Federico Del Tredici

From people to places. Some observations concerning the geography of Milanese churches in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries

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Carlo Borromeo promoted the transfer of some rural church chapters from minor villages to centers of great demographic weight in the diocese of Milan. This was an important process that finally adapted the ecclesiastical structure to the real demographic and economic condition of the territory. This process nonetheless prompts questions concerning the slowness with which it evidently occurred. Is this affair best understood as a case of institutional inertia, as an example of the difficulty and slowness with which an institution could adapt itself to changes in society? Yes, at least in part. But the long, «anachronistic» endurance of some parish seats in minor localities also requires other explanations, linked to the social and economic structure of the land. Throughout the entire fifteenth century in the Milanese countryside, local societies lacked their centers in large towns. Certainly these existed. But next to them, rooted in small communities, family units of noble/citizen origin prospered both demographically and economically. Members of these lineages constituted the fulcrum of local society and were accustomed to dominate parish institutions in religious as well as lay spheres. In this «familial» environment - in which family relationship counted for more than place of residence - the slow adjustment of ecclesiastical institutions appears less striking. The long endurance of parish seats in small villages was possible because order was founded on the quality of persons rather than of places. The changes promoted at the end of the sixteenth century by Carlo Borromeo were thus an indication of the newly growing weight of the larger communi- ties of the countryside.

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