Siena is often referred to as the 'City of the Virgin' and the 'City of the Palio'. The special devotion of the Sienese to the Virgin began in the thirteenth century and in times of danger the Sienese have regularly rededicated their city to the Madonna, who is also celebrated in the twice-yearly festival of the Palio. Siena, Civil Religion and the Sienese examines Sienese devotion to the Virgin from the medieval period until the present day. Exploring how the Palio has become the principal means of sustaining and celebrating Sienese culture, values and identity - including popular devotion to the Virgin - Parsons shows how this festival stands in continuity with the earlier civil religion of medieval and renaissance Siena. Drawing on insights from recent discussion of the role of civil religion in medieval and renaissance Italy, the USA and modern Britain, this book explores how civil religion sustains the Sienese sense of their history, identity and uniqueness through a variety of beliefs, rituals, ceremonies and symbols. Highly illustrated and including a full bibliography, this book breaks new ground in interpreting Sienese devotion to the Virgin and to the Palio in terms of 'civil religion'.
'Parsons' study is exquisite. It is the finest study of a single civil religion in historical scholarship. It covers 800 years from the 13th to the 21st centuries, and ranges from church history to popular culture in a manner that does credit to both. The famous Palio horserace and many other pastimes are placed side-by-side with Christian religious ceremonies in an exemplary multi-disciplinary exposition of the life, culture and mentalité of the Sienese in their long-term battles for political survival and civic identity. This is an exciting journey through almost a millennium of social history. It is a route map for the study of cultural and religious change.' Callum G. Brown, Professor of Religious and Cultural History, University of Strathclyde, UK 'This is a well-written book which is especially valuable for its comprehensive time-span, from the thirteenth century to the present day. Many readers will know parts of the story of Siena, the Virgin and the Palio; none is likely to know what Gerald Parsons here lucidly brings together.' Diana Webb, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History, King's College London, UK 'With a sure touch Gerald Parsons guides the reader through eight centuries, bringing to bear his special studies of civic religion as key to understanding Sienese traditions and culture…' Art and Christianity Enquiry Bulletin 'This text provides a valuable contribution to scholarship on civil religion… One has to be grateful to Gerald Parsons for displaying such erudition in marshalling all his historical sources, and so superbly combining church history with popular culture over the 800-year period from the thirteenfh century to the present.' Reviews in Religion and Theology 'While vigorously academic - it has a full blibliography and is characterised by extensive footnotes -, this book is clearly written with a great love of its subject. It is beautifully illustrated, not least by full colour pictures of the wonderful banners for the Palio an
Contents: Preface; Introduction: Siena and civil religion; Constructing a civil religion: the Virgin, the 'myth of Montaperti', and the Sienese Civic Pantheon 1260-1555; Under the Grand-Dukes: civil religion and Sienese identity 1555-1859; Re-inventing tradition: the creation of a modern Sienese civil religion 1860-1915; Church, Palio and contrade: official religion and civil religion in Siena in the 20th century; Cities within the city: civil religion and the contrade of Siena; Unity in diversity: the Palio of Siena as civil religion; Bibliography; Index.