The very stones might serve for preachers

The conversion narrative of Sir Tobie Matthew – the son of the Archbishop of York – who converted to Catholicism in 1605 while travelling in Italy, includes an interesting encounter with Cardinal Pinelli who asks Matthew to look to the ruins of Rome for inspiration:

‘…he would make one request to me, for mine own sake – namely, that, since I was a stranger, and a traveller, and had suffered my curiosity to lead me thither, I would be careful not only to view the antiquities of the old decayed Roman Empire, but also the not decayed Catholic Roman Church, which were there to be read in a fair letter, and in a large volume; that if men should endeavour to conceal the antiquity and excellency of that Church, the very stones might serve for preachers…’

The ancient monuments of the Roman church help to emphasise Catholicism’s heritage and lineage, but the fact that stones can be ‘read’ and also ‘speak’ raises a series of questions. To what extent were converts inspired by their environment? Is it significant that Matthew converts when he is in Italy: a journey he has made against the wishes of his family? Do particular spaces have a spiritual resonance which can ‘move’ a believer from one faith to another? Does a physical movement (perhaps corresponding to ideas of pilgrimage) facilitate a movement of the soul? Perhaps the geography of conversion requires further attention?

2 thoughts on “The very stones might serve for preachers

  1. In the conversion of Tobie Matthew and his friend and travelling companion Tobie Swinbourne, rebellion to paternal authority may have been a considerable factor. Tobie Matthew was the son of the Archbishop and his mother had high hopes for him. Tobie Swinbourne was the son of Henry Swinbourne a prominent judge in the Archbishop’s courts and in the Ecclesiastical Commission of the Council of the North. Breaking free from home and embracing beliefs rejected by the previous generation in the family, would have been the ultimate rebellion.

  2. Pingback: Kathleen Lynch, Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World « Conversion Narratives in Early Modern Europe

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