Drunk priest. A tavern is a home

This is an excerpt of a talk discussed at the workshop: Entangled Worlds. Daily Practices, Identity Negotiation and the City as Border Space (University of Maryland, April 8-9, 2019), organized by Filomena Viviana Tagliaferri. Here is the full version 

The title of the post is a tribute to the song A House is a Home (Ben and Ellen Harper)

The source is a series of documents that takes us to the taverns in the the Fiemme Valley (Trento Region): the tavern could be a place of criminality.

The serious thing is that the criminal can be, and is, a priest. What is going on?

I am referring to Giuseppe Rizzoli, a priest from Cavalese central village of the Valley, accused of mistreating his parents, of drunkenness and scandalous life. The Archdiocesan Court of Trento investigated and judged Rizzoli several times in a procedure that lasted for years. He was in a stable relationship with a woman named Paula. The connection between the sins of drunkenness and lust is typical of early modern Catholic morality. Moreover, the drunkenness of clerics was a matter of canon law as early as the 13th century (Lateran Council IV). The Council of Trent (1545-1563) had also delt with the issue, judging the drunkenness of priests to be more serious than that of the secular people.  The jurists, however, called for a distinction to be made between occasional and usual drunkenness. The level of guilt in the two cases was different. Our case is not at all occasional.

August 1753. The judicial authority requires Don Rizzoli to maintain his sobriety, not to drink too much wine, not to go to taverns, to respect his parents. The same authority also reminds him that his way of life is not that of a priest (Archivio Diocesano Trento 69, 1r-v).

November 1753. The warnings were of no use. Don Rizzoli continues to go to the tavern, to get drunk and, coming home drunk, to beat and mistreat his parents. He was sanctioned (pecuniary penalty), forced to retire to a convent and suspended from the right to celebrate the mass (ADTn 69, 3r-4v).

February 1755. A year and a half later, nothing has changed. There is even more: the court adds to the accusations against the priest the illicit relationship with a woman, Paula (ADTn 69, 7r-9r).

Let us focus on frequenting taverns and the sin of drunkenness.

If we were to paint a portrait of the typical drunkard of the ancient regime, it would be a young male, aged between twenty and thirty years. An artisan or peasant, he drinks mainly on Sundays after mass, in the evening or at night. But drunkenness involves everyone, from the aristocrat to the mendicant to the priest.

August 1755. Investigators begin to listen to witnesses. The voices are unanimous: Giuseppe Rizzoli regularly attended the taverns and got drunk.

Don Rizzoli is at a friend’s house, Bartolomeo, on his way back from the tavern. Bartolomeo’s wife, Brigitta, reproaches the priest for being drunk and he beats her, putting his hands around her neck.

A witness (other Giuseppe, Gramola) claims to have often seen the priest in the tavern, regardless of the ban imposed by the bishop’s court.

Depositions repeat themselves.

Do you remember William Black? In the taverns there are the informants, the delators. Inns can be places where personal vendettas are consumed, where a good observer can get anyone into trouble.

We move on to don Rizzoli’s interrogatory. He demonstrates a very detailed knowledge of the taverns in the area where he lives. He listed eight of them.

Question: Do you frequent them?

Answer: To tell you the truth, I went to the tavern both for my own interest and to drink, wine and spirits, we can add.

The reason for the appeal and ubiquity of taverns for Giuseppe Rizzoli and for many of his peers was not simply that they offered access to alcohol and opportunities for inebriation, taverns were also sites of surrogate domesticity. The pub was used as a substitute or secondary home, a center of warmth and sociability (Booth, Drinking and domesticity).

The sources reveal this clearly: for don Rizzoli, the tavern is a comfortable, domestic place. The family house, on the contrary, is not. The house is the place where he goes after drinking, where he has violent behavior and where he does not feel comfortable. He is forced to live in his parents’ house, but cannot give up the tavern, despite the sentence pronounced by the court.

But there are not just friends in the tavern. There are also people who see the priest drinking and gambling. And these people denounce him.

Priests were often involved in criminal behaviors, first of all blasphemy, but also violence and moral turpitude. In the places where wine was sold and consumed, they could found temporary refuge from the problems of a life often imposed and not freely chosen.

Before concluding, I would like to say one more thing about the domesticity of the tavern. As Matthieu Lecoutre explains very well in his excellent book dedicated to the history of drunkenness in France, the lack of availability of glasses, cups and bottles was another reason why people drank outside the house. For example, inventories after the death of many innkeepers point out that drinking vessels are rare, even in drinking establishments. This consideration leads us to emphasize another aspect of the familiarity of the customers of the taverns: often the drinkers shared the cups.

The tavern is a place where you can hide, sell by smuggling, talk, fight, observe, accuse, eat and drink. Often, however, the most difficult moment can be to get up from your chair and go home.

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