abbot of the Bolognese monastery (Archivio Storico di Camaldoli, S. Michele di Murano, cod. 1087, Monumenta camaldulensia variorum monasteriorum: 17-18).
  • [58]
    His function was to administer the property of the community.
  • [59]
    ASBo, Tribunale del Torrone, 4227, c. 202 v: “un figliolo maschio chiamato Giacomo putto di dodici anni in circa perché imparasse lezioni mandai dalli padri di S. Damiano dell’ordine Camaldolese che stando vicino alla piazza de Caldarini. […] l’imparava il padre cappellano di detto loco et serviva anco alle messe la mattina che ce lo cominciai a mandare credo fusse dal mese di luglio passato.”
  • [60]
    Ibid. Cf. Zuccarello 2010: 39.
  • [61]
    “… era stato uno di detti padri che si chiama il camerlengo et per nome Pietro Paolo mi pare a me, quale l’haveva volto in camera seco […] et che se gli si mise a torno et gli sfiubbò le calze et lo busarò che se bene lui cominciò a gridare, cercò non si sentisse il rumore che gli mese la mano a bocca et però se gli era così fatto male nel sesso.”
  • [62]
    “Io ho visto benissimo questo putto che giace qui in questo letto quale ha male nel sesso et dico per la mia peritia dell’arte che gli è stato rotto il culo et appare che mesi in qua et nel culo ci ha questa carne putrida che sono creste quali sono venute per tale rottura et bugiaratura”, ibid., fol. 204r.
  • [63]
    Ibid.: “delli poi a tre quattro dì il detto camerlengo mi cominciò a venire attorno con dirme se volevo fare et io gli dissi di no, tuttavia me fu tanto attorno che mi colse li nella sua camera et mi appoggiò al suo letto et mi sfiubbò le calse et me lo mese il suo membro tutto dentro che lo teneva […] per essere grosso et mi lasciò dentro il seme et poi lo cavò fuora, et io me raffiubbai et lui me dette dodici quattrini et mi dette da merenna giù in cucina che non c’era altri che lui.”
  • [64]
    Ibid., fol. 206r.
  • [65]
    “quod sodomitari dictum facit inditium contra sodomitantem”, Farinacci 1631: 574.
  • [66]
    Ibid., fol. 207r.
  • [67]
    Chiffoleau 1990: 305-306.

Legal sources in Italy in the early modern period cast light on criminal sexual offences against children committed by members of the clergy. After outlining the historical and legal context in which the offences occurred, this article will concentrate in particular on the documents relating to the Tribunal del Torrone in Bologna and the nunziatura of Turin. The study of several cases handled by these courts reveals the extreme violence undergone by very young children which was reported in all its brutal detail, as well as the impunity with which the offenders were habitually treated as a result of their status as clerics and teachers.

  • Italy
  • sixteenth-seventeenth century
  • sodomy
  • sex offences
  • children
  • justice
  • criminal proceedings
  • sexual violence
  • clergy

Qualifier et poursuivre la pédocriminalité des clercs dans l’Italie des xvie et xviie siècles

Les sources judiciaires de l’Italie de l’époque moderne mettent en lumière des actes pédocriminels perpétrés par des religieux. Après avoir reconstitué le cadre historique et juridique dans lequel s’inscrivent ces délits et après avoir analysé quelques écrits de criminalistes de la période, l’article s’intéresse plus particulièrement à la documentation du tribunal du Torrone à Bologne et de la nonciature de Turin. L’étude de quelques cas traités par ces tribunaux permet d’observer l’extrême violence subie par des enfants très jeunes, énoncée dans toute sa brutalité, et l’impunité récurrente due au statut de clerc et d’éducateur des accusés.

  • Italie
  • xvie-xviie siècles
  • sodomie
  • pédocriminalité
  • justice
  • criminalistique
  • violence sexuelle
  • clercs
  • Sources

    • Archivio Nunziatura Torino (ANT), Cancelleria, Acta, 991; 992; 1040.
    • Archivio di Stato di Bologna (ASBo), Tribunale del Torrone, 4227.
    • Archivio Storico di Camaldoli, S. Michele di Murano, cod. 1087, Monumenta camaldulensia variorum monasteriorum.
    • Claro, Giulio. 1666. Opera omnia. Liber V. Practica criminalis. Geneva: Samuelis Chouët.
    • De Luca, Giovanni Battista. 1673. Il dottor volgare, overo Il compendio di tutta la legge civile, canonica, feudale, e municipale, nelle cose più ricevute in pratica. Roma: Corvi.
    • Farinacci, Prospero. 1631. Praxis et theoricæ criminalis, Pars quarta. Lugduni: Cardon.
    • Masini, Antonio. 1666. Bologna perlustrata. Bologna: Benacci.
    • Menochio, Giacomo. 1615. De arbitrariis iudicum quaestionibus et causis. Colonia: ex officina Antonii Hierati bibliopolae.
    • Savelli, Marcantonio. 1715. Pratica Universale. Venezia: Baglioni.
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Vincenzo Lagioia
Vincenzo Lagioia specializes in the history of society and the family. He teaches early modern history in the University of Bologna (Ravenna campus), and is a member of the SIEFAR (Société Internationale pour l’Étude des Femmes de l’Ancien Régime) and the SEIM group (Estudios Interdisciplinarios de la Mujer de la Universidad de Malaga). Publications include « La verità delle cose ». Margherita Luisa d’Orléans: donna e sovrana d’ancien régime, Rome, Edizione Storia e Letteratura, 2015; with Cesarina Casanova (ed.), Genere e Storia: percorsi, Bologna, BUP 2014; with G. P. Romagnani et U. Grassi (ed.), Tribadi, sodomiti, invertite e invertiti, pederasti, femminelle, ermafroditi. Per una storia dell’omosessualità, della bisessualità e delle trasgressioni di genere in Italia, Pisa, ETS, 2017; with F. Alfieri (ed.), Infami macchie. Sessualità maschili e indisciplina in età moderna, Rome, Viella, 2018; with M. P. Paoli and R. Rinaldi (ed.), La fama delle donne. Pratiche femminili e società tra Medioevo ed Età moderna, Rome, Viella, 2020.
Translated from the Italian by
Christiane Klapisch-Zuber
Translated from the French by
Siân Reynolds
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 14/04/2022
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