Croatians in the processes of the Venetian Inquisition

The historian Lovorka Čoralić is well known for her investigative work on relationship between Croatians and the Venetian Republic. She has published several books and papers on Croatians in the files of the Venetian Inquisition. I am reporting here on four of them. Two cases relate to investigations against Croatian emigrants in Venice, accused of using magic. In the other two, religious figures (an Augustinian from Hvar and an Observant from Dubrovnik) are charged by the Holy Office for immoral behavior or illegal performance of church services.

Venice in 17th century
Venice in early 1600s

The first two cases involve women from Dalmatia (Zadar) who later lived in poor Venetian neighborhoods like Castello. These cases happened in the early 17th century (1618 and 1630). The accused women were from lower social classes, and the charges against them were made by people they knew, like acquaintances and neighbors. The investigations showed that many accusations arose from small quarrels and jealousy among residents in these very poor urban areas.

Inside Castello of Venice
Inside Castello neighborhood in Venice

The other two processes involve the Venetian Inquisition’s investigation of religious figures. The accused are members of two monastic communities on the Dalmatian coast: Augustinian friar Toma Azzalini from the monastery of St. George in the village of Sućuraj on Hvar, and friar Vicko from Dubrovnik, an Observant of the Dubrovnik Province of St. Francis. The investigations in both cases were not fully completed, and the final verdict of the Holy Office is unknown.

The Mysterious Case of Andriana Schiavona from Zadar in 1618

In the heart of the Venetian district of Castello, whispers of magic and intrigue began to circulate. The Holy Office, had to investigate two anonymous reports on Andriana Schiavona, a resident of Castello, who was accused of arcane practices.

Several witnesses shared stories about Andriana’s alleged use of magic. Lucietta, a widow from the same area, described how Andriana performed a water ritual to find a lost ring. During this ritual, Andriana chanted magical words and lit candles, which seemed to summon red shapes in the water. Witnesses believed these shapes were spirits helping Andriana.

When questioned by the Holy Office, Andriana admitted to the ritual but claimed to have learned it from a neighbor named Oliva from Crete. However, when Oliva was questioned, she denied teaching Andriana any magic and suggested personal conflicts between them might be behind the accusations.

Many testimonies added complexity, but due to a lack of concrete evidence and the relatively minor nature of the incident, the Holy Office likely chose not to make a final judgment and concluded the investigation.

Torture Andriana avoided
Torture Andriana avoided

Did Antonija from Zadar practice Black Magic?

In the trial against Antonija from Zadar, witnesses were examined before the Holy Office. The first witness, Ana, a 22-year-old widow, claimed that Antonija and Agnesa persuaded her to collect water from various canal crossings and churches, especially the basilica of St. Mark and the Ascension of the Virgin Mary. They believed this water, combined with certain words, would attract men to their homes. Ana also mentioned magical rituals performed in Antonija’s house using liturgical items.

Ana provided more information during questioning, stating that Elena and Agnesa, who were servants in Antonija’s house, were directed by Antonija to dig up male corpses from Venetian church cemeteries for their magical rituals. Agnesa, when questioned, admitted her involvement in Antonija’s magical rites, acknowledging that she brought holy water from churches and recited prayers. However, she denied accusations of grave desecration and improper prayer recitation.

Later, Agnesa confessed that she initially hid the truth out of fear of Antonija’s retaliation. She admitted to grave desecration, emphasizing that she acted under Antonija’s orders. Another Venetian named Marina was also involved, teaching them how to use the corpses for magical purposes, with the main goal being to seduce a wealthy Venetian merchant.

Nicolaus Noalis, representing Antonija, defended her by discrediting the witnesses, arguing that their accusations were biased. He pointed out conflicts, especially with Zuane Maria, a mason who had a history of disagreements with Antonija. Other witnesses, like Helena, were also portrayed as having biases due to past disputes with Antonija. Several witnesses testified in Antonija’s favor, mainly confirming Zuane Maria’s hostility and denying any knowledge of occult practices in her house.

Agnesa fled the city, preventing further questioning. Nicolaus Noalis continued to present witnesses supporting Antonija’s innocence, highlighting conflicts with Zuane Maria and theft allegations against Elena. The trial concluded with testimonies from both the defense and prosecution witnesses. The Holy Office found Antonija not guilty, and as a result, Noalis requested her release, which seems to have been successful in securing her freedom.

Grave digging in 16th century

The Controversial Life of Fra Toma Azzalini from Sućuraj

In 1664, a scandal erupted around Fra Toma Azzalini, an Augustinian monk from the monastery of St. George in Sućuraj on the island of Hvar. The Venetian representative in Hvar, Zuanne Foscarini, initiated the investigation by sending a letter to the bishop of Hvar, highlighting numerous complaints about Azzalini’s behavior.

Azzalini faced several accusations, including mishandling the monastery’s finances in collaboration with Vicenza and her family. He engaged in unfair trading and charged high interest rates when lending money. Witnesses also reported his disrespectful behavior towards fellow monks and priests, along with allegations of blasphemy and ignoring official investigations.

On October 26, 1664, representatives from Sućuraj lodged complaints against Azzalini, urging the appointment of a more suitable priest. The investigation ended with an inventory of Azzalini’s personal belongings in his monastery rooms. However, the records do not provide information about the final verdict or what happened to Azzalini afterward.

This case serves as a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of monastic life and the intertwining of personal, religious, and societal expectations in 17th-century Venice.

The Mysterious Case of Fra Vicko from Dubrovnik

In 1744, a curious case emerged involving Fra Vicko from Dubrovnik. The investigation began when Fra Savina from the Pelješac peninsula, a 43-year-old member of the Dubrovnik Province of St. Francis, testified before the Venetian Holy Office. He had been staying in the Venetian monastery of St. Francesco della Vigna for 15 days when he received an anonymous letter detailing events from 1719 concerning Fra Vicko.

The letter claimed that in 1719, Fra Vicko traveled from Venice to Korčula intending to take priestly vows. However, failing to achieve this, he returned to Venice and then proceeded to Padua.

In Padua, Fra Vicko met up with his friend, Fra Francesco Antonio de Pola at St. Ursula’s monastery. Despite being only a cleric, he secretly co-officiated a mass with Fra Francesco at St. Francesco di Paola’s church. Another monk from their order, Fra Daniel from Pelješac, who was in Padua in 1719, eventually found out the truth. At first, he had doubts, but when he saw Fra Vicko’s handwritten signature in the mass register book, it confirmed his involvement.

The Pra della Valle in Padua (1741-1746) by Canaletto
The Pra della Valle in Padua (1741-1746) by Canaletto

Fra Savina believed, based on the letter, that Fra Vicko was in Rome. He provided a general physical description of him, estimating his age to be around 43. The Holy Office, based on the letter and Fra Savina’s testimony, decided to summon other potential witnesses, possibly including Fra Francesco Antonio de Pola and Fra Daniel, and most importantly, the accused, Fra Vicko himself. The decision was signed by their chancellor, Steffano Carotta.

In conclusion, the four cases of Venetian Inquisition against the Croatians in the 1600s and 1700s offer valuable insights into the religious practices and daily life of that era.

One Comment

  1. Anna says:

    So fascinating.. I love when you post these little bits of history about past Croatians!

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