L’Anno santo and Female Monastic Churches: The Politics, Business and Music of the Holy Year in Rome (1675)
The Holy Year Jubilees of the Counter-Reformation Church offered opportunities
to demonstrate to the world the glory and splendor of the Roman Church.
Decreases in papal political power and losses to Protestantism made the
jubilee year of 1675 even more important as a vehicle for the Church's
propaganda and display of magnificence to pilgrims, and through reports
of these visitors, to those, including non-Catholics, who did not participate.
Many female monasteries took part in elaborate musical celebrations open
to the public on the feast days of their patron or founding saints, despite
an edict against polyphony and the teaching of music in convents promulgated
by Pope Alexander VII in 1665. Church authorities relaxed their
sanctions against music in female monasteries to permit them to contribute
to Holy Year festivities and impress the crowds of visitors. Ruggiero
Caetano's Memorie of the Holy Year 1675 describes specific convents
and occasions where elaborate musical ceremonies were held. Queen
Christina of Sweden was a notable participant in and patroness of many
Holy Year activities.
1.1 The Anni santi (Holy Years or Jubilees) of the Counter-Reformation Church presented a formidable challenge and opportunity: to demonstrate to the world, embodied in the innumerable pilgrims to the Holy City, the magnificence, glory, and splendor of the Holy Roman Church. Every papal, diocesan, parish, monastic and lay organization was mobilized to contribute to these solemn and spectacular celebrations. The Anni santi were celebrated every twenty-five years beginning in 1300, and those from 1575 to 1700 were especially significant. Their pomp and display were a means of delaying the recognition of two growing inevitabilities: the loosening of the iron grip with which the Catholic church had controlled religious and political life in the western world, and the decline of papal power within the Holy Roman Empire.
1.2 The Anni santi also wielded a more personal significance for Catholics. Within the church, the abuse of the practice of indulgences had been addressed many times throughout the period of Catholic reform that culminated in the sessions of the Council of Trent (1545–1564). The resulting conciliar definition emphasized general pious acts that could earn indulgences rather than specific deeds that would earn an indulgence for an individual. 1 This reduction in the availability of individual indulgences and the opportunity for abuses increased the significance of plenary indulgences, such as the different types offered during the Anni santi. This single act of reform acknowledged and addressed the criticisms of reformers both Catholic and Protestant and simultaneously strengthened the position of Rome and the papacy among the Catholic faithful.
1.3 It was in the particularly exuberant atmosphere of religious renewal following the Council of Trent that the Jubilee of 1575 was celebrated, creating a model of spirituality, devotion, beauty and splendor for the next century. According to the chronicler Angelo Pietino, "There was such a multitude of people that came continuously, that it was not possible to know exactly the number. . . . The devotion that was seen normally in the Holy Year, whether of the Romans or the pilgrims, had grown to a greater length than had ever been seen at other times." 2
2.1 In the period between 1630 and 1650, the blows to papal power resulting from the wars during the Barberini papacy, the increasing religious autonomy of France, and the growing hegemony of Spain gave increased political and religious importance to the Anno santo of 1650 and even more so to that of 1675. As the percentage of Catholics among the people of the western world declined, the fervor and devotion of their religious conviction, demonstrated by their pilgrimages and processions, were hailed and chronicled. And as the papal lands were slowly chipped away, the wealth and riches of Rome were even more on display in the basilicas and churches through sumptuous liturgies, decorations, art and music, which were subsequently published and circulated in libretti, descriptions of apparati, collections of music, devotional treatises and chronicles.
2.2 The implied contract among participants in the activities of the Anni santi involved multiple layers of social, religious and political interaction. Participants included the curial hierarchy, priests, confraternities, monastics, pilgrims, and even the people who remained at home. On the simplest level, pilgrims went to Rome during the Holy Year, made the required visits to basilicas and churches, said the necessary prayers, and advanced their anticipated salvation. The images, sounds, grandeur, even the hypnotic repetitiveness of the ritual behaviors, contributed to an ecstatic response to the Santa Città that could not be duplicated elsewhere, or even in Rome at other times. The pilgrim earned his indulgence as well as an intensely heightened devotional experience. In return, his function was to share his experience with others, reflecting, as much as he was able, the style, gestures, and language in which it was embedded. On the most basic and intimate level, this interaction took place between the pilgrims and those who remained at home; just as important were the images of magnificence and faith dispensed to the non-Catholic world through religious treatises and Holy Year accounts.
