Beyond the Wall

Beyond the Wall

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The wall separating the cloister from the surrounding world is one of the most distinctive features of a monastery: it marks out the community of monks or friars and defines the very essence of a cloister. However, this wall was never completely impenetrable. Those inside interacted with those outside – in churches, in towns and villages, or even in the cloisters. It is this permeability of the cloister wall what constitutes the central motif of this book. Using the example of the Franciscan Friary of St Bernardino in Olomouc (nowadays in the Czech Republic) it analyses the interaction of the friars and the urban community. It focuses on the 17th and 18th centuries when, following the suppression of non-Catholic confessions, Roman Catholicism became the only official religion and the city became one of major ecclesiastical centres in the Habsburg Lands. The Franciscans significantly contributed to the formation of the new Catholic confessional culture in the city, yet they were just one of the many agents. They were forced to constantly re-negotiate their position and to compete with other religious institutions. The mendicant character of the order eventually proved to be their main advantage. Although the life in strict poverty brought many complications, it also greatly enhanced the prestige of the friars. Simultaneously, it motivated them to search for new and efficient ways to address the people. Begging for alms thus became one of the main forms of interaction between the friary and the local community, allowing the mendicants to extend their reach significantly, to emphasise their uniqueness and importance, and to patiently build their own network of ties to the local population. The story of the friary of St Bernardino in Olomouc demonstrates that early modern Roman Catholicism was not built unilaterally, from the top down, but was instead the result of synergy and even conflicts between many actors.

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