|Bl Baptist Spagnoli of Mantua (1447-1516)|
Celebrated: 17 Apr
Baptist came from a family who served the Dukes of Mantua, in a northern region of Italy. He entered a Carmelite community in Ferrara and professed his religious vows in 1464. This community was part of what would later be known as the ‘Mantuan Reform’, living a stricter observance of the Carmelite Rule and seeking a spirituality of integrity amidst laxity and lethargy that characterised many religious groups of the time.
It was during his studies and doctoral work at the University of Bologna (completed in 1475) that Baptist discovered his passion for poetry in the style of classic Latin antiquity. In the wake of the rise of Christian Humanism in literature, his passion drew him into friendships with many writers. The great humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam, reading Baptist’s work, gave him the nickname “the Christian Vergil”. In addition to his poetic works, Baptist also used his writing skill to critique the violent political situation of Renaissance Italy. He used his pen to encourage his fellow Carmelites in their interior lives of solitude, prayer and recollection, and he also wrote prayers and poems that honoured Mary and the saints.
Baptist also demonstrated a gift for leadership. Six times he was elected Vicar General for the Reformed Congregation (the Mantuan Reform). He was well known for his direct and eloquent condemnation of the corruption and immorality that was prevalent in the Church of the time. In 1513 Baptist was elected Prior General for the whole Order, a role that lasted until his death in 1516.