Umberto Eco and the Fraticelli

A while back, I made a note about the Fraticelli in a cursory post about the cursory mention of the sect in the Martyrs Mirror. I was surprised to see the “Little Brothers” resurface in a book I just finished by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.

I was introduced to Eco through his second novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, released eight years after Rose and written in a much more mature (if still verbose) style. While Pendulum was set in modern day Italy and concerned with numerology and secret societies, Rose is set in an early 14th Century monastery and focuses on the precious nature of knowledge in the lifting dark age of medieval Europe. And it’s, of course, preoccupied with heresy, particularly of the sort preached by the Fraticelli and the proto-Anabaptist Waldensians.

Eco, a medieval scholar and first-rate brain, weaves the history of the Fraticelli and other heretical groups into the fictional plot of Rose, and it’s difficult to tell where historical sources end and his imagination takes over. Three of the book’s minor characters were historical figures, but the monastery in the book is completely fictional, as are the events depicted.

The book’s main character, William of Baskerville, makes mention of one St. Lawrence, who while he was being grilled alive, told his Roman executioners, “Eat, for it is well done.” Strangely, the Martyr’s Mirror makes no mention of Lawrence, but does record Leonard Bernkop’s echo of the famous quote 1,200 years later.

The book helped me with a burning question I couldn’t answer from an Internet search. I now know how priests are supposedly desecrated. Here is Eco’s likely well-informed description, through the eyes of his narrator, Adso:

And after he had been led out in all his priestly vestments, a ritual began, and one by one his vestments were stripped away until he remained in that little garment the Florentines call the “cioppa.” And as is custom when a priest is defrocked, they seared the pads of his fingers with a hot iron, and they shaved his head.

Whether the ritual as Eco describes it still held sway 200 years later in Cologne – when the Mirror cited it as a possible reason for William van Keppel’s mysterious survival – is up for debate.


One Response to “Umberto Eco and the Fraticelli”

  1. […] The Bloody Theater The Martyrs Mirror and Anabaptist Culture « Umberto Eco and the Fraticelli […]

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