2.3 The citizens of Rome took seriously their role as hosts to the faithful. The caporioni (heads of each of the neighborhoods of the city) and conservators mobilized for the many ceremonial functions that they would be called on to perform. Six months prior, the governatore, cardinale vicario, and maestri delle strade began publishing the many announcements, edicts, and bans necessary to organize the people of Rome. 3 More significant for this discussion, however, are the edicts and bans that were ignored as part of this adulatory self-promotion by the church. In general during the Anni santi , and most blatantly in the Anno santo of 1675, the many conciliar decrees and episcopal directives regarding cloister and daily life in the convents of Rome were conveniently disregarded.
3.1 Many of the reforms instituted by religious authorities after the Council of Trent had prohibited certain types of liturgical and musical expression in female monasteries and had decreased interaction between the religious and lay communities. As the historian Po-Chia Hsia has noted, "A greater suspicion of female religiosity in early modern Catholicism reflected both the Tridentine preoccupation with clerical celibacy and the traditional injunction against female religious leadership. In an age of Catholic revival the Church listened with ambivalent feelings to women’s voices." 4
3.2 In Rome, religious control of the female monasteries rested with the cardinale vicario and the Sacra Congregazione della Visita Apostolica. This group of cardinals had been established primarily to monitor religious institutions, but in December of 1664 the pope convened the congregation to assess the state of the liturgical institutions of Rome, prepare legislation addressing their reform, and conduct its implementation. The cardinals considered that music performed by nuns for their own recreation or private devotions was permissible as long as the cloister was not violated and their music was not heard by outsiders. In fact, such activities were considered conducive to their spiritual being. 5 Music in the churches of the female monasteries, on the other hand, was more problematic. The Congregazione objected to music performed in the exterior of the churches by outside musicians, citing the expense of hiring musicians and the possibility of fraternization between the musicians and nuns. 6
3.3 It was music performed by the nuns themselves, though, that aroused the most objections. Many convent churches were built with a grate in the wall behind the main altar. Through this grate, the nuns of the church heard the mass and took communion from their enclosed, separate choir, thus maintaining the isolation between the lay and religious communities. But the grate also allowed the nuns’ singing to be heard by people in the external church. Some members of the Congregazione argued that nuns’ music attracted large numbers of people to the convent churches, resulting in noise and distractions to the service and its participants. While such throngs of people brought money into the coffers of the monasteries through alms, the costs to prepare elaborate music and pay the salaries of maestri di musica constituted an inordinately large economic burden. Church officials were also concerned that learning and performing polyphonic music was harmful to the souls of the nuns themselves, who "might in the development of their musical skills be exceedingly distracted from their ceremonial duties and spiritual exercises to which they are dedicated because of the dissolute rhythms they produce in sinuous voices." 7
3.4 The members of the Congregazione were well aware of the attraction of nuns’ music, an attraction consisting partly of the skill and virtuosity of the singers, partly of the fascination with high voices, and partly of the allure of the "forbidden." To counteract this attraction, the officials prohibited polyphony and solo accompanied music, permitting only the assigned Gregorian chant without musical variation. In January 1665, these prohibitions were approved by Pope Alexander VII, and were disseminated; accompanying them was an edict banning outside music teachers for nuns and disclosing the repercussions of ignoring the restrictions:
3.5 Alexander VII and his counselors realized that the traditional consequences of defying the prohibitions, such as loss of voting privileges or various punishments around the monastery, were much more difficult to impose by regulatory bodies when clausura was strictly maintained, and for the cardinal-protectors or other important patrons who issued licenze , there were no enforceable consequences. The concepts of heavy fines payable by the religious institution, the remuneration of any informant, and protection of that person’s anonymity were new in the governance of female foundations, and apparently had an immediate effect. These bans provoked an onslaught of letters for nearly ten years. Members of the convents and the families associated with them requested licenses for male musicians to provide music for vesting and profession ceremonies, for music teachers to continue to provide lessons, and for nuns to provide polyphonic music for special circumstances. Many of these requests for exemptions were denied. 9
4.1 In the year immediately preceding the Anno santo of 1675 there is no extant documentation of any requests for licenses. Yet, according to accounts of that Holy Year, numerous festivities involved performances subject to the edict of the Congregazione. Did these festivities somehow escape notice by the regulatory bodies of Rome? That seems unlikely, as most of the celebrations at the important institutions in the city were attended by many of the same cardinals who had formulated the edict of Alexander VII, two of whom later became popes. Moreover, there are no records of disciplinary actions taken against the monasteries either during or after 1675.
