"Pious Postmortems provides a wealth of detail about the examination of bodies in the context of canonization, a subject that has hitherto been largely ignored in the history of sixteenth and seventeenth-century anatomy despite its connections to key players in that history like Colombo. In Bouley's hands, the subject proves to cross through more than one key domain in the history of medicine—the role of learned medicine, questions of gender, the process by which medical figures began to establish standards for knowledge based on practical experience, and the role of medicine in the Church."—Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied SciencesAs part of the process of consideration for sainthood, the body of Filippo Neri, "the apostle of Rome," was dissected shortly after he died in 1595. The finest doctors of the papal court were brought in to ensure that the procedure was completed with the utmost care. These physicians found that Neri exhibited a most unusual anatomy. His fourth and fifth ribs had somehow been broken to make room for his strangely enormous and extraordinarily muscular heart. The physicians used this evidence to conclude that Neri had been touched by God, his enlarged heart a mark of his sanctity.
"Pious Postmortems is an original and carefully researched survey of the role of medical testimony in the canonization processes of the early modern period. Bradford A. Bouley's exposition both of physical examinations and of instances of actual autopsy of putatively saintly bodies provides an illuminating context for the search for signs of sanctity."—Nancy Siraisi, author of Communities of Learned Experience: Epistolary Medicine in the Renaissance
In Pious Postmortems, Bradford A. Bouley considers the dozens of examinations performed on reputedly holy corpses in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at the request of the Catholic Church. Contemporary theologians, physicians, and laymen believed that normal human bodies were anatomically different from those of both very holy and very sinful individuals. Attempting to demonstrate the reality of miracles in the bodies of its saints, the Church introduced expert testimony from medical practitioners and increased the role granted to university-trained physicians in the search for signs of sanctity such as incorruption. The practitioners and physicians engaged in these postmortem examinations to further their study of human anatomy and irregularity in nature, even if their judgments regarding the viability of the miraculous may have been compromised by political expediency. Tracing the complicated relationship between the Catholic Church and medicine, Bouley concludes that neither religious nor scientific truths were self-evident but rather negotiated through a complex array of local and broader interests.
Bradford A. Bouley teaches history at the University of California, Santa Barbara.