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Territories of Grace: Cultural Change in the Seventeenth Century Diocese of Grenoble.

Keith Luria starts Territories of Grace, his study of devotional life in the rural parishes of early modern Grenoble, from the premise that the dichotomy earlier generations of scholars have posed between elite and popular culture should be replaced by an understanding which recognizes the fluidity in the proprietorship of cultural symbols and ideas. As he goes on to demonstrate, on the village level, such terms as elite and popular have no descriptive validity, village social elites, far from looking for opportunities to cut themselves off from those lower down the socio-economic scale, being eager instead to identify and appropriate every available vehicle of cultural influence over their communities. Over the seventeenth century in rural Grenoble, a reformed Catholic episcopacy emerged as the greatest opponent of elite efforts at cultural hegemony. Yet while the episcopacy succeeded in inserting itself into the matrix of village religious life, especially in regards to the regulation of the parameters of devotional observances, the impetus behind religious innovation remained with village elites. Thus the implementation of the Counter-Reformation on the village level can best be understood as the development of a tug of war between local patrons and the episcopacy, a tug of war in which, importantly, local patrons retained the initiative.

Territories of Grace presents two inter-related studies. The first is of the episcopacy of Etienne Le Camus, bishop of Grenoble between 1671 and 1707, from the perspective of his pastoral visits through his diocese and the impact of these visits on village religious practice. Luria's primary concern is to articulate the nature and character of episcopal intervention into the ecclesiastical life of one set of early modern European village communities. His analysis here is both sensitive and perceptive, stressing Le Camus' conscious manipulation of religious symbolism as a means of asserting his power, while simultaneously insisting that beyond suppression and censure of those things of which he did not approve, all Le Camus could do was "nudge" villagers in directions of which he approved. Social historians will find most valuable his discussion of the bishop as mediator, which describes how villagers were willing to accept the decision of the bishop, as an outsider with spiritual authority, in legal and marital disputes. It is unwise to extrapolate too much from one example. That said, Luria's treatment of Le Camus does illustrate the dangers of emphasizing the regulatory powers of the episcopacy to the detriment of an appreciation of the spirit of resistance of local laities. Bishops like Le Camus were interested in establishing new and more rigorous standands of cultural and social control. But their ability to intrude upon local scenes was limited by geography, local custom and politics, and ultimately the amount of energy and vigilance they could bring to the task.

Luria's second study is of the saints celebrated in the seventeenth century diocese of Grenoble and the light an understanding of their cult sheds on the impact of the Counter-Reformation on the local level. These chapters form something of a whodunit. Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries devotions to various saints, mostly local, disappear, to be replaced by the celebration of the cults of new Counter-Reformation intercessors. The question is who is at the source of these developments. Luria identifies local elites as the culprits. His last chapter is a case study of the little village of Entraigues and the rivalry over the seventeenth century of its two most powerful families, the Bernards and the Buissons. As he details, the rivalry spilled over into the religious arena. In 1642 the Bernards led the initiative to introduce devotion to the Holy Rosary into the village. The confraternity (brotherhood) the family helped create in honor of the devotion continued to be controlled by it for the rest of the century. Not to be outdone, the Buissons, their rivals, succeeded fifteen years later in having established in the village a confraternity in honor of the Holy Savior and the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Luria's point is that the initiative behind the introduction of these two new devotions, the second of which certainly reflected the Christocentric values of the Counter-Reformation, can be traced not to the clergy, but to the local social elite. The impetus behind devotional change came from the laity, not the clergy.

With this last point Luria may be guilty of overstating his case to the detriment of an understanding of the Counter-Reformation as a cultural as opposed to a social phenomena. To make his case for village elites, Luria has to make one against clergy other than bishops and parish priests having any direct influence over rural religious developments. Thus on more than one occasion he insists on the fact that there is no evidence of missions preached by religious orders such as Capuchins or Jesuits, or of rural cloisters such as the Benedictine priory in Entraigues having any positive impact on devotional innovation in the countryside. This may have been the case, but Catholic evangelists did not have to come to the villages to have an impact on rural devotions. Villagers, especially the elites with which he is concerned, did not stay put. They traveled to and from the towns and cities of the region. In these locales they were exposed to the new devotions being promoted by religious orders. It was not necessary for the Dominicans to preach a mission in honor of the Holy Rosary in the village of Entraigues. What was important was that at some point in some city Jean Bernard or perhaps his brother Pierre had observed the celebration of the devotion and had been impressed sufficiently to decide to introduce the devotion into the village. Worth noting is that in order to do this they had to negotiate with the Dominican monastery in Grenoble. The basic archival sources Luria consulted for his study were pastoral visits. He might have also profitably consulted the archives of the missionary orders active in the cities in the region in order to understand how their re-working of the symbols of Catholic devotion in the seventeenth century created religious experiences that appealed to both urban and rural clienteles.

In Territories of Grace Luria works very hard to relate local religious developments to the broader sweep of devotional change in seventeenth century France. This makes the monograph a good introduction to the history of the French Counter-Reformation for all non-expert audiences. The monograph can be appreciated also from one final point of view. Historians have been aware for some time of the limitations of approaching the Counter-Reformation from the perspective of concepts such as "elite culture" and "social control." They have been hampered, however, by the lack of a sense of what should replace such constructs. With his case for the power of peripheral elites to control religious change along the periphery Luria provides one worthwhile direction for further research.

A.E. Barnes Carnegie Mellon University
COPYRIGHT 1995 Journal of Social History
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Author:Barnes, A.E.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1995
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