Abbess Catherine is one of the minor characters in ‘Casanova in Paris’. Casanova has arranged with the Abbess to hide Gabrielle in the convent of which she is the head. To a modern audience the abbess seems to be rather unhinged: a schizophrenic who believes that since childhood she has harboured within her the soul of a German medieval mystic. She takes this to be a sign that she has been chosen by God to act as conduit between the worlds of the natural and the supernatural. Within the belief systems of the time, however, this wasn’t so outrageous. There were long-established religious, cultural and mystical traditions that accepted the reality of visions although their prevalence may have been less to do with divine intervention than other more mundane explanations such as the relative frequency of food shortages which led people to forage for anything that might be edible, including roots and fungi that brought about hallucinogenic episodes. The abbess’s belief that the world is going to end and that some will be saved and some will be damned was, and remains, a religious commonplace.
She shares with Stefano and Abbé de Bernis the contradictions and paradoxes of performing a spiritual role within the constraints and demands of the real world. She is not as cynical as Abbé de Bernis but nonetheless adopts a sufficiently flexible and ambiguous understanding of good and evil to allow her to justify actions which would otherwise be regarded as immoral.
‘The Prologue’, and chapters 1 to 5 of ‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ are now freely available here.
6 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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