4.2 The female monasteries were clearly a large part of the pageantry and propaganda of the Holy Year. Their participation required an unspoken pact among all involved parties to set aside many of the regulations that had been strictly upheld for the previous ten years. Throughout the history of female monasteries, most periods of reform were followed by increasing tolerance. Perhaps given time, the regulations of the Congregazione would have been ignored in any case, but during the Anno santo of 1675, the blatant disregard of the regulations occurred at every level of the Roman hierarchy.
4.3 Reports of the activities in Rome during the Anni santi described the numbers of pilgrims, the magnificence of the churches, the grandeur of the processions, and the devotion displayed by the cardinals, priests, and people of the city. One account of the activities during 1675 is that of Ruggiero Caetano, a Benedictine monk. 10 A clerk in the Camera apostolica, Caetano well understood the significance of his chronicle of the activities, personages, and celebrations associated with the Holy Year. Written in the form of a journal, his entries note the date, its significance in the liturgical cycle, the important people present along with their offices or family connections, and information regarding the ceremonies, ritual, and decorations. For example, Caetano mentions the "choice music of Francesco Maria Fede, celebrated in the profession:"
4.4 Of the 52 entries in Caetano’s Memorie that refer in some way to music, 18 events took place in the churches of female monasteries. Several other entries refer to convents peripherally, as in, "[the procession] went to the four churches . . . in passing the monastery of Santa Caterina da Siena in Monte Magnanapoli, it was honored by order of Her Excellency, the Lady Sister Maria Alessandra Cesarini, with a round of fireworks." 12
4.5 Caetano also mentioned the many vesting and profession ceremonies for the daughters of important families, such as the "Feast in the church of the Reverend Sisters of Santa Susanna alle Terme," which he also notes was celebrated with "beautiful music:"
4.6 Of greater interest to this discussion, however, are the reports of the liturgical feasts in the convent churches. Caetano did not mention titles of musical selections, but referred to musica scelta, sinfonie , or trombe, cornetti e altri istromenti. His Memorie do make an important distinction between the music actually performed by the nuns themselves and music performed in the exterior church. For example, Caetano noted celebrations with "music of three choirs of [the nuns’] own harmonious voices," presumably sung from behind the grate. By contrast, he mentioned in other entries music led by such noted composers as Alessandro Melani, Antonio Masini, and Antonio and Francesco Foggia that presumably was performed by male musicians in the exterior church. 14
4.7 These distinctions demonstrate that while the injunctions against music in the exterior church and against nuns performing polyphony were ignored, at least the pretense was made of observing the basic prohibition against fraternization between nuns and male musicians. Very likely, male musicians did operate behind the scenes; in some convents they taught lessons and wrote and rehearsed the music. Yet none of the accounts mentioned female singers directed by a male musician.
