Domesticity: Home, Housing and Household
25th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday March 12-Sunday March 13, 2005
Domesticity in Franciscan Praises of the Sanctity
of St. Joseph|
Joseph, spouse of Mary, was a problematic figure in Christian belief until a group of Italian Franciscan friars composed high praise of his merits in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. Peter John Olivi (1248/9-1298), Ubertino da Casale (c. 1259-post 1329), Bernardino da Siena (1380-1444), and several of Bernardino's followers focused their enthusiasm on what they imagined to be Joseph's tender paternal behavior toward Jesus. Crafting in their Biblical commentaries and sermons highly affective domestic scenes in which Joseph kissed, cuddled, and watched over Jesus, the writers of this Franciscan school not only succeeded in stimulating popular devotion for Joseph, they also documented their own assumptions about the proper contours of father-son relationships and familial intimacy. Olivi wrote of Joseph's reverent love for his naked infant son, while his student Ubertino imagined Jesus talking babytalk to Joseph. The Franciscan writers commented on the continual intimacy shared by the Holy Family and imagined Joseph, Mary, and Jesus carrying out household chores together. Bernardino da Siena's follower, Roberto Caracciolo da Lecce (1425-1495), delivered a sermon in which he described Joseph carrying Jesus as the boy slept, working to obtain food for his son, and being "inflamed with love for Christ when he learned that the son of God … called him father." The famous Franciscan preacher Bernardino da Feltre (1439-1494) portrayed Joseph as both a tender father to Jesus and a paterfamilias who possessed dominion over Mary, while his colleague Bernardino da Busto (c. 1450-c. 1513) regaled crowds of faithful Italians with images of Joseph washing Jesus's linens and building fires to warm him. The Franciscan writers additionally described Joseph's tremendous stature in heaven and his ability to intercede for the faithful, making such claims on the strong foundation of virtue they had created for Joseph via affective images of his competent parenting. These combined descriptions of domestic holiness and celestial power can be shown to have fostered lay devotion to Joseph in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian towns.
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