Luciana Borsatti, Compensator. 1879: A Challenge Between State, Science and Church in Verzignes (Castelvike, p. 280 – €20)
The last case in Europe of an epidemic of demonic possession – in forms similar to those in Loudoun’s story in the seventeenth century – occurred in 1878-1879 at Verzegnis, in Friuli. And it ended in violence by the Italian state, which sent a company of soldiers to deport dozens of illiterate mountain people to the Udine sanctuary. The clergy and the locals believed they were possessed by the devil, but not the medical authority and the entire political class at the time (at odds with the papacy and a few years after the breach of Porta Pia): for the latter in fact it was a phenomenon of mass hysteria fueled by superstition, if not rooted in the The physical structure is revealed by the symptoms of sweat degeneration.
To revisit this story—in which the internal social tensions of an underdeveloped rural society and the new post-unification state social control policies collide—is Luciana Borsatti in a book updating an earlier edition. But what happened in those two years to a few dozen women from Vernesenes, a secluded village in the Carnia Mountains? “They roll terribly, scream, lose their feelings, and even scream as if from the sound of a dog,” said the elderly parish priest. “Completely unconscious, falling to the ground with their mouths twisted, screaming, screaming, shaking like crazy.” Then hostile words against the clergy, naive forms of clairvoyance and bargaining with Satan, prophetic attitudes of one and a dramatic collective crisis in the Church, which arrive at the tables of the Curia but also in Udine. And if the archbishop moves cautiously before authorizing the exorcism, the archbishop immediately sends a medical mission to the place, and initiates a machine of monitoring and prevention that will end with the use of military force.
“The repressive action of government – writes the author – was based on the diagnosis and the opinion expressed by physicians who became, in a sense, the arbiters of this right to individual liberty which found its limits in the stated need to protect the public’s interests.” The only manifestation of public opposition was a question in Parliament by an MP from the region. “I ask hon.
The Minister – Giacomo Orsetti, the owner of the interior – asked what measures he has taken, or what measures he intends to take to protect the right to individual liberty.” The Minister’s answer – what the Health Authority thought it was proposing, and that the public security authority must necessarily implement. A few years later, Fernando Franzolini, the Udine doctor who dealt with the issue, garnered a broad consensus in the scientific community, who signed his final report recording the country’s apparent return to normal life, adding stiltedly: “The baton of science has struck the just and subdued the subjugated.”
The book, which also delves into nineteenth-century psychological thought on hysteria and traces Franzolini’s extensive publications to the cultural climate of his day, also proposes a post-factional by professor of psychodynamic theories Pietro Barbeta – “What Happened to Hysteria?” – and new writing related to the current epidemic of psychotherapist Alberto Panza – former author of an article with the late psychoanalyst Salomon Resnick. Foreword by Professor of History of Science Mario Galziña, to whose memory this edition is dedicated. The book will be presented at a meeting entitled “The Possessed and the “Stand of Science”. Monday, May 30 at 7 pm, 1st Youth Center, Municipality of Zalb. Via della Penitenza 35 Rome
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