Nancy Caciola (UC San Diego): "The Holy Spirit in the Form of a Woman: Apocalypse, Universal Salvation, and a Mysterious Fresco of the Thirteenth Century"

Nancy Caciola
November 9, 2018
All Day
18th Avenue Library, Room 090


Abstract: In 1300 an inquisitorial inquiry was held in the city of Milan. The target was a group of individuals united in devotion to a woman who had died nearly two decades earlier. Her name was Guglielma, and many had become convinced that she was the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. They believed that Guglielma would resurrect on the feast of Pentecost in 1300; that she would initiate a new age of history and set a woman upon the papal throne; and that through her all human beings would be redeemed, including Jews, Muslims, Pagans, and heretics. My paper examines the group’s theology–particularly the notion of universal salvation–through the detailed analysis of a little-known sinopia (an under-sketch for a fresco) depicting a woman as part of a Trinity. I discovered this artwork in a suburban Milanese abbey and am the first to connect its content to the Guglielmite group.


Bio: Nancy Caciola is broadly interested in the religious and social construction of identities in the later Middle Ages as well as the boundary between life and death in medieval thought, and the varieties of ways of imagining return from the dead. Her latest book is Afterlives: The Return of the Dead in the Middle Ages (Cornell UP).