The natural disasters that took place in the territories of the Hispanic Monarchy in the early modern era triggered publications in a range of genres, including treatises, relaciones de sucesos, avvisi, chronicles, hagiographies and poems. Such texts began to circulate within and beyond the Empire immediately after each calamitous event and contributed to the spread of recurrent topoi, common stylistic and rhetorical features.
It did sometimes happen that singular figures emerged from the blurry mass of the people and their dramatic anecdotes, and sprang into action to address the emergency. Sometimes they were saints, and sometimes local institutions: the former were invoked to mediate with heaven to placate divine anger through miracles, and the latter to manage the catastrophe and to provide aid and relief.
The volume Heroes in Dark Times. Saints and Officials Tackling Disaster (16th-17th Centuries) edited by Milena Viceconte, Gennaro Schiano and Domenico Cecere (Viella 2023) reflects on this composite phenomenon of salvific actions, especially when they take on the character of heroic gestures suspended between reality and fiction, human and divine, ordinary and extraordinary. To do so, the authors have addressed complex and clearly interdisciplinary fields of study, ranging from the history of sanctity and of cults to that of communication and propaganda.
On the one hand, this book takes into account the amazing continuity between the characteristics of ancient heroism and those of Christian sanctity.
On the other hand, the more strictly political action of the saints in emergency situations brings us to investigate the role of information in the management of power.
The first section focuses on composite informative texts and on occasional poetry generated by the disasters.
The second section then turns to the pivotal role played by devotional images in the process of promoting divine heroic agents and their prodigious actions against environmental catastrophes.
The third section focuses on the political and social dynamics underlying the recognition of certain miracles, the promotion of specific cults and the glorification of the figures who are presented with heroic features.
This volume is evolved from the symposium organised by the DisComPoSE group in January 2021 addressing the topic of saints and officials as heroic figures in times of disaster (Figure eroiche in tempi calamitosi. Santi e istituzioni nella rappresentazione dei disastri, secoli XVI-XVIII). The purpose of these discussions was to consider figures who assumed heroic attributes during times of emergency and to reflect on the various interpretative issues underlying the memory of their actions.