‘Converted to a cat’

Petrarch's mummified cat

The most famous apocyrphal cat of the Renaissance?**
Petrarch’s mummified cat at Casa del Petrarca.

In honour of World Cat Day, I did a quick search on the fabulous Early English Books Online to see if cats were ever described as agents of conversion, in the same way as were their enemies (or at least their sometime prey) fish. Continue reading

‘Go your ways for an Apostata’: the converting Courtesan


van Honthorst, Smiling Girl, a Courtesan, Holding an Obscene Image, 1625

I’m really delighted to have been given the chance to contribute to the Dutch Courtesan project, an all-singing, all-dancing (and all-acting) web resource that has accompanied and informed a brilliant recent production of the play here at the University of York.

My interest in the play was piqued by one peculiar phrase, in which the title character declares: ‘Mine body must turn Turk for twopence’. Intrigued by this glimpse of an Islamic conversion, I began to explore the connections between religion and inconstancy that underpin this difficult, but intensely rewarding, drama. To find out more about my conclusions, read my article on the Dutch Courtesan project website.

Staging Conversion in the New World

The conquering of the Mexican mainland by Hernán Cortés was accompanied by a systematic programme of conversion of the native peoples undertaken by the Catholic Church. This began in 1524 with the arrival of 12 Franciscan friars who self-concsciously styled themselves as the descendants of Christ’s 12 apostles. The theatrical nature of their efforts to convert the Aztecs began with Cortés’ initial greeting upon their arrival in Tenochtitlán (Mexico City). He kneeled to kiss their hands and garments, immediately signalling his subservience to the friars, a powerful image for the native peoples who had ascribed to Cortés the role of Quetzalcoátl, the feathered serpent god who had a close association with the Aztec priesthood.  Continue reading