5.1 A list of the female monastic churches involved with music during the Anno santo of 1675 is given in Table I . There were several convents that had had long-standing reputations for the quality of their music and performers from before the edict of Alexander VII. In 1640 Pietro della Valle had praised the singers of Spirito Santo, Santa Lucia, and Santa Chiara. 15 The monastery of Santa Lucia had been known for several nun performers; two were Anna Maria Cesi, to whom Paolo Quagliati dedicated a collection of spiritual madrigals in 1617, 16 and Caterina Baroni, daughter of Adriana Basile and sister of Leonora Baroni. A history of the convent San Cosimato described the nuns’ polyphony at a Vespers service attended by the pope as "so sweet, that they joined with the heart to penetrate the highest heavens," resulting in great devotion, tears and contentment on the part of the pontiff. 17 During the Anno santo of 1675, these convents provided music di proprio concerto de le loro voci, ("of their own choir of voices"). 18
5.2 Three other monasteries known for nuns’ singing—Santa Caterina da Siena a Monte Magnanapoli, Santa Maria della Concezione in Campo Marzo, and San Silvestro—availed themselves of eminent composers to prepare and conduct their music for the Holy Year. The important monastic church of San Silvestro. which housed a cherished relic, the head of St. John the Baptist, twice utilized the services of Giovanni Battista Giansetti. But on the feast of St. John, June 24, when traditionally the head was uncovered for veneration by the congregants, the nuns themselves sang, using the Gregorian chant assigned for that martyr, rather than more contemporary music. 19
5.3 The composer Giansetti played an important role during the Anno santo of 1675. His position as maestro di cappella of San Giovanni in Laterano, one of the four basilicas visited in procession to earn the Holy Year indulgence, carried substantial status. In addition to the two times he directed the music at San Silvestro, he was responsible for the music on many other important occasions in Rome. On all but one known occasion, he directed music for multiple choirs. Caetano reports one such event, "in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, with beautiful displays of decorations and music of twelve choirs, directed by Signor Giovanni Battista Giansetti, renowned maestro di cappella , with the best voices and concerted instruments." 20
5.4 Another important musical event was the feast of Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. The monastery of Santa Cecilia procured the services of another prominent composer, Antonio Masini, maestro di cappella of the basilica San Pietro, and chamber musician of Christina of Sweden. Masini contributed eight of the fourteen works constituting an extraordinary cycle of oratorios for the Lenten season of 1675, performed at the Oratorio della Pietà in the church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. His service to Christina, whose presence in Rome during that Holy Year added additional pageantry to the festivities, brought an extra cachet to performances in which he participated. Indeed, his direction at Santa Cecilia of music for four choruses and instruments was "renowned." 21
5.5 Alessandro Melani, the maestro di cappella of San Luigi dei Francese, led the music at the convent church of Santa Caterina da Siena in Monte Magnanapoli on its patronal feast. The political ties of Melani and his older brothers Jacopo and Atto were myriad, and constituted a network of associations involving Louis XIV, Giulio Rospigliosi, the Medici family and Francesco II d’Este. Alessandro was a noted composer of polychoral music, oratorio, and opera. He numbered among his patrons three successive popes (Clement IX, Clement X, and Innocent XI), the King of Poland and Prince Ferdinando de Medici. Because of his status as a composer and his relationships with powerful political and religious figures, his presence lent substantial prestige to such monastic churches as Santa Caterina and San Lorenzo in Panisperna for their roles in the Anno santo.
5.6 1675 came to be known as the Jubilee of Queen Christina of Sweden, who was present at all of the religious ceremonies, participated in innumerable processions, provided funds for many establishments sponsoring Holy Year activities, and upon several noted occasions washed the feet of pilgrims. All of her contributions were lauded and recounted with fervor, as her presence in Rome was a religious and political coup for the church. After the many losses to Protestantism, the public conversion of such a prominent and fascinating member of the nobility, her taking up residence in the seat of Catholicism, and her embrace of Catholic institutions was exploited as an affirmation of the viability and vitality of the Catholic church, and of the universality of Catholicism. 22
6.1 In the Anni santi , authorities of the church developed a means of propagandizing a religious institution that drew upon many resources: architectural grandeur, beautiful art, and religious ceremonies marked by splendor and magnificence. In 1675 the female monastic churches played into that propaganda through their participation in Holy Year events, but the strict cloister that otherwise defined and permeated their lives and the musical prohibitions that had been enforced in the decade preceding the Anno santo lent the allure of the forbidden to their activities. Nuns were adept at manipulating the complex familial, religious and political networks surrounding the female monasteries; thus they were able to use the extraordinary self-promotion by the Church during the Anno santo to showcase the artistic programs and status of their convents in a context that quite willingly took advantage of the normally restricted, and thus more tantalizing, sensory pleasures of female monastic music.
