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Mary Harvey Doyno on Medieval Italy

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We asked author Mary Harvey Doyno three questions about her book, The Lay Saint: Charity and Charismatic Authority in Medieval Italy, 1150–1350, and her research on saintly cults in the medieval communes of northern and central Italy.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

I would say that there are a number of miracle stories I love which capture the sense of what a lay saint was thought to contribute to his or her civic community.  It is pretty wonderful when Facio of Cremona is reported to have miraculously healed a starving baby brought to him by a mother by commanding it to “suck those breasts.” I also love the stories of Pier ‘Pettinaio’ of Siena mystifying Siena’s tax collectors by going above and beyond to pay his taxes.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

When I started to write the book, I wish I had understood more clearly the threat that lay charisma and especially female lay charisma presented to the church.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Medieval Studies?

In terms of changing the field of medieval studies, I would love to see scholars think more about the way in which the very existence of the institutional church created a hierarchy of spiritual charisma and authority.  The emergence of lay saints’ cults in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries put such a structure under stress and demanded that church authorities come up with novel ways of strengthening their privileged positions.


Mary Harvey Doyno is Assistant Professor in the Humanities and Religious Studies Department at California State University, Sacramento.

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