Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reading for inspiration 3: From Heaven to Earth

Some books make my brain practically spark with thought. Teofilo Ruiz's From Heaven to Earth is one of them. 

I put this book into my stack of things to reread for this project because its discussion of changing Castilian mentalities deals with some similar subjects: property, inheritance, wills, giving of various kinds. In addition, its focus on Castile suggests fruitful comparison with other Iberian regions. Today I went back through the book, and felt well rewarded. Ruiz's argument is complex and difficult to summarize, although the book is short. It comes down to: the 12th-13th centuries in Castile saw major shifts in attitudes about property, sin, and intercession, as people moved from an otherworldly-focused approach to a more down-to-earth practical style. Whereas earlier testators tended to entrust clergy with undifferentiated gifts, he argues, later testators divided up their legacies, using combinations of small gifts, which they expected to be spent for specific purposes. He suggests that charitable giving in particular tends to be performative: money left for clothing 12 honest paupers, for example, is symbolic and ceremonial, related to the donor's ideas about charity and poverty more than about the real needs of the poor.

Since I'm looking at later material, my testators are past this transition, but this is exactly the kind of pattern I'm seeing in 13th- and 14th-century wills and other donations. I'm seeing several variations on the pattern, however, which gives me something to talk about.

2 comments:

tenthmedieval said...

That's interesting, and makes a lot of sense, particular this bit:
money left for clothing 12 honest paupers, for example, is symbolic and ceremonial, related to the donor's ideas about charity and poverty more than about the real needs of the poor
This kind of lines up with bequests of money for masses that one reads and thinks how unpopular the testator would be once the two hundredth mass for him had been performed... and complicated inheritance arrangements that clearly mess someone's hopes up. It's as with burial but with the agency reversed; the importance of the action is the performance of something, not the effect of it. But that leaves me looking at my stuff, where what one tends to get in pious bequests is not usually requests for masses but instructions to redeem captives of the Muslims... and wonder how realistic or sincere that was as an expression of intent.

clio's disciple said...

Indeed. In later periods there were organized orders dedicated to redeeming captives, but I don't recall when those orders got going.