Of language and the lodestone

Reeves, Eileen

"In 1564 in the small Northern Italian city of Modena, a certain Antonia
Vignola was brought to trial for having asked a local priest to baptize a magnet in
her possession, her intention having been to attract a handsome townsman through
a lodestone christened with his name. Modena’s master goldsmith, asked by the
court to comment upon the confiscated stone, explained what was evidently a
widespread practice amongst both the laity and the lower orders of the clergy: 'It is
generally held that a white magnet can be used for amatory incantations by
touching the person’s skin. However, the magnet does not have this power unless it
is baptized or enchanted by holy things.'
Those who performed the rite combined
familiar sacramental language with nomina barbara or “unheard of words,” foreign
utterances whose force lay in sound rather than in semantic sense. That the
magnet’s attractive powers were somehow augmented by barbarism and baptism—
in a ceremony complete with a priest, holy oil, and godparents—was of peculiar
concern to Italian Inquisitors of the mid- to late sixteenth century; that various
members of the clergy sometimes used these esperimenti ad amorem to pursue their
own affairs was a particular embarrassment."

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Academic Units
Italian Academy
Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University
Italian Academy Fellows' Seminar Working Papers
Published Here
March 31, 2011