* Kimberlyn Montford <firstname.lastname@example.org> is a graduate of Rutgers University. The research for her dissertation, "Music in the Convents of Counter-Reformation Rome," was funded by a Minority Academic Fellowship and a Rutgers University Graduate Award for Excellence in Research grant. Other publications include the article "Noel DaCosta" in the International Dictionary of Black Composers.
1. Session 21, Chapter IX, 16 July 1562, and
Session 25, Chapter XXI, 4 December 1563.
2. Angelo Pietino, De sacro iubileo libri quatuor
auctore R. P. F. Angelo Pietino a Corsiniano (Rome: A. Bladio, 1575),
3. For a discussion of edicts centered on holy
years, see Valeria Cremona, Maria Pia Critelli, Rossana Riggi, and Lauro
Rossi, "Vivere a Roma tra curia e pellegrini: Litanie, preci e pubblico
decoro nelle raccolte romane di bandi, manifesti e fogli volanti (secoli
XVI–XVIII)," in Roma Sancta: La città delle basiliche , ed. Marcello Fagiolo and Maria Luisa Madonna (Rome: Gangemi Editore,
4. Po-chia Hsia, The World of Catholic Renewal
1540–1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 139.
5. Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Sacra Congregazione
della Visita Apostolica, (hereafter ASV, VA) No. 6, 222v.
6. ASV, VA, No. 6, 222v.
7. ASV, VA, No. 6, 222v.
8. ASV, Misc. Arm. I–XV: Arm. VII, 482.
9. For many of these letters, see ASV, Misc. Arm.
I–XV: Arm. VII, No. 2; Misc. Arm. I–XV: Arm. VII, No.
37; VA, No. 7.
10. Ruggiero Caetano, Le Memorie de l'Anno santo
MDCLXXV Celebrato da Papa Clemente X and Consecrate alla Santità
di N. S. Papa Innocenzo XII, Descritte in forma di Giornale da L'
Abb. Ruggiero Caetano Romano (Rome: Marc' Antonio e Orazio Campana,
1691). Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (hereafter BAV), Barb.V.XIII.111.
11. Caetano. Memorie, 289.
12. Caetano. Memorie, 240.
13. Caetano. Memorie, 300.
14. For performances by nuns, see Caetano, Memorie,
269, 300, 369, 440; for performances of male musicians, see pages
59, 106, 298, 315, 318.
15. Pietro della Valle, Della musica dell'età nostra (1640) in Le Origini del Melodramma, ed. Angelo Solerti
(repr. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1969), 166.
16. Affetti amorosi spirituali . . . (Rome:
Giovanni Battista Robletti, 1617), RISM A/I (Einzeldrucke
vor 1800 ), Q9.
17. Orsola Formacini, Istoria del Monastero di
San Cosimato , BAV, Vat. Lat. 7847, 134.
18. Caetano, Memorie, 239, 300, 315, 369,
19.Caetano. Memorie, 59, 106, 191, 269, 318.
20. Caetano. Memorie, 298.
21. Caetano. Memorie, 414.
22. For Christina's importance in Roman religious
life, see Christina Queen of Sweden, a Personality of European Civilisation
(Stockholm: Nationalmuseum, 1966) and Magnus von Platen, ed.,
Queen Christina of Sweden: Documents and Studies (Stockholm: Nationalmusei skriftserie, 1966).
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