The Popular Piety of Fifteenth-Century Miraculous Image Cults in Tuscany

Shannon Emily Gilmore
History of Art and Architecture
UC Santa Barbara

My dissertation investigates a series of religious events that occurred at the end of the fifteenth century. At this time, numerous miraculous image cults dedicated to the Virgin Mary were established in towns subject to the Florentine state. My study focuses on the popular piety of the inhabitants of the local towns, highlighting the ways in which the cults resisted total appropriation by the territorial powers. To better illuminate how miraculous image cults promoted local interests, my project provides an in-depth analysis of three Tuscan cults established in 1484: Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato, Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Valdarno, and Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio in Cortona. Employing an interdisciplinary approach, the study examines not only the images and the churches built to enshrine them, but also the ritual activity and multi-sensorial atmosphere specific to each cultic site, all of which allow access to how popular piety was utilized to carve out sacred places for themselves. My project ultimately contributes to a better understanding of the ways in which lay devotion lent agency to the less powerful members of society.