Amanda L. Scott’s book, The Basque Seroras: Local Religion, Gender, and Power in Northern Iberia, 1550-1800 (Cornell University Press, 2020), focuses on the Basque seroras, a category of uncloistered religious women that were employed by parishes to perform a wide variety of functions. Somewhat like other religious laywomen like Belgian beguines, Italian tertiaries, or Castilian beatas, they occupied an intermediate zone of honorable possibility for women between marriage and the convent. Unlike women in those other categories, however, the serora enjoyed financial security and respectability in her community in part because of her protection by local communities and church authorities.
By situating the seroras within these social dynamics, The Basque Seroras broadens the way we conceive of female religious life and the opportunities it could provide. It also crucially revises our understanding of reform and consumption of legal resources at the local level. Following the Council of Trent, uncloistered religious women were broadly condemned and forced to join established religious orders; these directives notwithstanding, the seroras managed to survive well into the eighteenth century. Scott contends that even though the Counter Reformation program of centralization and standardization is often characterized as an immediate – and repressive – success, the seroras demonstrate the variability of local enforcement and the ways parishes could successfully press for leniency or reach tacit compromise with authorities. These devout laywomen, who straddled secular and religious spheres, were instrumental in this process of negotiated reform.
Elizabeth Spragins is assistant professor of Spanish at the College of the Holy Cross. Her current book project is on corpses in early modern Mediterranean narrative. You can follow her on Twitter @elspragins.
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