The sacred soil of the saints: Bavaria Sancta

Bavaria sancta was the culmination of an ambitious project to recover the early Christian origins of Bavaria and to celebrate it as a sacred soil from which a host of illustrious saints had sprung. The work of Matthäus Rader, a Tyrolean Jesuit who was Professor of Rhetoric at Augsburg and then at Munich, this multi-volume work memorialised the holy dead and highlighted the thaumaturgic power of their relics. Fusing erudition and devotion, it is emblematic of the Counter Reformation’s simultaneous attempt to rewrite Catholic hagiography according to the standards of humanist criticism and its vigorous promotion of the miraculous as a weapon against incredulous heretics. Commissioned by the duchy’s Wittelsbach ruler, Maximilian I (1598–1651), it was also a piece of political propaganda that buttressed his confessional agenda and territorial ambitions. A glorification of its own patron’s dynastic pedigree, it harnessed the past as part of a programme to define the region as the bulwark of Catholicism within the Holy Roman Empire and to give expression to his imperial pretensions. In this illustration, the archangel Michael holds up a map of the territory depicting the free cities of Augsburg and Regensburg and parts of Habsburg Austria, which had once been part of the Bavarian patrimony, to the approving view of the Virgin and child. AW

Matthäus Rader, Bavaria sancta Maximiliani sereniss. principis imperii, comitis palatini Rheni …, 3 vols (Munich: Raphael Sadeler, 1615-27), i. 9.

CUL: Acton.a.14.3

Further Reading

Trevor Johnson, ‘Holy Dynasts and Sacred Soil: Politics and Sanctity in Mattheaus Rader’s Bavaria Sancta (1615-1628)’, in Sofia Boesch Gajano and Raimondo Michetti (eds), Europa Sacra: raccolte agiografiche e identità politiche in Europa fra medioevo ed età moderna (Rome, 2002), pp. 83–100.

Howard P. Louthan, ‘Imaging Christian Origins: Catholic Visions of a Holy Past in Central Europe’, in Katherine van Liere, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan (eds), Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World (Oxford, 2012), esp. pp. 152–7.
Phil M. Soergel, Wondrous in his Saints: Counter Reformation Propaganda in Bavaria (Berkeley, 1993).

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