Heavenly Supper: The Story of Maria Janis
by Fulvio Tomizza
translated by Anne Jacobson Schutte
University of Chicago Press, 1991
Cloth: 978-0-226-80789-8
Library of Congress Classification BX4705.J3375T6513 1991
Dewey Decimal Classification 945.3107092

It is a winter morning in Venice, in 1622. Muted voices drift through a thin wall next door. Her curiosity aroused, a young woman peers through a crack in the door, only to witness a strange and disturbing sight: a woman and a priest secretly celebrating communion. Troubled by what she sees, she reports the incident at confession. Her revelation leads to the arrest, jailing, and arraignment of the two for heresy before the Venetian Holy Office of the Inquisition.

So begins Fulvio Tomizza's absorbing account of the true story of Maria Janis, a devout peasant woman from the mountains north of Bergamo. Too poor to enter a convent, Maria had set out to serve God by relinquishing the little she had, through renunciation of all food but the bread and wine of communion. Encouraged by the restless village priest Pietro Morali, Maria claimed to have existed in this sanctified state for five years. During this time, she, Morali, and the weaver Pietro Palazzi travel from a little village in the Alps to Rome and then to Venice, where their alleged sacrilege is discovered and they are brought to trial. Both revered as a saint and reviled as a fraud, Maria with her "privilege" inspires and threatens believers within the Church. Combining the historian's precision with the novelist's imagination, Tomizza painstakingly reconstructs her story, crafting a fascinating portrait of sublimated love, ambition, and jealousy.

Heavenly Supper alternates a chronological account of the trial with analyses of each protagonist's life history. Along the way, Tomizza gives voice to the minds and hearts of his characters, allowing them to speak for themselves in their own words. The world he recreates resonates with the fervor of the Counter Reformation when faith and its consequences were rigidly controlled by the Church. As suspenseful as a detective novel, Tomizza's story goes beyond the trial to evoke a panoramic view of seventeenth-century Italian culture.

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