The Trials and Tribulations of a Local Inquisitor Giacomo Tinti in Modena, 1626-1647

The Trials and Tribulations of a Local Roman Inquisitor: Giacomo Tinti in Modena, 1626-1647

What has become known as the Roman Inquisition was the product of the 1542 centralisation of the Church’s inquisitorial systems to seek out and eradicate heresy. Medieval inquisitions were localised, generated by a particular heretical scare, often time-limited, and with only partial papal involvement. In 1542 the Holy Office of the Inquisition became centralised in Rome, led by the Pope, backed and implemented by an inner group of Cardinals, who were soon formed into a Congregation of the Holy Office, with bureaucratic support. A separate control body, the Congregation of the Index, was created in 1572 to concentrate on book censorship; though the two Congregations had overlapping cardinalate membership, and might be co-operative or antagonistic over censorship matters. After 1542 local tribunals of the Roman Inquisition were gradually founded in central and northern Italy, and Malta. By 1686 about 44 local tribunals were established.

Recent studies in Italian and English have clarified considerably how the Roman Inquisition worked under central leadership, what were the procedures in Rome, and through local inquisition tribunals, who and what were the main targets of the investigations, and what kinds of persons were convicted. The success of the Roman Inquisition in detecting, investigating and reaching verdicts on alleged heretics depended on the co-operation between the Cardinal Inquisitors in Rome and the inquisitors and their officials in local tribunals; also on the extent to which those local inquisitors had co-operation from local political powers, and from local bishops, who could claim their own jurisdiction, confessional duties and pastoral care were superior to inquisitorial control over heresy. We have known a significant amount about key figures who served as Cardinal Inquisitors, with some ending as Popes, and now the Dizionario Storico dell’Inquisizione is adding to that knowledge of central figures. However much less is known about those serving as local inquisitors and their assistants, what their lives and duties might have been like, and about their experiences in dealing with the centre, as well as with local bishops and governments. My interest in this aspect was aroused when during research for The Italian Inquisition I found material on Eliseo Masini – notable for his much used manual, the Sacro Arsenale – serving as inquisitor in Ancona in 1608. His was a brief tenure before he moved on.

This article seeks to illustrate the relationships between an inquisitor and Rome through somebody who served an abnormally long time in one tribunal: Giacomo Tinti da Lodi, inquisitor in Modena 1626-1647, when he died. Tinti’s potential as a subject became apparent through Jeffrey Watt’s intriguing study of possessed nuns in Carpi, nearby within the Modena Duchy. A catalogue of the archive in Modena made it clear that much material existed in that very rich archive for the period under Tinti. The discussion here highlights Tinti’s relationship with Rome as revealed through surviving correspondence in Modena and, to a limited extent in the Vatican. As my research expedition was limited I only sampled a few processi. The value of those records is apparent from the inventory, from Jeffrey Watt’s book, and from just recently Katherine Aron-Beller’s most illuminating work on the Jews in Modena, their relationships with Christians and inquisitors. This article will summarise some of their work as it concerned Tinti and his context. Maybe these studies will entice somebody to spend much longer on an all-round analysis of Tinti’s inquisitorial work, using all processi records.