Jane K. Wickersham (Associate Professor of History, University of Oklahoma) speaks with Amanda L. Scott (Assistant Professor, Penn State University) about her new book The Basque Seroras: Local Religion, Gender and Power in Northern Iberia, 1550-1800 (Cornell University Press, 2020).
Neither wives nor nuns, the seroras fulfilled an essential religious role in early modern Basque communities. Amanda L. Scott explores the lives of the devout laywomen who cared for and maintained churches and shrines in the Basque country, and in so doing reconceptualizes how to frame the social and religious limitations placed on early modern women.
Seroras performed essential religious work in their communities; yet they only made simple promises (rather than holy vows), rendering their religious vocations more flexible and their lifestyle more autonomous. Using a wide variety of archival sources, in over seven chapters Scott analyzes the seroras’ relationships with diocesan officials and local communities. Despite the Tridentine-era efforts to more strictly regulate the lives of religious women, Scott finds that both episcopal authorities and communities had a vested interest in negotiating and maintaining the seroras in their religious roles. They were seen as essential to the maintenance of the church, physically and spiritually, and as collaborators in furthering some aspects of Tridentine reform. Scott sensitively explores these women’s work, and the complexities, ambiguities, and conflicts engendered by their autonomous religious status. Scott, in this important book, closely examines the lived experiences of seroras to reach a new understanding of the nature of religious reform in early modern Iberia.