From Naples to Barcelona: Catholic Propaganda in the Spanish Empire

By Laura Incollingo |

When the Catholic Reformation’s relationship with print is discussed, the focus tends to be placed on their censorship and prohibition efforts. However, the Catholic Church did more than curtail Europe’s vibrant print networks, they capitalized from it. Although somewhat later than their Protestant adversaries, during the early modern period the Roman Church recognised the value of the printed word as a powerful tool of religious propaganda, especially across the vast and powerful Spanish empire.

Printed works offer a valuable testimony of the exchange of information between Naples, Rome and Spain. The Catholic Church printed and distributed information regarding religious festivities, processions and miracles, and requested the publication of particular pieces of religious literature.

This brief pamphlet held at the University Library of Barcelona is a perfect example of this exchange of information. The Milagro sucedido en Napoles por intercession del bienaventurado Padre Ignacio de Loyola, fundador de la Compañia de Iesus en Noviembre MDCXV  was printed in Barcelona, in Spanish. It was clearly a work intended for a native audience, as is testified by the fact that the only three surviving copies are all in Spanish libraries. Despite its Spanish marketing, the pamphlet narrates something that happened in the far reaches of the Spanish occupied territories, the Vicerealm of Naples.

shelfmark: 07 B-59/3/42-46)
Milagro sucedido en Napoles, leaf [a1r]. Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona, shelfmark: 07 B-59/3/42-46. Image by permission of Biblioteca de la Universidad de Barcelona. USTC 5020738.
According to the pamphlet, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuits Order, performed a miracle per intercessionem, healing Doña Isabel Conclubet from a terrible and allegedly deadly case of the ‘sacred disease’, epilepsy. Interesting enough, this miracle was performed by Loyola six years before he was declared saint by Pope Gregory XV (1554-1623). The miracle’s recipient was the wife of the Marquis of Fuscaldo, a small city in Calabria, although the miracle happened in Naples, where she was presumably taken to find help for her affliction.

Neither she nor her husband were particularly famous or powerful people. Therefore, one is led to wonder why someone felt the need to send an account of such event to Spain and why, once there, someone else thought it was a story worthy of being printed and spread throughout the nation.

To discover these motivations, we have to look at who performed the miracle, the real star of the story.

Ignatius of Loyola
Portrait of Ignatius of Loyola by Arnold van Westerhout, in Nicola Galeotti, Imagines praepositorum generalium Societatis Jesu (1748, leaf B1v). Copy preserved at the Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla. Image courtesy of 

During the first half of the seventeenth century, the Jesuits were one of the most powerful religious order as well as one of the most important tools in the Catholic propaganda, given their work in education and as missionaries. The pamphlet is anonymous but considering the relative anonymity of all those involved, except for Loyola and Doña Isabel, it is safe to assume that the entire story originated from the Societas.

This seems confirmed by the choice of the printer. A mysterious protagonist in the history of the Catalan press at the turn of the seventeenth century, Gabriel Graells (fl. 1596-1619) was active in the city of Barcelona alone and worked for a good part of his career with Geraldo (or Giraldo) Dotil (d. c. 1610). The two shared the ownership of the shop, printing substantially on commission and financed by third parties at least until 1604, when they began to finance themselves in a more systematic way. In addition to numerous productions of popular print, such as reports of battles, trials, marriages and miraculous events (now extremely scarce), the two specialized in editions of Jesuits and Franciscan devotional works, including manuals of moral theology and hagiographies. For a period (or perhaps on individual commissions), they held the title of Royal Printers for the principality of Catalonia, as shown by the printing of the statutes of the University of Barcelona (1596), the resolutions of the Royal Council of Naples (1597) and of the military statutes of Catalonia (1605).

Spreading stories about Neapolitan miracles in Spain had two different purposes. On the one hand, it strengthened the relationship between different parts of the Spanish empire, emphasizing that although it was the largest empire those in charge were always aware of what was going on in its every corner. On the other hand, these publications helped increasing the popularity and reputation of Ignatius of Loyola and with him of the entire Jesuits Order, aiding them in their quest for the canonization of their founder and acquiring a greater political influence. This campaign was strengthened by the narrative of the miracle itself; it was a miracle performed ad extra, with the aid of a relic of Loyola that was put around Doña Isabel’s neck until she was healed. The use of a relic is typical of miracles performed by saints and therefore this particular narratives fit perfectly into the scheme carried on by the Jesuits at the time, when they were striving to obtain the canonization of their founder. Clearly, this comparatively new order of the Catholic Church understood that to shape hearts and minds they needed to not only reduced the number of heretical works in circulation, but also produced their own miraculous narratives.

Laura Incollingo is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews. Her research concerns the investigation of the relations between the State, the Church and the people in the Kingdom of Naples during the period of the Spanish Vice-realm (1503 – 1707). This research is focused on the analysis of the devices of printing control and dissemination of the news put in place by the Church and the State, and on the reconstruction of the different forms of narration of events elaborated on one side by the inspection bodies holders of political power and, on the other, by the producers and sellers of popular print media.

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