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19.02.01 Jansen, Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy

19.02.01 Jansen, Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy

Katherine Ludwig Jansen's book Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy offers many ideas and reflections relating to the concept of peace and the practices of peacemaking in Italy between the middle of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth, using different sources, textual and iconographic. The aim of the book is to demonstrate that in late medieval Italy--focusing on the case of Florence--the concept of peace and consequently the actions of conflict settlement were influenced by penitential ideology, and especially by the practice of annual individual confession, introduced by Canon 21 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Chapters One and Two present the thinking of some religious preachers of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries (especially the Florentine Dominican theologian Remigio de' Girolami) and the action of penitential movements like the battuti of 1260 or the bianchi of 1399, who had in common the idea that "civic peace could not be achieved without personal penance," and that only individual conversion and rejection of sin by the citizens could produce the birth of a new order of concordia and civic harmony in the city: this "was understood to be the means by which civil society attained this end, conceived as the common good of peace" (63).

Chapters Three and Four are the core of the book, where Jansen exposes the results of impressive research in the Florentine archives, in which she found over 500 peace agreements written in the cartulari of local notaries between 1257 and 1343. Florentine men and women resorted to this practice, which involved the writing of a peace document that ended a dispute and imposed a heavy monetary fine on the violators. These data are very important, because the chronicles show only the conflicts between members of the civic elite, whereas the peace agreements show us how the common people of the city and countryside were involved in fights, feuds and conflict settlement. Jansen underlines that the practice of peace contracts was embedded in the legal system of the city and regulated by statute law: the redaction of a peace instrument within fifteen days from a crime halted the judicial procedure. This practice favored reconciliation between the parties and helped ease the burden of small-scale disputes on the "busy courts" of Florence "by handing them over to public notaries" (98). After this interesting examination of the relationship Florentine common people had with violence, peace, and justice, the book continues with an analysis of Judge Albertanus of Brescia's thinking on vengeance, of the ritual of the kiss of peace and its artistic representation, of an episode of peacemaking and penance in San Gimignano, and of other aspects of the peacemaking process in Central Italy. The most salient aspect of this section is the emergence of mediators, men (or women, in the case of Albertanus of Brescia) not mentioned in formal agreements, who acted as facilitators establishing the terms of the reconciliations and who are symbolically depicted as angels in Umbrian paintings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Jansen's research provides us with a great deal of interesting data and information, but the links between the parts of the book are not always self-evident. In particular, Jansen's affirmation that the Florentine peace instruments had "comforting similarities to confession and religious reconciliation" and were redacted for an urban society that was " the culture of penance preached by friars and laymen" (216) does not seem so evident. There is indeed no evidence that the Florentine peace agreements were influenced by religious concepts. In these texts there is no mention of repentance or forgiveness. Only the kiss of peace exchanged by the actors at the end of the peacemaking process gives a religious flavor to notarial acts, but without any reference to the cultural context of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: the kiss of peace is present in peacemaking acts written in the twelfth century, too, so it is impossible to link it to the new conceptions of confession and penance elaborated during the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. It should be noted that Jansen underlines that it was a common judicial strategy for criminals, "instead of standing trial and risking a harsh penalty," to avoid the judgment of the tribunal, flee the Florentine jurisdiction, endure banishment and return after few weeks of exile following an accord with the victim and the redaction of a peace agreement "that might include reduced penalties or cancelled sentences" (19). In this choice of "a lesser evil in a form of cost-risk analysis" (144) there was no place for a real spiritual conversion of the men or women involved, as the Dominican preacher Giordano of Pisa complained (28-29).

Nevertheless, K. L. Jansen's research offers an important contribution to our knowledge of judicial practices and the ideology of peace in late medieval central Italy. In particular, the influence of religious thinking on conflict settlement, peace and vengeance on the everyday practice of justice and peacemaking in Italian cities has never been examined in depth by Italian scholars. This book, together with G. Kumhera's research and the forthcoming Ph.D. thesis of L. Zanetti Domingues about Siena, opens a new, promising field of studies for a better understanding of Italian and European culture and society in the Late Middle Ages.