Catholics - from simple Italian peasants to humble Irish seamstresses or French cowherds - to formulate and express their particular brand of Catholic devotion in their own way and to their own taste. Here the traditional Christian emphasis on the innate holiness of the poor and outcast merged well both with Romantic approval of the simple and childlike and with more prosaic institutional pressures to encourage lapsed Catholics, of whom the majority were thought to be working class, to return to the active practice of the 'faith of their fathers'.
The 'vulgar piety' which resulted tended, unsurprisingly, to be both more 'proletarian' and more 'feminine' than had been the case in the previous century. This was, after all, a time when working-class men - and especially women - took a much more active part in the creation, re-establishment or support of Catholic schools, convents, confraternities, sodalities and other exclusively Catholic societies, and were thus in a good position to promote particular devotions or pious practices.24 Meanwhile, their social superiors, anxious to show themselves as trusting, childlike and humble, were often quite as eager to emulate the 'simple' piety of peasants and labourers. It was thus no accident that the contemporary figure to arouse the greatest devotion throughout the whole of the Catholic world, Bernadette Soubirous, was a humble peasant girl whose very appeal lay in her reputation for uncalculating simplicity; or that the set devotions taken to be emblematic of the age were those with the direct, sentimental and unsophisticated appeal of'reparations to the Sacred Heart' or 'devotions to the Holy Family'. As a pious cliche ofthe day had it, to follow a simple, folksy practice like the rosary was good both for those to whom the devotion naturally appealed and also for those to whom it did not, since it was better than nothing for those who were incapable of a more sophisticated piety and humbling for those who might otherwise suffer from spiritual pride.
What historians have rather loosely called 'Ultramontane' piety consisted of a particular kind of taste, rather sentimental and saccharine to modern sensibilities, but which was aesthetically and emotionally accessible to all, even the most unsophisticated. Characteristic expressions of this brand of Catholic piety, such as pictures of the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Conception or the Holy Family, have long been assumed to have been imposed upon Catholic communities over the course of the nineteenth century in order to rid national churches of 'Gallicanism' or the avoidance of papal control. Yet devotions
24 Gilley 'Vulgar piety and the Brompton Oratory'; O'Brien, 'Making Catholic spaces';
Gibson, Social history of French Catholicism, pp. 158-226.
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